While U.S. President Donald Trump is at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Republicans and Democrats are gearing up for a clash on the rules and procedures of Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial at the Senate, which began in earnest on Tuesday.
Democrats have taken issue with a resolution introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell containing rules around the timelines for the two sides to lay out their cases as well as the inclusion of evidence and testimony from witnesses not considered during the House of Representatives impeachment inquiry.
The President was impeached by the House on December 18 for abuse of office (by conditioning a crucial White House meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and nearly $400 million in military assistance to Ukraine on the Ukrainians announcing investigations into Mr. Trump’s rivals). He was also charged with obstruction of Congress.
Mr. Trump’s legal team, which includes Ken Starr, the independent prosecutor from the Bill Clinton impeachment, as well as constitutional lawyer Alan Dershowitz, filed a 171-page trial brief on Monday, arguing that an impeachable offence must include criminal behaviour.
Mr. McConnell’s resolution on trial rules, which will be taken up by the GOP-controlled Senate on Tuesday, gives House “managers”, who will serve as the prosecution, and the President’s defence team 24 hours each, over two days, to present their opening arguments.
Given that the trial sessions start at 1 pm each day, Mr. McConnell’s proposed rules could mean that opening arguments will run late into the night, or early morning hours — a schedule that Democrats found objectionable. “…Senator McConnell’s resolution stipulates that key facts be delivered in the wee hours of the night simply because he doesn’t want the American people to hear them,” a statement from Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said.
Mr. Schumer is expected to offer amendments to the rules on Tuesday.
“A trial where no evidence — no existing record, no witnesses, no documents — isn’t a trial at all. It’s a cover-up,” Mr. Schumer said in his statement. Mr. Trump’s team, however, has characterized Mr. McConnell’s approach as protecting the President’s due process.
“We are gratified that the draft resolution protects the [President’s] rights to a fair trial, and look forward to presenting a vigorous defence on the facts and the process as quickly as possible, and seeking an acquittal as swiftly as possible,” White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland told Politico.
The two sides have also differed on the proposed treatment of new evidence and witnesses. While evidence from the House inquiry would be passed out to Senators, it would not be entered as evidence unless voted on, on a case by cases, by Senators. New witnesses, as per the proposed rules, would first be deposed by the Senate; Senators would then vote on whether or not to allow them to testify.
On the Democrat witness wish-list are former National Security Adviser John Bolton and Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. Mr. Trump’s Senate allies and his defence team have been working to prevent any Bolton testimony the Washington Post reported. Republicans are likely to seek a classified hearing from Mr. Bolton on national security grounds, as per the Post story, if they are unsuccessful in blocking it altogether.
Republicans, for their part, are expected to want testimony from Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, if Democrats get their witnesses. The younger Biden’s dealings while on the board of a Ukrainian energy company Burisma, has been used by Mr. Trump and his associates as the ostensible reason for requesting the Ukrainians to make an announcement into investigating the Bidens.
"It would certainly be fair for the president and his team to be able to call witnesses that can provide material information on the charges. It would not be appropriate for the president to seek to call witnesses merely to try to perpetuate the same smear campaign that was foiled when his plot was discovered," Representative Adam Schiff, who is one of the House Managers, told CBS.
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