Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is proposing to push back the start of former President Donald Trump's impeachment trial by a week or more to give Trump time to review the case.
House Democrats who voted to impeach Trump last week after he was accused of inciting the January 6 Capitol riots have signaled they want a quick trial as President Joe Biden begins his term, saying a full reckoning is necessary before the country and Congress can move on.
But McConnell told his fellow GOP senators on a call Thursday that a short delay would give Trump time to prepare and stand up his legal team, ensuring due process.
Indiana Senator Mike Braun said after the call that the trial might not begin "until sometime mid-February." He said that was "due to the fact that the process as it occurred in the House evolved so quickly, and that it is not in line with the time you need to prepare for a defense in a Senate trial."
The timing will be set by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who can trigger the start of the trial when she sends the House charges for "incitement of insurrection" to the Senate, and also by McConnell and new Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who are in negotiations over how to set up a 50-50 partisan divide in the Senate and the short-term agenda.
Some input for GOP
Schumer is in charge of the Senate, assuming the majority leader post after Democrats won two new Senate seats in Georgia and Vice President Kamala Harris was sworn in Wednesday. But with such a narrow divide, Republicans will have some say over the trial's procedure.
Democrats hope to conduct the proceedings while also passing legislation that is a priority for Biden, including coronavirus relief, but they would need some cooperation from Senate Republicans to do that.
Schumer told reporters Thursday that he was still negotiating with McConnell on how to conduct the trial. "But make no mistake about it — there will be a trial. There will be a vote, up or down, on whether to convict the president."
Pelosi could send the article to the Senate as soon as Friday. Democrats say the proceedings should move quickly because they were all witnesses to the siege, many of them fleeing for safety as the rioters descended on the Capitol.
"It will be soon. I don't think it will be long, but we must do it," Pelosi said Thursday. She said Trump doesn't deserve a "get-out-of-jail card" in his historic second impeachment just because he has left office and Biden and others are calling for national unity.
Without the White House counsel's office to defend him — as it did in his first trial last year — Trump's allies have been searching for lawyers to argue his case. Members of his past legal teams have indicated they do not plan to join the effort, but South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham told GOP colleagues on Thursday that Trump was hiring South Carolina attorney Butch Bowers, according to a person familiar with the call who was granted anonymity to discuss it. Bowers did not immediately respond to a message Thursday.
Legal team expected 'pretty soon'
Members of Trump's defense team are expected to be announced soon, the person familiar with Graham's comments said.
Graham would not answer questions about Trump's representation on Capitol Hill on Thursday. But he told reporters that "I think he's going to get a legal team here pretty soon."
Prosecuting the House case will be Pelosi's nine impeachment managers, who have been regularly meeting to discuss strategy. Pelosi said she would talk to them "in the next few days" about when the Senate might be ready for a trial, indicating the decision could stretch into next week.
Trump told thousands of supporters to "fight like hell" against the election results that Congress was certifying on January 6 just before an angry mob invaded the Capitol and interrupted the count. Five people, including a Capitol Police officer, died in the mayhem, and the House impeached the outgoing president a week later with 10 Republicans joining all Democrats in support.
Pelosi said it would be "harmful to unity" to forget that "people died here on January 6, the attempt to undermine our election, to undermine our democracy, to dishonor our Constitution."