WASHINGTON (AP) – After months of fighting the House impeachment inquiry, blocking witnesses and ignoring subpoenas, the White House is now publicly embracing a strategy it has privately signaled for weeks: It will accept the reality that President Donald Trump will likely be impeached by the House and focus instead on a made-for-TV trial on friendlier turf in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Democrats, Trump tweeted Thursday, ”have gone crazy. Therefore I say, if you are going to impeach me, do it now, fast, so we can have a fair…. trial in the Senate, and so that our Country can get back to business.”
It was a message that came even before Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi stood before cameras and announced that House committees would draft articles of impeachment. They’re virtually sure to accuse the Republican chief executive of violating the Constitution, abusing presidential of power and undermining national security by pressing the president of Ukraine to investigate a Democratic political rival as the White House was withholding crucial security aid.
“The president leaves us no choice but to act,” she said.
The Trump reelection campaign and the White House responded with resignation, publicly acknowledging for the first time that Trump is likely to become only the third president in the nation’s history to be impeached by the House of Representatives.
”We look forward to a fair trial in the Senate,” tweeted Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham.
While Trump has long bristled at having such a distinction attached to his legacy, he and his aides also see a potential political upside in a Democratic attempt to remove him from office, despite considerable risks.
With little chance that Senate Democrats would have the votes to convict him and remove him from office, Trump is now hyping a Senate trial like a Trumpian episode of Court TV, where his lawyers and Republican allies will aggressively defend his conduct while turning the table on Democrats, especially the chairman of the House intelligence committee, Adam Schiff.
“We will have Schiff, the Bidens, Pelosi and many more testify, and will reveal, for the first time, how corrupt our system really is,” Trump tweeted.
A trial comes with considerable risks for Trump, including the possibility that Republican senators could break from him or incriminating evidence could be revealed. But Congress’ proceedings have so far been a boon.
His campaign has described impeachment as its single most powerful motivator for donors and volunteers. The president told reporters Tuesday that his campaign had its “biggest fundraising month ever” in November as Democrats ramped up their efforts.
Impeaching the president, said campaign manager Brad Parscale, has always been the Democrats’ goal, “so they should just get on with it so we can have a fair trial in the Senate and expose the swamp for what it is.”
“We’re ready,” said Tony Sayegh, a former Treasury Department official who is part of a new White House rapid response team.
”If the Democrats are foolish enough to actually pass these frivolous articles of impeachment, of which they have no evidence and factual basis, we want a trial in the Senate,” he said on Fox News.
White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland added, a day after huddling with Republicans on Capitol Hill, that “it’s long past time to put the House misery to an end and move to the Senate so the president’s full case can be clearly heard and this absurd charade can come to an end.”
Ueland said on Wednesday that, unlike in the House, ”the underlying impeachment rules of the Senate afford the president a full suite of rights to argue his case on the facts and on the merits.”
“That’s why we believe quite strongly that in order to make the president’s full case … that we need both a full trial and the opportunity to call witnesses and work a trial over here on the Senate floor.”
Beyond the spin, officials say the White House also recognizes that its efforts in the Senate will have to focus extensively on relationship-building to try to keep Republicans members on board and drive up political costs for Democrats. To that end, the White House has held multiple meetings with Republican lawmakers, trying to ensure they are in sync.
At the same time, Trump associates say the president is aware of the havoc a Senate trial in January could wreak on the Democratic 2020 presidential field, which includes several senators who would be compelled to leave the campaign trail to attend the proceedings. He is eager, they say, to cheer on the chaos.
Meanwhile, the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani remains overseas on an in-your-face trip to Ukraine where he is continuing to push the debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 election.
Ukrainian lawmaker Andrii Derkach, who has previously accused the son of former Vice President and 2020 Democratic candidate Joe Biden of receiving embezzled money from a Ukrainian gas company, said in a Facebook post that he met with Giuliani in Kyiv to discuss the creation of a new group, Friends of Ukraine Stop Corruption.
Biden’s son denies any wrongdoing.
Associated Press writers Zeke Miller in London, and Mary Clare Jalonick and Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.
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