McConnell proposes postponing impeachment trial until February

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) proposed on a call with Republican senators Thursday that former President Trump’s impeachment trial be delayed until February to give him enough time to mount a defense.

McConnell told colleagues that Trump should have at least as much time as the president had in previous trials, which means he would like to postpone the proceeding until the second week of February, according to Republican senators on the call.

“It would have been the 10th or 11th [of February] or somewhere in there,” said Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), who said McConnell wants to give Trump the same amount of time he had to prepare for the first impeachment trial and that former President Clinton had to prepare for his 1999 impeachment trial.

Braun said McConnell’s timeline “was geared to be similar to that.”

Senators on the call also said that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of Trump’s closest allies, announced that the former president had hired Butch Bowers, an attorney from South Carolina, to defend him at the Senate trial.

McConnell on Thursday said he hadn’t heard back from Democrats on postponing the trial.

“Not yet, we’re going to continue to talk about it,” he said.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a close Biden ally, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer Thursday that he would agree to postpone the start of Trump's impeachment trial by a couple weeks if Republicans would agree to quickly process Biden's Cabinet nominees. 

McConnell has pointed out to GOP colleagues previously that under the Senate’s impeachment rules, a trial is required to begin the day after the House managers present the articles of impeachment to the upper chamber.

The rules also require the Senate sit in trial every day except Sundays until it delivers a verdict.

But McConnell has leverage with Democrats because they are eager to begin work immediately on confirming President Biden's Cabinet nominees and on a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief proposal.

Some Democrats have called for a trial that lasts only a few days, but this would require cooperation from Republicans to keep the trial short and prevent a lengthy delay of Biden's agenda. 

Graham told reporters after the call that he and McConnell worked on the proposed timeline during a meeting earlier in the day after reviewing historical precedents.

“I think it makes sense. Once the Senate gets the impeachment articles — if we do — there’s a process in place that requires 51 senators to agree to move forward. The president was shut out in the House so his team needs some time to prepare,” he said. “I’m very supportive of the proposal made by Sen. McConnell.”

Graham said McConnell reviewed historical precedents before suggesting a February start date for the trial.

“He called the legal team and we looked at historically pre-trial periods,” Graham said of his meeting and the GOP leader’s interaction with Trump’s lawyer.

Graham said a key consideration was that Trump didn’t have a chance to mount a legal defense during the House impeachment process.

“The difference is there was really no input [from the president’s lawyers] in the House,” he said. “There was no lawyer.”  

Graham said McConnell’s proposal “is very much in line with what we’ve done in the past.”

He also praised Bowers, Trump’s new lawyer, as a solid “anchor” for the defense, praising him as a “solid guy.”

“Over time they’ll put the [defense] team together but you got to remember that there was no process in the House to participate in,” Graham added. “A couple weeks I think would be necessary for the president’s people to make their argument most effectively.”

Graham said Bowers has experience with “very complex litigation.”