Trump Trial to Begin With Rules Fight 01/21 06:09
President Donald Trump's impeachment trial is set to unfold at the Capitol,
a contentious proceeding to render judgment on his Ukraine actions as Americans
form their own verdict at the start of an election year.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Donald Trump's impeachment trial is set to
unfold at the Capitol, a contentious proceeding to render judgment on his
Ukraine actions as Americans form their own verdict at the start of an election
As the Senate reconvenes with Chief Justice John Roberts presiding over the
rare impeachment court, senators sworn to "impartial justice," the legacy of
Trump's presidency and the system of checks and balances are at stake before a
politically divided nation.
A first test will come midday Tuesday when the session gavels open to vote
on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's proposed rules for debate.
On the eve of the trial, the Republican leader offered a compressed calendar
for opening statements, just two days for each side, as Trump's lawyers argued
for swift rejection of the "flimsy" charges against the president and
"All of this is a dangerous perversion of the Constitution that the Senate
should swiftly and roundly condemn," the president's lawyers wrote in their
first full filing Monday. "The articles should be rejected and the president
should immediately be acquitted."
Democrats --- as the House prosecutors practiced opening arguments well into
the night on the Senate floor --- vowed to object to a speedy trial as they
pressed for fresh witnesses and documents.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer warned of a "cover-up" with
McConnell's plan that could lead to back-to-back 12-hour days.
"It's clear Sen. McConnell is hell-bent on making it much more difficult to
get witnesses and documents and intent on rushing the trial through," Schumer
said. He called the proposed rules a "national disgrace."
The first several days of the trial are now almost certain to be tangled in
procedural motions playing out on the Senate floor or, more likely, behind
closed doors, since senators must refrain from speaking during the trial
Senators are poised for only the third presidential impeachment trial in
U.S. history, coming just weeks before the first primaries of the 2020
election, with four senators running for the Democratic nomination sidelined
Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, told supporters in Des Moines
they're going to have to "carry the ball" for him while he takes his seat in
Washington. The Iowa caucuses are in less than two weeks.
At the White House, with the president embarked on a trip to the global
leaders conference in Davos, Switzerland, officials welcomed the Republican
"We are gratified that the draft resolution protects the President's rights
to a fair trial, and look forward to presenting a vigorous defense on the facts
and the process as quickly as possible, and seeking an acquittal as swiftly as
possible," said White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will also be away for the proceedings, leading a
bipartisan congressional delegation to Poland and Israel to commemorate the 75
years since the liberation of Auschwitz at the end of World War II.
House Democrats impeached the Republican president last month on two
charges: abuse of power by withholding U.S. military aid to Ukraine as he
pressed the country to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden, and obstruction
of Congress by refusing to cooperate with their investigation.
The Constitution gives the House the sole power to impeach a president and
the Senate the final verdict by convening as the impeachment court for a trial.
The president late Monday named eight House Republicans, some of his
fiercest defenders, to a special team tasked with rallying support beyond the
Senate chamber in the court of public opinion.
McConnell is angling for a quick trial and acquittal, and with Republicans
holding the Senate majority, the trial proposal is likely to be approved by
senators in the president's party. The Republican leader had promised to set
rules similar to the last trial, of President Bill Clinton in 1999, but his
resolution diverged in key ways, which may leave some senators from both
After the four days of opening arguments, senators will be allowed up to 16
hours for questions to the prosecution and defense, followed by four hours of
debate. Only then will there be votes on whether or not to call other witnesses.
At the end of deliberations, the Senate would then vote on each impeachment
Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah signaled in an email message to his
constituents Monday night that he was on board with the the resolution put
forth by McConnell, even as he said the allegations against Trump are
"extremely serious --- did the President abuse his office for personal
political gain, and did he obstruct Congress' investigation by blocking
Romney is among a small number of Republican senators who want to consider
witness testimony and documents that weren't part of the House impeachment
investigation, but the test of their votes will likely come later.
With security tightening at the Capitol, the House prosecutors led by
Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff made their way Monday through
crowds of tourists in the Rotunda to tour the Senate chamber. The White House
legal team led by Pat Cipollone and Jay Sekulow soon followed.
The doors of the Senate chamber were closed to onlookers and the media
during the walk-throughs. Four TV monitors were set up inside the Senate
chamber to show testimony, exhibits and potentially tweets or other social
media, according to a person familiar with the matter but unauthorized to
discuss it by name.
In their own filing Monday, House prosecutors issued fresh demands for a
fair trial. "President Trump asserts that his impeachment is a partisan 'hoax.'
He is wrong," the prosecutors wrote.
The House Democrats said the president can't have it both ways --- rejecting
the facts of the House case but also stonewalling congressional subpoenas for
witnesses and testimony. "Senators must honor their own oaths by holding a fair
trial with all relevant evidence," they wrote.
The White House document released Monday says the two charges against the
president don't amount to impeachable offenses. It asserts that the impeachment
inquiry, centered on Trump's request that Ukraine's president open an
investigation into Democratic rival Biden, was never about finding the truth.
House Democrats in their initial court filing over the weekend called
Trump's conduct the "worst nightmare" of the framers of the Constitution.
"President Donald J. Trump used his official powers to pressure a foreign
government to interfere in a United States election for his personal political
gain," the House prosecutors wrote, "and then attempted to cover up his scheme
by obstructing Congress's investigation into his misconduct."
But Trump's team contended Monday that even if Trump were to have abused his
power in withholding the Ukraine military assistance, it would not be
impeachable because it did not violate a specific criminal statute.
No president has ever been removed from office. With its 53-47 Republican
majority, the Senate is not expected to mount the two-thirds voted needed for
conviction. Even if it did, the White House team argues it would be an
"'unconstitutional conviction'' because the articles of impeachment were too
Administration officials have argued that similar imprecision applied to the
perjury case in Clinton's impeachment trial.
The White House also suggests the House inquiry was lacking because it
failed to investigate Biden or his son Hunter, who served on the board of a gas
company in Ukraine while his father was vice president. There is no evidence of
wrongdoing by either Biden.