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US Senate leader backs down on proposed impeachment trial rules after backlash

Donald Trump has denounced the proceedings as “a total hoax”.

LAST UPDATE | 21 Jan 2020

CBS News / YouTube

US SENATE MAJORITY leader Mitch McConnell has abruptly backed down from some of his proposed rules for President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, easing plans for a tight two-day schedule and agreeing that House evidence will be included.

He acted after protests from senators, including fellow Republicans.

The trial quickly burst into a partisan fight at the Capitol as the president’s lawyers opened arguments today in support of McConnell’s plan.

Democrats objected loudly to McConnell’s initially proposed rules, and some Republicans made their concerns known in private.

Without comment, the Republican leader quietly submitted an amended proposal for the record, after meeting behind closed doors with senators as the trial opened.

2.49740803 US President Donald Trump PA Images PA Images

The handwritten changes would add an extra day for each side’s opening arguments and stipulate that evidence from the Democratic House’s impeachment hearings be included in the record.

There is still deep disagreement about calling additional witnesses.

“It’s time to start with this trial,” White House counsel Pat Cipollone, the president’s lead lawyer, said as the proceedings opened in public.

Chief Justice John Roberts gavelled open the session earlier today, senators having taken an oath last week to do “impartial justice” as jurors.

House prosecutors are on one side of the room, Trump’s team on the other, as senators sit at their desks, no mobile phones or other electronics allowed.

Senators were stunned by McConnell’s shift, which briefly delayed the start of the historic session.

A spokeswoman for Republican Senator Susan Collins said she and others had raised concerns. The Maine senator sees the changes as significant improvements, her spokeswoman added.  

‘Total hoax’ 

The rare impeachment trial, unfolding in an election year, is testing whether Trump’s actions toward Ukraine warrant removal at the same time that voters are forming their own verdict on his White House term.

Trump, who has been attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, said the whole thing was “a total hoax”, as he does regularly, and said: “I’m sure it’s going to work out fine.”

With Trump’s presidency on the line, and the nation deeply divided just weeks before the first Democratic primary contests, four senators who are also presidential candidates will be off the campaign trail, seated as jurors.

Democrats earlier said the prospect of middle-of-the-night proceedings, without allowing new witnesses or even the voluminous House records of the trial, would leave the public without crucial information about Trump’s political pressure campaign on Ukraine and the White House’s obstruction of the House impeachment probe.

“The McConnell rules seem to be designed by President Trump for President Trump,” the Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, said before the change in approach was announced. 

“This is a historic moment,” Schumer said. “The eyes of America are watching. Republican senators must rise to the occasion.” 

Associated Foreign Press
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