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Cory Gardner doesn’t think new witnesses, documents are needed in impeachment trial; releases questions

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner gave an exclusive interview to The Colorado Sun and shared some of his thinking about the "high burden" of potentially removing a president from office.

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, at a Denver news conference in June 2019 at U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette's office. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)
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U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner said Wednesday that he doesn’t think more witnesses and documents are needed in the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump, signaling that later this week he will oppose an effort to continue the proceedings and introduce new information and testimony, including from former national security adviser John Bolton.

“We have heard countless hours of testimony from the House counsel and defense counsel,” the Colorado Republican told The Colorado Sun in an exclusive interview. “We’ve heard from 17 impeachment witnesses through the record of the House, as well as presentations on the Senate floor. We’ve had over 100 hours of impeachment witness testimony. I don’t think we need an 18th witness.”

Gardner also said there are already thousands of pages of documents that have been gathered as part of the trial. He said if House Democrats wanted more witness testimony and documentation in the case, they could have gotten it while the question of impeachment was still in the lower chamber late last year. 

The witnesses that Gardner is referencing appeared during the House hearings and their testimony was presented by House impeachment managers in the Senate using video and transcripts. But Democrats want to include new information discovered in recent weeks, including reporting by The New York Times that Bolton’s unpublished book includes a passage that describes Trump directing Bolton to stop military aid to Ukraine until that country agreed to investigate the president’s rivals. This contradicts the testimony of White House attorneys.

Asked Wednesday about whether the revelations about Bolton’s book change his thinking at all, Gardner sidestepped the question.

“We’re being asked whether or not to remove the president of the United States for the first time in our country’s history,” Gardner said. “We’re going to continue the questions today, but it is a high burden to remove the duly elected president of the United States for the first time in our country’s history.”

The House requested testimony last year from Bolton but decided not to subpoena him to appear, fearing a protracted legal battle if he declined to comply.

“The House has said that they have an air-tight, overwhelming case,” Gardner said. “They chose not to call additional witnesses. They chose not to pursue additional witnesses in court. In fact they proactively told the court not to pursue additional witnesses for them.”

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, at an event in Aurora on July 12, 2019. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Gardner’s remarks to The Sun are his most detailed public comments on the impeachment case against Trump since its start in the fall. Democrats began their efforts to oust Trump over his solicitation of Ukraine’s president to investigate his political rivals, allegedly in exchange for military aid.

Gardner, a first-term senator who faces a tough 2020 reelection bid, has been mostly mum on the case against the president, saying for weeks he could not comment in order to remain an impartial juror, but nevertheless chided Democrats for their handling of the investigation in the House.

MORE: Does Cory Gardner have a breaking point when it comes to Trump? The political climate suggests he better not.

Gardner feels more free to talk now that the impeachment trial has now moved into the phase where the 100 members of the Senate can submit written questions for Trump’s attorneys and the seven House Democratic impeachment managers, which includes Aurora’s U.S. Rep. Jason Crow.

Gardner also exclusively shared with The Sun four general questions he has submitted to U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the impeachment trial and who will be posing the questions to the attorneys at the trial. 

Gardner is focusing on Trump’s executive privilege powers and whether Democrats can use questions over them to try to remove the president. He is also seeking more information on the origins of the case against Trump.

Here are the topics and what Gardner hopes to learn from them: 

  • What is the role of executive privilege, which Trump’s legal team has signaled it plans to use to block witness testimony from key administration officials?

 “The line of arguments could be seen as unfairly tipping that scale, eroding the executive privilege of the president to the point there’s incredible imbalance in the separation of powers between the legislative branch and the executive branch and completely discounting the important role of the third branch of government, (the judicial branch),” Gardner explained in the interview with The Sun.

  • How does the long-running dispute between the legislative and executive branches of government, in regard to obstruction of Congress, play into the case against Trump?

Gardner said this question centers on whether House Democrats can use the executive branch’s refusal to answer questions as an impeachable offense and if such disagreements should actually be handled in the court system. One of the articles of impeachment against Trump is an allegation of obstruction of Congress.

  • What was communication like between the White House whistleblower, whose complaint prompted the effort to oust Trump over his interactions with Ukraine, and House Democrats?

“I don’t understand why we don’t have more information on it,” Gardner said. “Did counsel or did they not meet with the whistleblower? I think that’s very important. Was a thumb put on the scale? We don’t know because they have refused to provide that information.”

  • How was evidence and testimony surrounding impeachment included in the Senate trial record?

Gardner says this question encompasses parts of his three prior prompts and is aimed at exploring the breadth of what’s been available to senators during the impeachment trial. 

Gardner faces election pressure 

Gardner has been closely watched during the impeachment trial because of his 2020 vulnerability, but he has given no indication he plans to split from the rest of the Republican caucus, or the White House, during the proceedings. 

One of his biggest tests will come on Friday when the Senate votes on whether to subpoena more witnesses to testify as part of the impeachment trial. His statements to The Sun on Wednesday, however, suggest his mind is already made up. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, appears to lack the votes — 51 out of the chamber’s 100 senators — to block witnesses from appearing. 

Gardner said during a meeting with Senate Republicans on Tuesday that prolonging the trial by allowing witnesses would likely prolong Democratic attacks on him, according to his aides and The Wall Street Journal. If witnesses aren’t called to testify, Trump could be acquitted by the week’s end.

Colorado’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet also provided the questions he was planning to submit to Roberts to The Colorado Sun. 

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet poses for a photo in New Hampshire’s Capitol Building visitor center.(Moe Clark, The Colorado Sun)

He wants to ask the House Democratic managers two questions:

  • “If the Senate accepts the President’s blanket assertion of privilege in the House impeachment inquiry, what are the consequences to the American people? How will the Senate ensure that the current president or a future president will remain transparent and accountable?”
  • “If future U.S. presidents base foreign policy decisions on personal benefit and political gain, how would that affect our relationships with our allies and our adversaries? What would be the long-term effect on U.S. influence and credibility in the world?”

MORE: Michael Bennet on why America should keep tabs on the impeachment trial, even if the trajectory won’t change

Bennet’s aides say he could submit more questions and that he can also submit a question from the Senate floor as the trial is underway.

Bennet, who is running in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, is pushing for Republicans to allow witness testimony, especially from Bolton. “If you have any self respect I don’t know how you could not vote to do that,” Bennet told The Sun on Tuesday.

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