Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell sparked outrage among Democrats by laying out rules for US president Donald Trump’s impeachment trial that would raise the bar for introducing evidence and could lead to marathon late-night sessions that may limit the number of Americans able to watch the proceedings.
The resolution by Mr McConnell is expected to be approved on Tuesday, when Mr Trump’s trial is scheduled to begin. Mr McConnell said this month he “had the votes” to proceed in the Republican-controlled Senate without co-operation of Democrats.
The Senate last week received the articles of impeachment from the House of Representatives charging Mr Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The president is accused of pressuring his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate Joe Biden, the former vice-president and Mr Trump's leading Democratic rival in the 2020 election.
Mr McConnell’s resolution grants House Democrats, who will act as prosecutors, and Mr Trump’s defence team 24 hours each to make their arguments. But it will require them to use their time over a two-day period, with the first session starting at 1pm Wednesday – meaning the trial could extend into the dead of night.
Democrats have demanded the trial include the calling of witnesses and the admission of fresh evidence not included in the House impeachment inquiry. But Mr McConnell’s resolution sets up a Senate vote, by simple majority, on whether to admit witnesses or evidence only after the opening statements and a 16-hour period for senators to question the president’s counsel and House Democrats.
The resolution stipulates that if the Senate votes to hear witnesses, those testifying will first give closed-door depositions. The Senate “shall decide after deposition which witnesses shall testify”.
Votes would also be required before consideration of any evidence collected by the House impeachment inquiry.
Senate minority leader Chuck Schumercalled Mr McConnell’s resolution “nothing short of a national disgrace”, saying the Republican was “hell-bent on making it much more difficult to get witnesses and documents and intent on rushing the trial through”.
Mr Schumer has called for testimony from John Bolton, the former national security adviser, and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, among others, after the Trump administration told them not to co-operate with the House impeachment inquiry.
The seven House Democrats acting as impeachment managers condemned the resolution on Tuesday. “A White House-driven and rigged process, with a truncated schedule designed to go late into the night and further conceal the president’s misconduct, is not what the American people expect or deserve,” they said in a joint statement. Democratic speaker of the House Nancy Pelosisaid that any senator backing Mr McConnell’s “sham process must be held accountable to the American people”.
Trump at Davos when trial begins
Mr Trump will be at the World Economic Forum in Davos when his trial begins, where he gave a speech on Tuesday that assailed environmentalists as "alarmists" and claimed he had turned the US economy into "a roaring geyser of opportunity". He is also due to meet world leaders, including president of Iraq Barham Salihand prime minister of Pakistan Imran Khan.
Earlier on Monday, Mr Trump’s lawyers laid out his defence in a 171-page legal brief arguing the president did nothing wrong and that allegations of abuse of power were a “novel theory” that did not support his removal from office.
A White House statement named eight Republican congressmen who would serve as part of Mr Trump’s team “to combat this hyper-partisan and baseless impeachment”.
One senior Republican leadership aide said Mr McConnell’s proposal for Senate votes on House evidence was “important” because the president had been “denied due process throughout the 12 weeks of partisan House proceedings”.
Mr Schumer vowed to offer amendments to the resolution when it is introduced. “Under this resolution, Senator McConnell is saying he doesn’t want to hear any of the existing evidence, and he doesn’t want to hear any new evidence,” he said. “A trial where no evidence – no existing record, no witnesses, no documents – isn’t a trial at all, it’s a cover up. And the American people will see it for exactly what it is.”
Mr Trump is expected to be acquitted in the Senate, as his removal from office would require 20 Republican senators to vote against him.
Last week, chief justice of the US supreme court John Roberts – who will preside over the impeachment trial – swore in 99 members of the upper chamber who will act as jurors. One senator, who was absent last week due to a medical emergency, will be sworn in on Tuesday. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2020