Trump impeachment trial should begin next week, McConnell says

The Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives will vote on Wednesday to send formal impeachment charges against President Donald Trump to the Senate, lawmakers said on Tuesday, clearing the way for a trial that could begin next Tuesday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told a party meeting that she would also name the Democrats’ team of “managers” who will lead the prosecution of Trump at the trial, Democratic congressman Henry Cuellar said.

Trump became only the third U.S. president to be impeached when the House last month approved charges that he abused his power by pressuring Ukraine to announce an investigation into his Democratic rival Joe Biden and obstructed Congress.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday afternoon that there could be some preliminary steps in the Senate impeachment proceedings this week, such as the swearing-in of senators.

“We’re assuming we’re on the trial next Tuesday [Jan. 21] and I think that’s the case,” he said at a news conference.

U.S. Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and Mike Rounds said McConnell’s trial plan will guarantee votes on calling witnesses and hearing new evidence.

Pelosi has delayed sending the charges to the Senate in an unsuccessful effort to get McConnell to agree to include new witness testimony that could be damaging to the Republican president.

The Senate is expected to acquit Trump, as none of its 53 Republicans have voiced support for ousting him, a step that would require a two-thirds majority in the 100-member Senate.

In a U.S. presidential impeachment trial, the senators act as observers in proceedings overseen by the head of the Supreme Court, in this case Chief Justice John Roberts. Republicans and Democrats are likely to clash over the issue of whether to call new witnesses.

Trump has denied any wrongdoing and has dismissed his impeachment as a partisan bid to undo his 2016 election win as he tries to win re-election in November.

The White House said on Tuesday the trial was “purely political.”

“It’s out of a desire to gain more power. It has nothing to do with the rule of law by any stretch because the articles they came up with don’t actually cite any crime. It’s just to try and smear this president because they know they can’t beat him at the ballot box,” White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley told Fox News.

WATCH | Trump impeached on Dec. 18:

Donald Trump became the third U.S. president to be impeached. The National breaks down what happened, how a divided nation reacted and what happens next. 6:51

The case against Trump is focused on a July 25 telephone call in which he asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open a corruption investigation into Biden and his son Hunter, and into a discredited theory that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 U.S. election.

Democrats say Trump abused his power by asking a foreign government to interfere in an American election for his own political benefit at the expense of U.S. national security. Nearly $400 million US in Pentagon-approved aid to Ukraine, which is fending off Russian military aggression in the east, was held up for several weeks, until a whistleblower complaint about the Trump-Zelensky call became public knowledge.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of California, seen arriving for a meeting with her Democratic charges, will help select managers to present the case in the Senate impeachment trial. (Jose Luis Magana/The Associated Press)

Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company, Burisma, including for over two years while his father was vice-president under Barack Obama. Republicans presume Biden would have been damaged politically by a Ukrainian probe into him and his son, but Trump and his allies have offered no evidence that they were involved in corruption in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, a U.S. cybersecurity firm said on Monday that Russian military hackers tried to steal emails from Burisma around the same time as the House was holding impeachment hearings.

The two articles of impeachment — or formal charges — against Trump include an accusation that he obstructed Congress’ efforts to investigate him by instructing officials to ignore House committee subpoenas to testify or to produce documents at an earlier stage of the Ukraine investigation.

Democrats want to hear at the trial from current and former White House officials, such as former national security adviser John Bolton, for insight into Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine that could be damaging for the president’s defence.

McConnell said the chamber will hold a vote to decide whether to call witnesses at all. If that succeeds, he said Republicans likely will want to call witnesses of their own.

Pelosi could name up to 10 lawmakers as managers to argue the case against Trump, including House intelligence committee chairman Adam Schiff and House judiciary chair Jerrold Nadler.

WATCH | Republican disturbed by lack of impartiality:

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston discusses Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s comments suggesting she is concerned about how the Republicans in Senate are working with the White House on impeachment strategy 6:29

The 1999 impeachment trial of then-President Bill Clinton lasted five weeks. If the Senate conducts its trial along those lines, as McConnell has suggested, that would mean lawmakers would still be considering charges against the president while the first nominating contests of the 2020 presidential election were underway in Iowa and New Hampshire. The Iowa vote takes place on Feb. 3, followed eight days later by the New Hampshire contest.

That could make life difficult for the four senators who are running for the Democratic nomination: Elizabeth Warren, Michael Bennet, Amy Klobuchar and Bernie Sanders.

READ | The articles of impeachment drafted by the House:

No U.S. president has been removed as a direct result of impeachment. Andrew Johnson and Clinton were impeached by the House, in 1868 and 1998 respectively, but not convicted by the Senate, while Richard Nixon resigned before he could be impeached in 1974.

The last Senate impeachment trial occurred in 2010, involving a federal judge from Louisiana. Thomas Porteous was convicted after being accused of corruption and abuse of his office, with Schiff serving as one of the House managers.

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