Lindsey Graham's Impeachment Stance Is a 'Flip-flop of All Time', Former Senator Says: 'Who Ever Heard of a Trial Without Witnesses?'

As the Senate waits for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to transmit articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, the battle over the format of the president's eventual trial is rolling on.

Democrats are keen to call more witnesses to testify on Trump's alleged abuse of power, particularly key administration officials like former National Security Advisor John Bolton and acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has argued that Trump's trial should follow the precedent set in the trial of former President Bill Clinton's impeachment. McConnell wishes to determine if witnesses will be called only after opening arguments and questions from senators.

McConnell said Monday there exists "a unanimous bipartisan precedent for when to handle mid-trial questions such as witnesses—in the middle of the trial." This, he said, "was good enough for President Clinton, so it ought to be good enough for President Trump. Fair is fair."

Other prominent GOP senators—including South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham—have signalled their intention to quickly acquit the president.

But on Thursday, six Democratic senators who were jurors in Clinton's trial—including five who backed censuring Clinton—appeared on MSNBC's "The Beat with Ari Melber" to give their thoughts on the Republican approach, and point out key flaws in lawmakers' arguments.

Max Baucus of Montana, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, John Breaux of Louisiana, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Richard Bryan of Nevada all joined Melber to give their thoughts on the process.

Bryan described today's Republicans as "lock-step" behind Trump. Reacting to clips of Graham—some from 1999 showing him demanding witnesses and some from recent weeks in which he said he has no interest in calling any, preferring instead to quickly acquit—Breaux said a major problem today is that senators are already declaring their verdict before the trial.

Dorgan said he "can't explain" why Graham so radically changed his stance, but "you look at that and say, 'How on Earth do you get from this at place to that place?'"

Conrad suggested Graham must have had a "mind-change operation." The former North Dakota senator said it was "unbelievable" to witness Graham's changing opinion.

"I remember distinctly Lindsey saying, 'You can't have a trial without witnesses.'" He added, "That is a flip-flop of all time."

Asked first which potential witness they would most like to hear from, the former senators mentioned Bolton, Mulvaney and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani. Breaux added, "Who ever heard of a trial without witnesses?"

As to whether McConnell is following the 1999 template, senators were more split. Baucus noted that the question on witnesses was delayed during Clinton's trial, as McConnell is seeking to do today.

But Dorgan noted that relevant documents and witnesses were collected by investigator Ken Starr and presented at the start of the trial, whereas today the Trump administration has resisted pressure to provide information and witnesses relevant to the case.

Bryan added that senators were able to view taped testimony from key witnesses even before proceedings began.

Liberman acknowledged that impeachment is an inherently partisan affair, but that the class of 1999 managed to agree a set of non-partisan rules to govern the process. Today, he suggested, this will not likely be the same.

Conrad said he was "taken aback" by the conduct of Republican senators today, who show no interest in impartiality. This includes McConnell, who had been very open about the fact that he is working with the White House. "He's supposed to be a juror, he's not supposed to take a side," Conrad told Melber.

Bryan said the big difference between Democrats during Clinton's trial and Republicans today, is that "none of us as Democrats had drunk the Kool-Aid. Clearly the president's conduct was reprehensible, and we all spoke out against it," he continued, though suggested Clinton's behavior did not rise to the level of removal.

Lindsey Graham, impeachment, GOP, Senate, Donald Trump
Senator Lindsey Graham discusses the impeachment of President Trump on Capitol Hill December 18, 2019 in Washington, D.C. OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images/Getty