Trump impeachment trial to begin with rules fight, long days

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Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer warned of a “cover-up” with McConnell’s plan that could lead to back-to-back 12-hour days

WASHINGTON, Jan 21 (AP): President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial is set to unfold at the Capitol, a contentious proceeding to render judgment on his Ukraine actions as Americans form their own verdict at the start of an election year.

As the Senate reconvenes with Chief Justice John Roberts presiding over the rare impeachment court, senators sworn to “impartial justice,” the legacy of Trump’s presidency and the system of checks and balances are at stake before a politically divided nation.

A first test will come midday Tuesday when the session gavels open to vote on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s proposed rules for debate.

On the eve of the trial, the Republican leader offered a compressed calendar for opening statements, just two days for each side, as Trump’s lawyers argued for swift rejection of the “flimsy” charges against the president and acquittal.

“All of this is a dangerous perversion of the Constitution that the Senate should swiftly and roundly condemn,” the president’s lawyers wrote in their first full filing Monday. “The articles should be rejected and the president should immediately be acquitted.”

Democrats – as the House prosecutors practiced opening arguments well into the night on the Senate floor – vowed to object to a speedy trial as they pressed for fresh witnesses and documents.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer warned of a “cover-up” with McConnell’s plan that could lead to back-to-back 12-hour days.

“It’s clear Sen. McConnell is hell-bent on making it much more difficult to get witnesses and documents and intent on rushing the trial through,” Schumer said. He called the proposed rules a “national disgrace.”

The first several days of the trial are now almost certain to be tangled in procedural motions playing out on the Senate floor or, more likely, behind closed doors, since senators must refrain from speaking during the trial proceedings.

Senators are poised for only the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history, coming just weeks before the first primaries of the 2020 election, with four senators running for the Democratic nomination sidelined from campaigning.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, told supporters in Des Moines they’re going to have to “carry the ball” for him while he takes his seat in Washington. The Iowa caucuses are in less than two weeks.

At the White House, with the president embarked on a trip to the global leaders conference in Davos, Switzerland, officials welcomed the Republican trial proposal.

“We are gratified that the draft resolution protects the President’s rights to a fair trial, and look forward to presenting a vigorous defense on the facts and the process as quickly as possible, and seeking an acquittal as swiftly as possible,” said White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will also be away for the proceedings, leading a bipartisan congressional delegation to Poland and Israel to commemorate the 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz at the end of World War II.

House Democrats impeached the Republican president last month on two charges: abuse of power by withholding U.S. military aid to Ukraine as he pressed the country to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden, and obstruction of Congress by refusing to cooperate with their investigation.

The Constitution gives the House the sole power to impeach a president and the Senate the final verdict by convening as the impeachment court for a trial.

The president late Monday named eight House Republicans, some of his fiercest defenders, to a special team tasked with rallying support beyond the Senate chamber in the court of public opinion.

McConnell is angling for a quick trial and acquittal, and with Republicans holding the Senate majority, the trial proposal is likely to be approved by senators in the president’s party. The Republican leader had promised to set rules similar to the last trial, of President Bill Clinton in 1999, but his resolution diverged in key ways, which may leave some senators from both parties uneasy.

After the four days of opening arguments, senators will be allowed up to 16 hours for questions to the prosecution and defense, followed by four hours of debate. Only then will there be votes on whether or not to call other witnesses.

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