WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump is now open to having a shorter impeachment trial in the Senate, two sources familiar with the situation said on Wednesday, after he initially proclaimed he wanted a full-blown, potentially lengthy hearing.
Trump has said publicly that a trial in the Republican-led Senate would give him an opportunity to defend himself properly against Democrats, who accuse him of abusing his power by trying to pressure Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden and of obstructing Congress when lawmakers tried to look into the matter.
Trump has denied wrongdoing and called the impeachment inquiry a sham. The charges are expected to be approved by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and sent to the Senate for a trial on whether he should be removed from office.
The Republican president has said he wants to call Biden, a former vice president and a leading 2020 Democratic presidential contender to run against Trump, as one of the witnesses.
But Trump now appears to be leaning toward the idea of having a shorter trial in the Senate that would allow him to move past the threat to his presidency more quickly, the sources said. The Senate is widely expected to acquit Trump in any trial.
Trump’s new thinking would remove a potential source of friction with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who appeared to balk in public comments on Tuesday at the idea of a long trial in the Senate. McConnell said one option was simply to vote on the articles of impeachment without hearing witnesses.
“I don’t think he (Trump) wants a lengthy trial. I think he wants the back end of this to be as clean as possible,” said one source familiar with internal deliberations at the White House and talks among Republican senators.
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said Trump was prepared for any scenario in the Senate.
“It’s very clear that the president has done nothing wrong and the House should drop this whole ridiculous, partisan exercise. But the president is ready for anything in the Senate,” he said.
McConnell and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer are expected to hold private talks soon in an attempt to establish ground rules for a trial that likely would begin in January.
If McConnell and the White House were to mount a drive for a short trial, it might be difficult to accomplish if Trump insists on a list of witnesses, as that could trigger Democratic demands for a host of top Trump administration officials to testify.
That, in turn, could ignite a messy fight on the Senate floor, further lengthening the trial.
Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Peter Cooney