WASHINGTON — Majority leader Mitch McConnell told Republican senators Wednesday to be ready for an impeachment trial of President Trump as soon as Thanksgiving, as the Senate began to brace for a political maelstrom that would engulf the nation.
An air of inevitability has taken hold in Congress, with the expectation that Trump will become the third president in history to be impeached — and that Republicans need to prepare to defend the president. While McConnell briefed senators on what would happen during a Senate trial, House GOP leaders convened what they expect will be regular impeachment strategy sessions.
In their closed-door weekly luncheon, McConnell gave a presentation about the impeachment process and fielded questions alongside his staff and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who was a manager for the 1998 impeachment of President Bill Clinton.
Impeachment is the first step to remove a president, with the House voting on formal charges and the Senate holding a trial in which it either convicts or acquits him.
McConnell said the Senate would likely meet six days a week during the trial, lawmakers said.
‘‘There’s sort of a planned expectation that it would be sometime around Thanksgiving, so you’d have basically Thanksgiving to Christmas — which would be wonderful because there’s no deadline in the world like the next break to motivate senators,’’ Senator Kevin Cramer, Republican of North Dakota, said.
During the meeting, Graham lobbied his colleagues to consider a public declaration in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, which would describe Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky seeking an investigation into a domestic political rival as ‘‘unimpeachable.’’ Some senators, however, pushed back against that idea, arguing that Trump would assume that those who did not sign the document would be persuadable on a vote to oust him.
The GOP’s internal reality check on Trump’s impeachment comes as House Democrats have had success securing damaging testimony from current and former State Department and National Security Council officials, many of whom are voicing long-held concerns about Trump’s actions on Ukraine.
On Wednesday, Michael McKinley, the former senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, testified that he resigned from his post of more than 25 years last week because State Department officials were being mistreated — and because he disapproved of using foreign policy to advance political prospects.
‘‘I was disturbed by the implication that foreign governments were being approached to procure negative information on political opponents,’’ he told lawmakers in an opening statement. ‘‘I was convinced that this would also have a serious impact on Foreign Service morale and the integrity of our work overseas.’’
Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union — who is described in testimony as one of the ‘‘three amigos’’ designated to pressure Ukraine into investigating the Bidens — is scheduled to testify Thursday.
Republicans have been trying to coalesce around an impeachment strategy for weeks, lawmakers and aides say. In the House, they have decried the process as unfair and secretive — even as GOP members of the investigative committees have fully participated in deposing the witnesses.
On Wednesday, Trump allies showed up to McKinley’s deposition and tried to enter the private meeting room. They were denied entry, as they are not members of the House panels.
‘‘If this case was so strong, why aren’t we doing it in front of the American people instead of behind closed doors?’’ asked Representative Chris Stewart, Republican of Utah, a member of the House Intelligence Committee who took part in the proceedings.
The House GOP criticism has unnerved some moderate Democrats, who began asking leaders about whether Republicans were being treated unfairly. In a letter to colleagues Wednesday, House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff sought to dispel those notions, pointing out that Republicans on the relevant committees have been included in the probe and questioned witnesses.
‘‘The special counsels in the Nixon and Clinton impeachments conducted their investigations in private and we must initially do the same,’’ the California Democrat wrote. ‘‘It is of paramount importance to ensure that witnesses cannot coordinate their testimony with one another to match their description of events, or potentially conceal the truth.’’