Senators clash as Trump impeachment trial opens

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (C) walks to the Senate floor at the start of the trial

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EPA

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Mitch McConnell (C) wants to block subpoenaing key witnesses or documents

The US Senate has rejected repeated Democratic attempts to secure new evidence in President Donald Trump’s impeachment as his trial began.

Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell meanwhile backed off on a plan to fast-track the hearings after coming under pressure from fellow Republicans.

About Senators

Senators clash as Trump impeachment trial opens

About impeachment
Impeachment is the process by which a legislative body levels charges against a government official. Impeachment does not in itself remove the official definitively from office; it is similar to an indictment in criminal law, and thus it is essentially the statement of charges against the official. Whereas in some countries the individual is provisionally removed, in others they can remain in office during the trial. Once impeached, an individual must then face the possibility of conviction on the charges by a legislative vote, which is separate from the impeachment, but flows from it, and a judgment which convicts the official on the articles of impeachment entails the official’s definitive removal from office.
Because impeachment and conviction of officials involve an overturning of the normal constitutional procedures by which individuals achieve high office (election, ratification, or appointment) and because it generally requires a supermajority, they are usually reserved for those deemed to have committed serious abuses of their office. In the United States, for example, impeachment at the federal level is limited to those who may have committed “Treason, Bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors”.
Impeachment exists under constitutional law in many countries around the world, including Brazil, France, India, Ireland, the Philippines, Russia, South Korea, and the United States.

Democrats said this would have been no less than a cover-up.

Mr Trump is charged with abuse of power and obstructing the congressional inquiry. He denies wrongdoing.

Senators clash as Trump impeachment trial opens

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Tuesday, Mr Trump dismissed the accusations against him as “just a hoax”.

Senators have taken oaths to act as impartial jurors, hearing arguments for six hours a day, six days a week in a trial presided over by the US Chief Justice, John Roberts.

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It is only the third time in US history that a president is facing an impeachment trial and it is unclear how long it will last.

Mr Trump was impeached last month by the Democratic-led House of Representatives.

But the Senate, which is controlled by his fellow Republicans, is not expected to convict the president and remove him from office.

How were Democrats blocked?

By party-line votes of 53-47, the Senate rejected three Democratic bids on Tuesday to obtain documents and evidence in the impeachment trial.

Senators blocked a motion from Democratic leader Chuck Schumer to subpoena White House files related to Mr Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.

They also rejected follow-up motions demanding a subpoena of records and documents from the state department and White House budget office.

In his opening statement, Adam Schiff, the House Democrat leading the impeachment case, said most Americans “do not believe there will be a fair trial”.

“They don’t believe the Senate will be impartial,” he added. “They believe the result is pre-cooked.”

The president’s legal team had earlier demanded he be immediately acquitted, calling the trial “a dangerous perversion of the constitution”.

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Media captionA beginner’s guide to impeachment and Trump

How did Mitch McConnell come under pressure?

Backed by the president’s lawyers, Mr McConnell had initially planned to condense the opening arguments from three days to two.

But after a meeting with senators, including some Republicans, Mr McConnell agreed on Tuesday to three days for opening arguments.

The senators had expressed concern about how middle-of-the-night sessions would look to US voters.

White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, the president’s lead lawyer, said: “It’s a fair process. There is absolutely no case.”

Several more days of procedural tangles are expected.

Democrats want current and former Trump administration officials such as ex-National Security Adviser John Bolton to testify.

But Republicans are postponing debate over witnesses and documents until later in the trial.

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What are the charges?

First, the president is accused of seeking help from Ukraine’s government to help himself get re-elected in November.

It is claimed that, during a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, he held back military aid as he sought an anti-corruption investigation into Democratic White House candidate Joe Biden, whose son, Hunter, held a board position with a Ukrainian energy firm, Burisma.

The second allegation is that, by refusing to allow White House staff to testify at the impeachment hearings last year, Mr Trump obstructed Congress.

The Senate is hearing the case as the Democratic-led House voted to impeach Mr Trump on 18 December.