Washington, 21 January 2020 (dpa/MIA) – The US Senate began the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on Tuesday with partisan rancour over how the trial will proceed.
The conflict centres around the rules for the trial, which were proposed by Republican leader Mitch McConnell. The rules delay any witness testimony till a later date and provide each side 24 hours over the span of three days to make their arguments for or against impeaching the president.
Democrats are decrying the proposal as an attempt to rush the trial, hide new evidence against Trump, and prevent witnesses from testifying.
Democrats need to convince four Republicans from their 53-person majority to make any changes to McConnell’s proposal. Republicans are expected to rally around their leader Mitch McConnell in a vote later Tuesday.
Speaking at the Senate, Democrat Adam Schiff, the lead House impeachment manager called McConnell’s rules the “first step orchestrated by the White House to rush the trial.”
“This is not a process for a fair trial. This is the process for a rigged trial. This is the process if you do not want the American people to see the evidence,” Schiff said at a press conference.
Democrats want a commitment for new witnesses to testify, including Trump’s former national security advisor John Bolton and others.
They also want to introduce new evidence that was produced after the House concluded its impeachment investigation.
Pat Cipollone, Trump’s defence attorney, told the Senate his client “has done nothing wrong” and the two articles of impeachment against Trump hold no constitutional merit.
Earlier the Democrats suggested Cipollone might have a conflict of interest as they believe he is a material witness in the impeachment trial and demanded that he disclose any knowledge of Trump’s dealing with Ukraine; the White House called this demand an “utter joke.”
“On something as important as impeachment, McConnell’s resolution is nothing short of a national disgrace and it will go down in history as one of the very dark days of the Senate,” Chuck Schumer, the leader of the Democrats in the Senate said.
Speaking from the Senate floor, McConnell called the trial rules “fair” and in line with the conduct of President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial.
McConnell said the issue of witnesses will only be considered at a later time if the Democrats’ case “has overcome the high bar of presumption of innocence.”
Last week, senators and the chief justice were sworn in. Since then the Democratic Party lawmakers who will head the prosecution, known as the House managers, have filed their legal brief and Trump’s defence team has done the same.
The president is accused firstly of having abused the power of his office to pressure Ukraine into announcing an investigation of his domestic political rival, Joe Biden, in order to potentially help Trump’s re-election campaign.
The second article of impeachment says he obstructed Congress’ investigation of the Ukraine affair. Both articles were approved last month by the House of Representatives.
The president denies wrongdoing. His legal team said on Monday that the president is the victim of a “rigged process” motivated by politics and that he has done nothing wrong.
The brief argues that the case is “flimsy” and that the two articles of impeachment “allege no crime or violation of law whatsoever.”
Later on Monday Republicans proposed 12-hour daily sessions for the trial, setting a gruelling pace for the start of the case. Democrats immediately expressed their anger, calling the proposal “a national disgrace.”
Trump is framing the impeachment as an attempt to overturn the 2016 election. Democrats say the president’s behaviour is threatening the integrity of the election later this year.
Senators must remain silent during proceedings, which are due to take place every day except Sundays, until a decision is reached.
Two-thirds of members are required to remove a president from office. The Senate is controlled by Trump’s Republican party and the most likely outcome is an acquittal.