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Many Senate Republicans have dodged questions about the impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump, saying that they are staying neutral because they will likely be “jurors” in any impeachment trial.

But according to a Politico report on Thursday, Trump has been hosting many of these same prospective “jurors” for a series of group lunches, part of an “intense outreach” in advance of possible impeachment.

With a public that narrowly approves of the inquiry into Trump’s potentially illegal behavior and a GOP base that strongly opposes it, several Republican senators have punted on questions, noting that they might have to be impartial jurors.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), for example, said last month “It’s important not to prejudge until we have the entire picture…. I am very likely to be a juror so to make a predetermined decision on whether or not to convict a president of the United States does not fulfill one’s constitutional responsibilities.”

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) said just last week that he was “not paying close attention day to day to the testimony in Washington,” because if the House of Representatives does impeach Trump, he’ll “be in effect a juror. I would expect to pay very close attention, during if you will, the trial phase.”

Collins and Romney reportedly were among 10 Senate Republicans set to dine with Trump on Thursday at his fifth group lunch of GOP senators since the impeachment inquiry was announced.

In recent weeks, Sens. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) and Martha McSally (R-AZ) have attended these gatherings. Others on Thursday’s invite list were Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV). All four have indicated that they plan to be impartial jurors in the trial, though Cramer told Politico that he had discussed the impeachment process with Trump at the lunch he attended.

In an email, a Grassley spokesperson wrote, “It’s quite plainly not inappropriate for a sitting member of Congress to meet with the sitting president. That’s part of their job.” He noted that Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with Trump last month. Spokespeople for Capito, Collins, Cramer, McSally, and Romney did not immediately respond to questions about the luncheons and whether they are appropriate in these circumstances.

Aaron Scherb, director of legislative affairs for the nonpartisan Common Cause, said in a phone interview on Thursday that while there are legitimate reasons for the president to meet with lawmakers, these lunches were problematic.”The optics of a potential defendant having private meetings with presumed jurors looks and smells bad. The American public will likely never know what  is discussed in these private meetings at the White House,” Scherb said. Because the conversations are not made public, he noted, “it’s impossible to know for sure how heavy handed President Trump is trying to be with these senators or if it’s just a charm campaign to try to win their support before a potential impeachment trial.”

“This president has certainly pushed the bounds of political and ethical norms and none of his actions are surprising anymore.” Scherb concluded.And indeed this is not the only way Trump has been attempting to win over his likely jury pool in advance of an increasingly likely impeachment trial. He has been actively rewarding senators who have defended him by raising campaign money for their reelection coffers.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

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