Top Democrats on Sunday renewed their demands for witnesses to testify at President Trump’s impeachment trial, citing newly released emails showing that the White House asked officials to keep quiet over the suspension of military aid to Ukraine just 90 minutes after Mr. Trump leaned on that country’s president to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
The emails, released late Friday by the Trump administration to the Center for Public Integrity, shed new light on Mr. Trump’s effort to solicit Ukraine to help him win re-election in 2020, the matter at the heart of the House’s vote on Wednesday to impeach him for “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
With the Senate’s Democratic and Republican leaders at odds over the trial’s format, Democrats seized on the emails in an effort to put pressure on Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader. Mr. McConnell, who wants a bare-bones proceeding, has rejected a proposal by his Democratic counterpart, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, to have four top White House officials testify.
One of those officials is Michael Duffey, a senior budget official who told the Pentagon to keep quiet about the aid freeze because of the “sensitive nature of the request,” according to an email sent on July 25. An hour and a half earlier that day, Mr. Trump asked President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to “do us a favor, though” and investigate Mr. Biden and his son Hunter Biden.
“What is a trial with no witnesses and no documents?” Mr. Schumer said Sunday during a news conference in New York City. “It’s a sham trial.”
In a statement late Saturday, Rachel Semmel, a spokeswoman for the budget office, called it “reckless to tie the hold of funds to the phone call” and pointed to an earlier meeting in July where the suspension was announced.
With lawmakers home in their districts for a two-week holiday recess and Mr. McConnell and Mr. Schumer unable to come to terms, the proceedings are in limbo. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she will not send the Senate the articles of impeachment, necessary to bring about a trial, until she receives assurances from Mr. McConnell that the proceedings will be fair.
Mr. Trump, at his Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, for the Christmas holiday, was largely quiet on Twitter on Sunday until late afternoon, when he accused Democrats of precisely what they have accused him of: asking a foreign government to interfere in an election.
“The Democrats and Crooked Hillary paid for & provided a Fake Dossier, with phony information gotten from foreign sources, pushed it to the corrupt media & Dirty Cops, & have now been caught,” Mr. Trump wrote. “They spied on my campaign, then tried to cover it up – Just Like Watergate, but bigger!”
In a letter last week to Mr. McConnell, Mr. Schumer proposed a trial beginning Jan. 7 that would give each side a fixed amount of time to present its case, and called for four top White House officials who have not previously testified to appear as witnesses. They are Mr. Duffey; Mick Mulvaney, Mr. Trump’s acting chief of staff; Robert Blair, Mr. Mulvaney’s senior adviser; and John R. Bolton, the president’s former national security adviser.
Mr. McConnell, who is closely coordinating trial strategy with the White House, quickly rejected the request. But Mr. Trump has said he is open to witnesses; with the Senate all but certain to acquit him, he is demanding a speedy trial to clear his name. In withholding the articles, Ms. Pelosi is betting the president will lean on Mr. McConnell to give in to Democrats’ demands.
“If the president is so innocent and claims he’s innocent, why would he not allow, just like Richard Nixon did, the people that were closest to him to testify?” Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, who is seeking the presidential nomination, said Sunday on the CBS program “Face the Nation.”
Referring to Mr. Duffey, she added, “He says, ‘Given the sensitive nature of the request, I appreciate your keeping the information closely held to those who need to know.’ What does that mean? What a great question. That’s a question I want to have answered.”
But Democrats say Ms. Pelosi is wise to hold onto the articles, because Mr. McConnell is effectively allowing Mr. Trump to plan his own trial.
“She is focusing a spotlight on the need to have a fair trial in the United States Senate,” Senator Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, said on “Face the Nation.” He said that was “especially necessary” with Mr. McConnell “saying publicly that he’s not going to be an impartial juror, even though that’s what the oath will require, that he’s going to work in lock step with the president, who’s the defendant in this case.”
But Republicans, in turn, have accused Ms. Pelosi of overstepping.
“I actually don’t think the speaker, who has great power in a lot of cases, has the power to decide not to send over the determined will of the House of Representatives,” Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, said on “Face the Nation.” “They have voted. They have voted on two articles. They need to come and defend those two articles.”
At least one academic, Noah Feldman, a Harvard law professor who testified as an expert for Democrats during the impeachment inquiry, has argued that Mr. Trump will not be impeached until the articles are transmitted. Republicans have cited that position in their demands for Ms. Pelosi to move forward.
“It’s a really untenable position, we think, for Speaker Pelosi to say, ‘This president is such a clear and urgent danger to the world, to the globe,’ that we have to basically trample his constitutional rights, to force a quick impeachment, and then say, ‘Well, we’re going to hold up impeachment papers and articles of impeachment to send to the Senate,’” Marc Short, chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“How can you possibly justify the contrast to say, ‘This is urgent,’ to then say, ‘Well, we’ll just have to wait and see’?” he added.