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Capitol Punishment

Late-night hearing sees Republicans block witness requests on first day of Trump impeachment trial

A 13-hour hearing saw Republicans push back attempts by Democrats to amend the procedures for the trial.

trump-impeachment The US Senate met for 13 hours on the opening day of Trump's impeachment trial yesterday AP / PA Images AP / PA Images / PA Images

US REPUBLICANS HAVE rejected Democratic demands for more witnesses to expose the president’s “trifecta” of offences during the opening salvos of Donald Trump’s impeachment trial.

In a marathon first day of arguments in the Senate, the two parties argued over the procedures for the trial while the Democrats spelled out arguments for Trump’s guilt.

The trial is testing whether Trump’s actions towards Ukraine warrant his removal at the same time that voters form their verdict on his presidency during election year.

After 13 hours, just before 2am, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell successfully mobilised the party’s 53-47 majority to push back Democratic attempts to amend the procedures for the trial that he reportedly crafted with the White House.

McConnell’s rules set out a schedule of six days of arguments, three days by the House impeachment managers and then three days by Trump’s defence team, which will be followed by one day of questions from the 100 Senators, who are acting as a jury.

And Democrats expressed anger at his refusal to call witnesses and to subpoena documents before the trial’s arguments phase is over.

The party said it wants to hear from current and former top Trump aides, including White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security advisor John Bolton.

Without any guarantee that witnesses would be called even at that time, they sought to give the presiding judge, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, the last word on calling witnesses.

That too was rejected in a stark party-line vote.

“They don’t want a fair trial,” said Adam Schiff, the leader of the House impeachment managers prosecuting the case.

“They don’t want you to hear these witnesses… they don’t want a neutral justice to weigh in.”

us-senate-floor-proceedings-during-the-impeachment-trial-of-us-president-trump Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts presides over the hearing DPA / PA Images DPA / PA Images / PA Images

Bitter exchange

Chief Justice John Roberts opened the session with House prosecutors on one side, Trump’s team on the other as senators sat silently at their desks, under oath to do “impartial justice”.

As the day stretched deep into the night, legal arguments gave way to more pointedly political ones. Tempers flared and senators paced the chamber as Democrats pursued a vote on hearing new evidence.

After one particularly bitter exchange, Roberts intervened, taking the step of admonishing both the Democratic House managers and the White House counsel to “remember where they are”.

Republicans repeatedly turned back Democratic amendments to subpoena documents from the White House, State Department, Defence Department and budget office.

Earlier, McConnell had stunned senators and delayed the start of proceedings with his decision to back off some of his proposed rules. Republicans were said to be concerned over the political optics of “dark of night” sessions.

The White House legal team did not dispute the president’s actions, when he called Ukraine and asked for a “favour”.

That request was to investigate Democrat Joe Biden, as the US withheld military aid its eastern European ally desperately needed as it faced off with Russia on its border.

The lawyers insisted the president did nothing wrong. “Absolutely no case,” White House counsel Pat Cipollone, the president’s lead lawyer, said.

Schiff, who chairs the committee leading the prosecution, said America’s founders added the remedy of impeachment in the constitution with “precisely this type of conduct in mind”.

He claimed such abuses included abuse of the power of office for a personal benefit, undermining US national security, and inviting foreign interference in an election.

He said: “It is the trifecta of constitutional misconduct justifying impeachment.”

Contains reporting from - © AFP 2020

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