(KPAX) Three days into the U.S. Senate impeachment trial of President Trump, MTN News spoke with Montana Sens. Steve Daines, a Republican, and Jon Tester, a Democrat, about their takes on the proceedings so far and the charges against the president.
The interviews occurred Thursday, before the trial began its third day.
Here is an edited transcript of the interviews, with explanations sometimes inserted in italics:
Interview with Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont.
MTN News: You’ve been voting with your fellow Republicans against the motions to produce witnesses and (additional) documents. Why did you feel that was not really necessary for the trial?
Daines: The truth of the matter is the House Democrats rushed their investigation and hearings. It’s the fastest impeachment process in the history of presidential impeachment. It’s not unlike days back in high school when a student would turn in a term paper that was only half complete and the teacher would say, “Well, this is incomplete work.” But in this case the student would say “Well, teacher, why don’t you finish my paper for me?” That’s what the House is asking the Senate to do.
Under the Clinton, trial there was 100 percent bipartisan support that witnesses would be dealt with in Phase 2 of the trial. The McConnell resolution that we passed does the exact same thing. Not one Democrat voted for it or publicly acknowledged that. … (under the resolution, after the president presents his defense, the Senate will vote whether to consider additional witnesses or documents)
The problem we have is that Democrats have an incomplete case and didn’t get all the work done in the House, and the reason for that is they were trying to rush this through to try to affect the outcome of the next election. That’s what this is all about. They want to overturn the election of 2016 and the Democrats are asking not only to remove Trump from office but to remove his name from the ballot.
And when you think about what they’re asking for at this moment in time in history, we are a week-and-a-half away from the Iowa caucuses starting, where the American people get a chance to vote for the president of the United States in the next election. And they’re asking us to remove the president from office and take his name off the ballot. That has never ever been done in the history of the 244 years of this country.
And let’s not forget – the Democrats have been obsessed with impeaching President Trump even before he took office. It started on day one, this campaign to impeach President Trump. The Washington Post documented that on Jan. 20, 2017, the campaign to impeach the president began. This is all about overturning the next election.
MTN News: What about the actual charges against the president? Aren’t you interested in hearing information about that and making a decision about the actual charges?
Daines: Absolutely. In fact, I have the charges. I’ve got their briefs, I’ve read them. But this is the first set of impeachment articles ever presented in terms of impeachment of a president of the United States where there is no alleged crime committed. There were crimes allegedly committed with Andrew Johnson back in 1868. There were crimes alleged in impeachment articles against President Clinton in 1999. It was perjury. In this case, there are no crimes alleged. (The Constitution says a president can be removed for treason, bribery or high crimes and misdemeanors, but doesn’t further define those terms)
In fact, you remember the terms bribery and quid pro quo was all we heard from the Democrats in the House back in November and December. Yet the words bribery and quid pro quo exist nowhere in the articles of impeachment. So they really have set a very low bar in terms of what they are asking for, as it related to claims. There is no alleged crime committed in their impeachment articles. We’ve never seen that before in the history of a presidential impeachment.
MTN News: Are you saying that what the president did in terms of Ukraine and also in terms of not allowing people to offer testimony – you think that’s OK? You’re saying that what he’s done, there’s nothing wrong with it?
Daines: The question is should we remove the president of the United States from office? The president has not had a chance yet to rebut it yet. What you’ve had in the House was really a one-way street. The president did not have counsel and a chance to cross-examine witnesses during the House investigation. What we’ve had so far is still just a one-sided story. It’s been Adam Schiff and the Democrats presenting their case.
The president will have his chance to make a full-throated rebuttal beginning Saturday and probably into Monday and Tuesday. I think we all need to wait to hear from the president’s counsel on this before anybody comes to a final decision. But the people ultimately will have this choice. The question is do we trust the United States Congress, in this issue, this very partisan impeachment? Do we want to put the trust in Congress or the trust in the people?
The Democrats are asking us to overturn the election of 2016 and to permanently remove President Trump’s name from the ballot in 2020.
MTN News: But what you’re saying is that we can never impeach anyone – that it would always be left up to the people. The framers gave the Congress the power to impeach. It seems like under your standards you’re saying that can never happen?
Daines: That’s absolutely false. First of all, there is no alleged crime committed in the impeachment articles that the House has presented. The problem is that they rushed their case. They had the time to get the witnesses called, they would have run through the process. They had time to issue their subpoena s.
In fact when they subpoenaed Bolton’s deputy secretary, that process began, they were going through normal processes in the courts, and then the Democrats backed away from that because it was going to take too much time, so they rushed it. Why are they rushing it? Because there is an election coming up.
This is the most partisan impeachment ever. There’s never been a presidential impeachment coming out of the House without some bipartisan support. This one had none. And there has never been a presidential impeachment set of articles that had no alleged crimes committed until this impeachment.
That’s what the senators have to deliberate on and ask themselves, with what the House has presented, does that rise to the level of the United States saying that we should remove the president of the United States from office, which has never happened before, and permanently removed from the ballot.
Interview with Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.
MTN News: You think the Senate should hear from these (additional) witnesses and documents. Why do you think that’s important, and what do you think of the Senate Republicans voting against it?
Tester: I think it’s important if we’re going to have a fair trial. As it has been pointed out already, people know what a trial looks like. And you gather as much information as you possibly can if you’re going to make a decision. And if we’re going to be fair to president Trump and fair to the American people, I think it’s critical that we get information from people who were there, first-hand information. And get documents from some of the conversations that were made.
Look, all of these things are going to come out over the next months and years. We ought to have that information today in order to make a good decision in this impeachment trial. I think it is critically important. I cannot think of a trial where information hasn’t been presented and brought in who knew what they were talking about. And this is no different. And I think the American people deserve it.
