WASHINGTON - The House delivered two articles of impeachment to the Senate on Wednesday, laying the groundwork for President Donald Trump's trial as Republicans rallied behind the idea of parity between the two parties in possibly calling witnesses.
The impeachment managers' brief ceremonial journey across the Capitol - a month after the House voted to impeach Trump - relinquished Democratic control over a process that is expected to end in the president's election-year acquittal by the Republican-led Senate. The procession, which solemnly set in motion the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history, capped a rancorous day of partisan conflict and heightened the pressure on Senate moderates, whose views on seeking additional evidence after unmitigated stonewalling by the White House will define the scope of Trump's trial.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., declared that Trump was guilty of "an assault on the Constitution of the United States" and rejected criticism that his impeachment was politically motivated.
"We take it very seriously," Pelosi said in remarks on the House floor. "It's not personal. It's not political. It's not partisan. It's patriotic."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., attacked the House's inquiry as "unprecedented and dangerous" and accused Democrats of "pure factionalism."
"This has been naked partisanship all along," McConnell said on the Senate floor. ". . . We had a 230-year tradition of rejecting purely political impeachments. It died last month."
As tensions increased across the Capitol, new evidence of Trump's pressure campaign toward Ukraine for his political benefit added urgency to Democrats' push for more witness testimony and documents during the trial phase.
Records from Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, showed Ukraine's top prosecutor offering damaging information related to former vice president Joe Biden if the Trump administration recalled the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. They also revealed claims from a Republican congressional candidate that he had the then-ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, under physical and electronic surveillance.
The impeachment charges - abuse of power and obstruction of Congress - center on the allegation that Trump withheld military aid and a White House meeting to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rivals, including Biden.
Pelosi argued that the revelations proved the wisdom of her decision to withhold the articles for a month - a gambit that did not fulfill her primary goals of ensuring witness testimony or forcing McConnell to outline terms for the trial.
"Time has been our friend in all of this, because it has yielded incriminating evidence, more truth into the public domain," the speaker said at a Capitol Hill news conference.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, one of the moderates whose views on further evidence could shape the trial, held a different view.
"Doesn't that suggest that the House did an incomplete job, then?" she said.
The records were released Tuesday night by the four House committees that ran the impeachment inquiry - just as Senate Republicans began coalescing around the idea of each party having the opportunity to call witnesses, should enough moderates agree with Democrats that more evidence is needed.
A day after Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, proposed the idea of "reciprocity" - which would enable Trump's legal team to call Hunter Biden if Democrats get enough votes to summon former national security adviser John Bolton, for example - two moderate Republicans signaled they were open to the idea.
"The idea that only the House managers should be able to call witnesses is one I reject," said Collins, who has insisted on a vote on whether to call witnesses. "It clearly should be both sides, both sides should have the opportunity. But as far as approving specific witnesses, I haven't heard the case yet."
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said Wednesday that he would be amenable to each side choosing "which witnesses they want to appear, as opposed to going in and saying, 'Well, I want that one, I want that one.' . . . I think I expect both sides to be able to put together their own list of demands."
Should moderates decide witnesses are necessary, it would require four Republicans to join with all members of the Democratic caucus to vote in favor.
Privately, McConnell and other senior Republicans still hope a majority of senators will think they have heard enough - after days of arguments from the House impeachment managers, the president's defense counsel and several rounds of questioning - to move to a vote to determine whether Trump should be removed from office.
Several closely watched Republican senators declined to say whether they believed Hunter Biden was worthy of summoning to the impeachment trial.
Biden served on the board of Ukrainian gas company Burisma, and Trump and Giuliani have promoted an unfounded theory that Joe Biden, while vice president, tried to stop a corruption investigation of the company to protect his son. Hunter Biden is no longer on Burisma's board.
"I'm not going to opine on that at this stage," Romney said of whether Hunter Biden's testimony is warranted. "I think each side should be able to choose the people they want to hear from."
"You're asking me to prejudge the evidence," Collins said. "I don't know which witnesses we're going to need until I hear the case."
"I feel like I'm just going to print a sign - I don't know whether I'm going to have it on my back or on my chest - saying there will be a time in the process where we will have an opportunity to make a determination as to what further information we need, whether it is from Hunter Biden or Ambassador Bolton or Lisa Murkowski," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. "So until that point in time, I'm not thinking about each individual witness."
Democrats were unanimous in their view that Hunter Biden's testimony would be irrelevant.
"Any trial judge in this country would rule such a witness as irrelevant and inadmissible," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., one of the impeachment managers approved by the chamber Wednesday.
"If someone is accused of robbing a bank, witnesses who say, 'We saw him run into the bank. We saw him someplace else,' are relevant," Nadler said. "A witness who says, 'He committed forgery on some other document,' is not relevant to the bank robbery charge. That's the distinction."
"The Senate is on trial, as well as the president," with impeachment, Nadler said.
The transmission of the articles marked the end of the four-week standoff between Pelosi and McConnell - though an array of proxy battles over timing and protocol highlighted the lingering resentments.
The House voted Wednesday to send the Senate the two articles and to approve seven Democratic lawmakers to serve as impeachment managers, or prosecutors.
That group is notably smaller and more diverse than the team of lawmakers tapped by House Republicans to present the case during President Bill Clinton's impeachment trial in 1999, when all 13 managers were white men. Pelosi's team includes three women and two African Americans.
The resolution was approved 228 to 193, breaking largely along party lines.
The procedural formalities of the trial are expected to begin Thursday with the reading of the articles; the swearing-in of Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., who will preside; and the swearing-in of the senators as jurors. After that, the Senate is expected to recess for the weekend; the trial will begin in earnest Tuesday, according to McConnell.
The White House signaled Wednesday that it does not expect the Senate impeachment trial to last longer than two weeks, casting acquittal as a foregone conclusion and arguing that Trump's team will present "a very strong case for the president."
Asked whether Trump would go ahead with plans to deliver his State of the Union address on Feb. 4 even if the impeachment trial hasn't concluded by then, a senior administration official told reporters, "I think it's extraordinarily unlikely that we'd be going beyond two weeks."
"We think that this case is overwhelming for the president, and the Senate's not going to be having any need to be taking that amount of time on this," said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about internal White House deliberations and discussed the matter on the condition of anonymity.
In the House, debate was animated over the resolution to send the articles and approve managers. Pelosi emphasized that Trump is "impeached for life," regardless of what happens in the Senate.
"The president is not above the law," the speaker said. "He will be held accountable. He has been held accountable. He has been impeached. He has been impeached forever. They can never erase that."
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The Washington Post's Mike DeBonis, Paul Kane, John Wagner, Colby Itkowitz and Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.
This article was written by Elise Viebeck, Rachael Bade and Seung Min Kim, reporters for The Washington Post.