McConnell: Impeachment trial to begin around ‘time the bowl games end’

The Senate will not begin an impeachment trial against President Donald Trump until after the new year, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday, predicting the trial will begin “right around the time the bowl games end.”

The college football season ends after the national championship game on January 13, but an aide to McConnell said he was referring to games being played on January 1. Democrats in the House announced two articles of impeachment against Trump earlier on Tuesday, and Democratic leaders plan to hold a floor vote on the matter by Christmas.

McConnell said he has not yet spoken with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer about Senate trial procedures, telling reporters they will discuss “the way to go forward and see if we can reach an agreement” in the coming days.

McConnell declined to say if he would prefer a longer, more robust impeachment trial with multiple witnesses, or a shorter more concise trial that might skip any testimony beyond the opening statements from House managers and rebuttals from the President’s lawyers.

But the top Senate Republican made clear those and other questions about the trial will be decided by as few as 51 senators after opening arguments are made by the House Democratic impeachment managers and Trump’s defense team.

“All that will be discussed,” McConnell told reporters after a policy lunch in the Capitol where law professor Jonathan Turley, who was the lone GOP witness at last week’s impeachment hearing in the House, explained his views and took questions from Republican senators.

“Here is what I would anticipate,” McConnell said about how the trial will play out. “The House managers would come over and make their argument. The President’s lawyers would then respond. And at the point, the Senate has two choices: It could go down the path of calling witnesses and basically having another trial. Or it could decide — and again, 51 senators could make that decision — that they’ve heard enough and believe they know what would happen and could move on the two articles of impeachment sent over to us from the House. No decisions have been made yet. They will be made later.”

McConnell said he expects Chief Justice John Roberts to leave key questions and disputes over trial procedure to the will of the Senate.

“I would anticipate the Chief Justice would not actually make any rulings,” McConnell said. “He would simply submit motions to the body and we would vote”

Republicans hold a 53-47 majority over Democrats in the Senate but it’s not clear all GOP senators will vote in lockstep, especially as some of those up for reelection in swing states and others who have been critical of Trump, might break with him on some procedural points.

Despite that possibility, McConnell strongly doubts there will be 67 senators to remove Trump from office.

“I have said I would be totally surprised if there were 67 senators to remove the President,” he said. “That remains my view however we are obligated under the Constitution to turn to it when it comes over.”

Asked if he would prefer that witnesses testify live in the chamber or via videotaped deposition, McConnell said: “We’ll make that decision after we heard the opening arguments.”

After the lunch, Sen. Mike Braun, a freshman Republican from Indiana, said he wants to leave it up to Trump about whether he wants witnesses to testify on his behalf. But he warned witnesses could be a “double-edge sword … for both sides.”

Braun said Senate Republicans “haven’t gotten a clear indication” about whether Trump wants to call Joe or Hunter Biden or the Democratic House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff to testify.

“He wants to vindicate himself but what that ends up being, we don’t know,” who said he had “no idea” if Republicans would have the votes to force the testimony of controversial witnesses like them.

Braun said after the House votes on impeachment next week, he expects Republican and Democratic leaders to reach “a quick determination on what the rules” of a trial would be and then leave Washington for the holidays.

Braun said he guesses a trial would begin January 6 or 7, which is in line with McConnell’s suggestion to reporters the trial would begin after the New Year’s college football bowl games.

CNN’s Ali Zaslav contributed to this report.