Look, I said a while back that I didn’t think we were getting many Republicans when it came to witnesses. And I think that’s really unfortunate. And it really speaks to the point of how bad Washington D.C. is broken. Politics aside, this really has nothing to do with Democrats and Republicans. This has to do with some pretty serious charges that have been laid out over the last 20 hours that we need information on. And if the president truly is innocent, he shouldn’t be afraid of these witnesses. And it’s already been documented how Sen. McConnell and President Trump have worked together to make this trial we’re seeing today. And I think that’s very unfortunate and doesn’t speak to the checks and balances that we have in this country that our forefathers set up and has kept this country great for two-and-a-half centuries. (As mentioned above, there likely will be another vote or votes on whether the Senate considers additional witnesses or documents)
MTN News: What do you think of the defense that we’ve heard from the defense team and the Republican Party that the process that led to this impeachment was a sham? The process was unfair, the president didn’t get to present any of his evidence or call any of his witnesses?
Tester: I think most of that has been pretty well debunked, whether it was through the Intelligence Committee work or the Judiciary Committee work in the House. The point is that the White House has not given one stick of information over to the folks who’ve done the investigation. And what this means is, is that a president has said, “You know what, I don’t have to give any information because the Constitution says I don’t have to give any information.”
I don’t know what part of the Constitution it says that in. I haven’t been able to figure that out. But the bottom line is, an impeachment is to hold people accountable. I’m not saying whether the president is guilty or innocent, but the truth is, when I am going to have to make that decision at some point in time, and if all the information is out there, it’d be fine.
But this has not been a process that hasn’t been fair. I think the folks have went out of their way to get witnesses from both sides and get as much information as possible. The problem has been is that the White House hasn’t been forthcoming with that information or with those witnesses.
In fact, has told those people specifically, don’t obey the subpoenas. If I did that, I’d be in jail. Nobody should be able to do that. It’s really important that we get the facts on this. These are serious accusations. Holding taxpayer dollars up to an ally that’s at war, for the purpose of making that ally smear a political opponent – and those are the charges, basically, plus obstruction of Congress – I think they’re very serious charges. And I will tell you that the prosecution over the last 20 hours or so has laid out an interesting case where I think it would help the White House, if they’ve got folks out there that have information that can prove his innocence it would be good to have them in front so we can talk to them.
MTN News: Is there any specific information, document or witness, that you think is most important, that you would like to hear from?
Tester: I would love to hear from (Mick) Mulvaney. Mulvaney comes up a lot in these conversations during this impeachment trial. I know that (former National Security adviser John) Bolton has come up a lot, (Secretary of State Mike) Pompeo has come up a lot. But Mulvaney in my opinion is the person I would like to hear from. He’s acting chief of staff to the president and director of Office of Management and Budget — both of those positions have played important roles in what we’re talking about here with the president’s actions toward Ukraine.
MTN News: We’ve had completely partisan votes (on impeachment). Is that just the way it is in Washington, D.C.? That everyone just falls in line? Is that normal?
Tester: The bottom line is – I know for a fact, because I’ve talked to Republicans offline, in the gym, wherever – that a lot of folks are concerned about what the president has done, they’re concerned about the way this impeachment trial is being held. But keep in mind this: I was here when (former Tennessee U.S. Sen.) Bob Corker spoke out against the president. Bob Corker is no longer here. I was here when the senator from Arizona (Jeff Flake) spoke out against the president; he’s no longer here. And they aren’t here because they’re not conservative enough. They’re not here because they spoke out against the president. And I think that kind of standard is unfortunate for this country.
I think we’re sent here to represent the people of Montana, in my case, and America. We need to respect that and do the best by the people. And we need to pay attention to what the forefathers said about impeachment and we need to pay attention to what they wrote in the Constitution about how this country is supposed to work with co-equal branches of government and checks and balances. And I couldn’t feel more strongly about that. I think we are here because we had some pretty amazing visionary forefathers. We’re taking the work that they’ve done, at least so far that I’ve seen, and totally ignored it. And that’s not what we should be doing.
MTN News: At this point, of course, the trial is still under way, but have you formed any thoughts on the charges, on whether the president is guilty or not?
Tester: With the first day we heard from the prosecution and the defense; yesterday we heard all from the prosecution. I think the charges are real. Whether you’re talking about obstruction of Congress or whether you’re talking about withholding aid from an ally that’s at war with a foe, Russia, with Ukraine, the actions with Ukraine, I think they’re both very, very serious charges. And we have not heard extensively from the defense yet.
We have not heard the whole prosecution yet. We still have another 16 hours, I believe, available to hear from prosecution and then we’ve got about 24 hours I think over three days to hear from the defense. I look forward to hearing what the prosecution has to say today and tomorrow if necessary, and then I look forward to hearing what the defense says over the next three days after that.
One of the things that was challenging with the (proposed) amendments (to the rules) and a lot of the issues that we’re laid out yesterday by the prosecution – the defense didn’t really engage the prosecution. Look – I wasn’t a very good debater, but I debated in high school. And I can tell you, it was critical that you engaged the points that were made if you were going to have the judge favor in your opinion. And that’s not what’s going on. And, by the way, all the senators, or the judges, in this particular case, of a debate of very, very high stakes.
So, I think it’s really important when the defense comes up the next few days, and I look forward to this, that they engage on what the prosecution has said on the president’s actions. If they’re able to do that, and make it look like the president’s actions were not what the prosecution has said, I think they’ve got a decent chance of finding him innocent. If they’re not able to do that, then I think there is a decent chance they’ll be found guilty.”