McConnell to hold Senate trial if House impeaches Trump

Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate majority leader, said he would hold a trial in the Senate if the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Donald Trump.

“I would have no choice but to take it up,” Mr McConnell said. “How long you’re on it is a whole different matter, but I would have no choice . . . based on a Senate rule.”

Mr McConnell spoke as the House conducted an impeachment inquiry sparked by a whistleblower’s complaint about a July 25 phone call in which Mr Trump pressed the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden, the former US vice-president running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020.

Under the US constitution, Mr Trump would be removed from office if he is impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate

The White House and other government departments came under further scrutiny on Monday following reports that officials had restricted access to the transcript of a call between Mr Trump and Scott Morrison, the Australian prime minister.

According to The New York Times, Mr Trump said William Barr, US attorney-general, needed Australia’s help in a review the president hopes will discredit Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 US election.

The justice department did not respond to a request for comment. Stephanie Grisham, White House press secretary, said: “We don’t comment on how classified information is handled.”

The Washington Post reported that Mr Barr met foreign intelligence officials — from the UK, Australia and Italy — to gather material for the inquiry. US media also reported that Mike Pompeo, secretary of state, was one of the US officials who was listening on the line when Mr Trump spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart on July 25.

The House intelligence committee has subpoenaed Mr Pompeo for documents related to its impeachment inquiry. A spokesman for the House panel declined to say how it would handle the revelations about Mr Barr.

The House intelligence committee on Monday also issued a subpoena for Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor and personal lawyer for Mr Trump, to produce documents in the case.

In a letter to Mr Giuliani, Adam Schiff, the committee’s Democratic chairman, said it was conducting “an investigation of credible allegations that you acted as an agent of the president in a scheme to advance his personal political interests by abusing the power of the office of the president”.

Mr Trump has suggested that Mr Schiff be arrested for “treason” because the California lawmaker last week paraphrased the July 25 call in a way that the president said misrepresented the nature of his conversation with Mr Zelensky.

Mr Trump last week released a non-verbatim transcript of the call in an effort to deflate criticism. But the details of the July conversation — particularly his request for an investigation into Mr Biden and the Ukrainian business dealings of his son Hunter — combined with the whistleblower’s complaint have opened the president up to accusations that he urged a foreign power to interfere in the 2020 election.

In his report, the whistleblower said White House staff told him that other White House officials had intervened to “lock down” all records related to the call over concerns that “they had witnessed the president abuse his office for personal gain”. 

Mr Trump on Monday said the White House was “trying to find out” the identity of the whistleblower as lawyers for the anonymous CIA official warned about his safety. The House intelligence committee is preparing to interview the whistleblower.

“The Fake Whistleblower complaint is not holding up. It is mostly about the call to the Ukrainian President which, in the name of transparency, I immediately released to Congress & the public,” Mr Trump tweeted on Monday. “The Whistleblower knew almost nothing, its 2ND HAND description of the call is a fraud!”

Mr Trump received more bad news on Monday with the release of a Quinnipiac poll that showed public opinion had shifted significantly over whether he should be impeached in the five days since the White House released the partial call transcript.

According to the poll, voters were split 47-47 per cent on whether Mr Trump should be impeached and removed from office — a shift from last week when voters were 57-37 per cent against following the impeachment path. The poll also showed that 52 per cent of registered voters supported the House’s impeachment inquiry 

Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter: @dimi

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