Schumer: McConnell ‘totally out of line’ on impeachment coordination

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Monday blasted his Republican counterpart Mitch McConnell for taking cues from the White House on impeachment ahead of the looming Senate trial, saying the Kentucky Republican is “totally out of line.”

As the House prepares to vote this week on two articles of impeachment, Schumer has been leading Democratic efforts to shape how the expected Senate trial will play out. But already, several leading Senate Republicans, including Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, have publicly declared their intention to acquit Trump, regardless of whatever evidence is presented.

In an interview with CNN’s John Berman on “New Day,” Schumer blasted McConnell for coordinating with the White House ahead of the trial.

“For him to talk to the President is one thing. For him to say, ‘I’m going to do just what the President wants,’ is totally out of line,” said Schumer, a New York Democrat.

CNN previously reported McConnell and White House counsel Pat Cipollone discussed plans to coordinate a strategy for an impeachment trial in the Senate during closed-door meetings last week. While no final decisions have been made, McConnell and Cipollone agreed that when a trial begins, the House Democratic impeachment managers would have an opportunity to present, followed by Trump’s lawyers presenting the President’s defense, sources have told CNN.

McConnell told Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Thursday night that there will “be no difference between the President’s position and our position as to how to handle this.”

“Everything I do during this, I will be coordinating with White House counsel,” McConnell told Hannity.

“As I said, discussion in this kind of situation is not out of the question at all,” Schumer said Monday. “Saying you’re going to do just what the President wants is totally out of line and Mitch McConnell has received a lot of justified criticism for that.”

The House is expected this week to pass two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, charging him with abuse of power for withholding nearly $400 million in US military aid and a White House meeting while pressuring Ukraine’s president to investigate a potential political rival, and obstruction of Congress by thwarting the House’s investigative efforts.

On Sunday night, Schumer said in a letter to McConnell that he prefers a Senate impeachment trial with witness testimony and new documents. He also called for at least four witnesses to testify, including acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton.

Graham, one of Trump’s closest allies in Congress, said on Saturday at an event in Qatar that he will do everything in his power to quickly end the expected Senate trial and that he’s “trying to give a pretty clear signal I have made up my mind.”

“I’m not trying to pretend to be a fair juror here,” Graham said, adding, “What I see coming, happening today, is just a partisan nonsense.”

Asked on Monday about Graham’s comments, Schumer responded: “What Lindsey Graham said speaks not of the fairness of the trial or the facts, it speaks of him. And it demeans him.”

“It will not go down as a great moment in history for Lindsey Graham,” he added.

Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, made an argument similar to Graham’s during an interview with ABC on Sunday, saying, “Senators are not required like jurors in a criminal trial to be sequestered, not to talk to anyone, not to coordinate. There’s no prohibition.”

“The Senate Democrats were all talking with the Clinton White House,” he said, referring to former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment. “You look at this. The House Democrats are all talking with the Senate Democrats. This remains a political process.”

Schumer was not alone in his criticism of Graham and McConnell. On Sunday, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler said for Senate Republican leadership to work with the President during an impeachment trial would be a “subversion of constitutional order.”

“The Constitution prescribes a special oath for the senators when they sit as a trial in impeachment. They have to pledge to do impartial justice, and here you have the majority leader of the Senate, in effect, the foreman of the jury, saying they’re going to work hand and glove with the defense attorney,” Nadler, whose committee last week approved the two articles of impeachment, said during an interview with ABC. “Now, that’s a violation of the oath they’re about to take, and it’s a complete subversion of the constitutional scheme.”

CLARIFICATION: This story and headline have been updated to reflect Schumer’s distinction between McConnell coordinating with the White House on how a Senate trial would unfold versus signaling McConnell’s intention to follow the President’s cues on impeachment.

CNN’s Lauren Fox, Chandelis Duster, Aileen Graef, Kevin Bohn and Veronica Stracqualursi contributed to this report.