After Lengthy Rules Debate, Trump Impeachment Trial Moves to Opening Statements

After Lengthy Rules Debate, Trump Impeachment Trial Moves to Opening Statements

January 22, 2020, 4:44 AM

After a marathon day spent debating the rules for U.S. President Donald Trump's impeachment trial, the U.S. Senate will convene Wednesday to hear the first day of opening arguments from a group of House of Representatives members making the case Trump should be removed from office.

Just before 2 a.m. on Capitol Hill, the Senate voted along party lines 53-47 to adopt the set of rules put forth by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

That vote followed a series of debates about amendments offered by the minority Democrats on whether to subpoena documents and testimony from Trump administration officials whose requested appearances before House committees during the impeachment investigation were blocked by the White House on executive privilege grounds.

Republicans used their majority to reject each amendment, with all but one following the same 53-47 split between the two parties in the chamber. A single proposed amendment met a 52-48 defeat.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., waves as the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump concludes on Capitol…
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., waves as the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump concludes on Capitol Hill in Washington, early Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020.

That party divide is a key factor in the eventual outcome of the trial, because no matter the evidentiary and witness rules, convicting Trump and removing him from the presidency requires a two-thirds vote and none of the Republicans have signaled any plan to vote against him.

Trump, who spoke at the end of a trip to the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, repeated his defense that he "did nothing wrong."

"It's a total hoax. It's a disgrace," Trump said.

When asked about whether witness testimony should be part of the trial, Trump gave conflicting answers, saying it is up to the Senate to decide. He expressed a preference for former National Security Adviser John Bolton and former Energy Secretary Rick Perry to testify, along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, but that their appearances would represent a "national security problem."

A lot will happen before the final Senate vote, beginning with the House lawmakers who are serving as prosecutors presenting the case that emerged after their body voted to approve two articles of impeachment against Trump. They accuse him of abusing his power by asking a foreign government to launch an investigation that would benefit him politically, and of obstructing a congressional investigation into those actions.

Trump made his requests to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a late July phone call to investigate former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. At the same time, Trump was temporarily blocking the release of $391 million in military aid to Kyiv that it wanted to help fight pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

After a 55-day delay, Trump released the assistance in September without Zelenskiy launching the Biden investigations. That was proof, Republicans say, that Trump did not engage in a reciprocal, quid pro quo deal — the Biden investigations in exchange for the military aid.

An initial set of rules proposed by McConnell would have limited the opening presentations by both the House impeachment managers and Trump's lawyers to 24 hours each spread over no more than two days. But the majority leader adjusted those parameters Tuesday to allow the 24 hours of arguments to spread over three days.

The original set of rules also left open the question of whether the Senate would admit into evidence the materials submitted by the House of Representatives from its various committee investigations. Those materials were accepted, with the stipulation that each side has the ability to make motions during the trial to try to remove certain pieces of information.

Trump's chief lawyer, White House counsel Pat Cipollone, called McConnell's trial rules "a fair way to proceed," and one that will result in the president's acquittal on both articles of impeachment because he has "done absolutely nothing wrong."

Congressman Adam Schiff, the lead House manager and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said that not voting on witnesses or subpoenaing documents at the trial's outset would make a "mockery" of the proceeding.

Lead manager House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) speaks during opening arguments in the U.S. Senate…
Lead manager House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) speaks during opening arguments in the U.S. Senate impeachment trial of U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., January 21, 2020.

With no witnesses or new White House documents, Schiff said, "It's not a fair trial, or even a trial at all. Why should this trial be different than any other trial?"

McConnell, who is working with Trump's lawyers on trial strategy in an effort to acquit him quickly, rebuffed claims his trial parameters are not fair, saying, "Here in the Senate, the president's lawyers will finally receive a level playing field with the House Democrats, and will finally be able to present the president's case."

Democrats want to hear testimony from former national security adviser John Bolton, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and others.

Trump has said he wants to call the Bidens as witnesses, along with the still-unidentified whistleblower who first disclosed Trump's July 2019 phone call with Zelenskiy. On Twitter Monday, he seemed averse to hearing testimony from Bolton, whom he ousted in September.

Democrats, Trump said, "didn't want John Bolton and others in the House" to testify. "They were in too much of a rush. Now they want them all in the Senate. Not supposed to be that way!"

House Democrats had sought testimony from Bolton and others in Trump's orbit. But the potential witnesses complied with the president's edict to not cooperate with their investigation, although others ignored it and testified.

WATCH: First week of Trump trial

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Democratic lawmakers abandoned efforts to subpoena some witnesses out of fear that the legal fights over their testimony would extend for months.

Bolton now says he is willing to testify at Trump's impeachment trial if he is subpoenaed by the Senate.

Two other presidents — Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998 — were impeached by the House but acquitted in Senate trials, and remained in office.

U.S. President Richard Nixon faced almost certain impeachment in 1974 in the Watergate scandal, but resigned before the House acted.

Original Article

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