Trump impeachment trial could start in days as Democrats to vote on charges

by Reuters
Tuesday, 14 January 2020 16:11 GMT

(Adds White House quote)

By David Morgan and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON, Jan 14 (Reuters) - 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, likely setting the start of Trump's trial for later this week.

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.

But Pelosi has delayed sending the charges to the Senate in an unsuccessful effort to get that chamber's Republican Majority Leader Mitch 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-seat Senate.

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.

A Wednesday vote would allow the Senate to start the trial on Thursday afternoon, although the first few days will be consumed with housekeeping duties such as swearing in members and formally reading the two impeachment charges. Lawmakers likely would not hear opening arguments until next week at the earliest.

"We'll have I think about a 10-minute debate and we'll vote on it and then send everything over. And the Senate trial, I assume, will start next week," Cuellar said.

The 1999 impeachment trial of then-President Bill Clinton lasted five weeks. If the Senate conducts its trial along those lines, as Republican 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.

Democrats want current and former White House officials such as former national security adviser John Bolton to testify, but McConnell has yet to say definitively how the Republican-controlled Senate will conduct the trial.

WITNESS DEBATE

McConnell has not committed to allowing any witnesses or new documents in the proceedings and instead could steer the process toward a quick acquittal. He has left open the possibility of deciding on witness testimony later in the trial.

Democrats accuse Trump of abusing 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.

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

Joe Biden, whose son served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company, is a leading Democratic candidate for the presidential nomination to face Trump in the Nov. 3 election.

The White House said on Tuesday the impending 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 spokesman Hogan Gidley told Fox News.

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.

House Democrats have said Pelosi could name up to 10 lawmakers as managers to argue the case against Trump, including House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who spearheaded the impeachment probe, and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler.

(Reporting by David Morgan and Richard Cowan; writing by Alistair Bell; editing by Andy Sullivan and Jonathan Oatis)

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