23 January, 2020
WASHINGTON: US House Democrats opened marathon arguments in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial on Wednesday, trying to convince sceptical Republican senators to join them in voting to remove Trump from office to “protect our democracy”.
Trump’s lawyers sat by waiting their turn, as the president blasted the proceedings from afar, threatening jokingly to face-off with the Democrats by coming to “sit right in the front row and stare at their corrupt faces”.
The challenge before the House managers is clear. Democrats have 24 hours over three days to prosecute the charges against Trump, trying to win over not just fidgety senators sitting silently in the chamber but an American public, deeply divided over the president and his impeachment in an election year.
Representative Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, outlined what the Democrats contend was the president’s “corrupt scheme” to abuse his presidential power and then obstruct Congress’s investigation. He then called on senators not to be “cynical” about politics, but to draw on the intent of the nation’s Founding Fathers who provided the remedy of impeachment.
“Over the coming days, we will present to you – and to the American people – the extensive evidence collected during the House’s impeachment inquiry into the president’s abuse of power,” said Schiff standing before the Senate. “You will hear their testimony at the same time as the American people. That is, if you will allow it.”
The trial marks just the third time the Senate has weighed whether a US president should be removed from office.
Democrats argue Trump abused his office by asking Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden while withholding crucial military aid, and also obstructed Congress by refusing to turn over documents or allow officials to testify in the House probe. Republicans have defended Trump’s actions and cast the process as a politically motivated effort to weaken the president in the midst of his reelection campaign.
Wrangling over rules for the trial stretched past midnight Tuesday night, with Republicans shooting down one-by-one Democratic efforts to get Trump aides including former national security adviser John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, to testify.
Senators are likely to repeat those rejections next week, shutting out any chance of new testimony.
One longshot idea to pair one of Trump’s preferred witnesses – Biden’s son Hunter Biden – with Bolton or another that Democrats want was swiftly rejected.
Chief Justice John Roberts gaveled open Wednesday’s session as senators settled in for the long days ahead.
Most senators sat at their desks throughout, as the rules stipulate, though some stretched their legs, standing behind the desks or against the back wall of the chamber.
Freshman Representative Jason Crow, a House impeachment manager, had trouble holding the attention of senators, who by Senate rules were sitting in silence without access to phones or other electronics. Many senators left their seats and headed to nearby cloak rooms, or stood in the back or openly yawned as Crow talked about Trump’s hold on military aid to Ukraine. At one point, more than 10 senators’ seats were empty. (Int’l News Desk)