White House, GOP senators discuss impeachment trial strategy

WASHINGTON — Top White House officials met Thursday with Republican senators to discuss strategy for a widely expected Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, but made no decisions about its length or other tactics, two people familiar with the session said.

Participants expressed more interest in voting as soon as they have the 51 votes needed to acquit Trump than in setting a specific timetable for the proceedings, according to one Senate GOP aide.

That aide and a senior White House official said a trial lasting two weeks was discussed but not agreed to. The aides spoke on condition of anonymity to describe a private meeting.

Thursday’s White House meeting, which one aide said lasted about an hour, came as the House Intelligence Committee held its latest public hearing on whether to impeach Trump over his attempts to pressure Ukraine to help his 2020 reelection campaign.

Trump also had lunch Thursday with a different group of GOP senators, the latest of several such lunches he’s had since the House impeachment inquiry started in September. Senators said Trump brought up impeachment briefly but did not directly ask them for their support and was in a good mood.

“I think he feels understandably unable to defend himself” because the information surfacing in the House hearings has been “useless,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

The Democratic-controlled House is expected to vote to impeach Trump in coming weeks.

A trial in the GOP-run Senate on whether to remove him from office seems likely to follow. That chamber seems unlikely to produce the two-thirds majority vote needed to oust him.

The White House official said those at Thursday’s impeachment strategy session discussed possibly having no trial, a short trial or a long one. The person said Trump will make the final decision on strategy.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said his chamber would have “no choice” but to take up impeachment. He’s left open how long a trial would take.

The Senate staffer said participants agreed that Republicans won’t be able to muster 51 votes to dismiss the trial immediately. The White House aide dismissed that as an opinion.

Republicans control the Senate 53-47. Some GOP lawmakers have already expressed doubts about ending the proceedings immediately, saying they must be seen as handling the case against Trump seriously.

White House officials at Thursday’s meeting included acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, legislative affairs director Eric Ueland, counsel Pat Cipollone, counsellor to the president Kellyanne Conway and senior adviser Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law.

Also attending were GOP Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, John Kennedy of Louisiana, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Tom Cotton of Arkansas.

Alan Fram And Jill Colvin, The Associated Press

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