Freed from impeachment drama, Trump to press ahead with re-election campaign

By Jeff Mason and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump emerged confident and ready to press on with his re-election effort on Wednesday after the Democratic-led impeachment drive that he denounced as illegitimate crashed to a halt in the Republican-led Senate.

Trump plans to speak about the issue at the White House on Thursday. A source close to the president described his address as a “vindication speech” that would combine some magnanimity with an “I told you so” tone.

Next, advisers said, Trump would proceed at full steam on his political and policy goals, throwing himself fully into his re-election campaign and efforts to fulfill promises he has made to his supporters and the electorate.

“The president is pleased to put this latest chapter of shameful behavior by the Democrats in the past, and looks forward to continuing his work on behalf of the American people in 2020 and beyond,” the White House said in a statement after the verdict.

Trump was acquitted largely along party lines on two articles of impeachment approved by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives that accused him of abusing his power by pressing Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, a contender for the Democratic nomination to face him in the Nov. 3 election, and obstructing Congress’ attempts to investigate the matter.

But he did not come out of the process unscathed.

As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made clear, the impeachment will be part of his legacy, and Republican Senator Mitt Romney’s vote to convict him on the abuse-of-power charge deprived the president of the ability to dismiss the process as entirely partisan.

But Republican officials noted record fundraising during the impeachment process, leading Trump’s re-election effort to bring in $155 million in the last three months of 2019 alone, boosted by a support base that is both pumped up and ticked off.

‘TOTAL VINDICATION’

Although the bruising impeachment battle is certain to be a factor for voters considering whether to re-elect Trump in November, his campaign is claiming victory.

“Acquittal means total vindication,” said Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign’s communications director. “The Democrats’ decision to move forward with impeachment will go down as the worst political miscalculation in American history.”

In a sign of confidence, minutes after senators found him not guilty, the president tweeted a video of himself with campaign signs projected well into the future, suggesting he wanted to be president for decades to come.

U.S. presidents are constitutionally limited to two elected terms in office. Trump faced accusations of being autocratic and king-like during the Senate impeachment trial.

Trump released another video several hours later that referred to Romney as a “Democrat secret asset” and said the senator tried to “infiltrate” the president’s administration when Trump considered him for the position of secretary of state.

As the impeachment drama dragged on over the weeks, Trump gyrated between feeling upbeat and aggrieved. Advisers said he complained that his trade deal with Mexico and Canada did not get the media coverage it deserved because of the focus on impeachment.

With the threat of removal from office behind him, Trump is expected to bask in the glow of a strong economy and hammer Democrats for their efforts to take him down, even as supporters anticipate that Democrats will keep investigating him.

“I think President Trump and all of his allies are keenly aware of the fact that Democrats are going to keep this barrage up all the way through the November election,” said Jason Miller, a campaign adviser in 2016.

Trump plans to headline a rally in New Hampshire next week and more frequent rallies are expected in the coming months.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Steve Holland; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Peter Cooney)

Senate acquits Trump in historic vote as re-election battle looms

By David Morgan, Susan Cornwell, Richard Cowan and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump was acquitted on Wednesday in his U.S. Senate impeachment trial, saved by fellow Republicans who rallied to protect him nine months before he asks voters in a deeply divided America to give him a second White House term.

The businessman-turned-politician, 73, survived only the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history – just like the two other impeached presidents – in his turbulent presidency’s darkest chapter. Trump now plunges into an election season that promises to further polarize the country.

Trump was acquitted largely along party lines on two articles of impeachment approved by the Democratic-led House of Representatives on Dec. 18, with the votes falling far short of the two-thirds majority required in the 100-seat Senate to remove him under the U.S. Constitution.

The Senate voted 52-48 to acquit him of abuse of power stemming from his request that Ukraine investigate political rival Joe Biden, a contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in the Nov. 3 election. Republican Senator Mitt Romney joined the Democrats in voting to convict. No Democrat voted to acquit.

The Senate then voted 53-47 to acquit him of obstruction of Congress by blocking witnesses and documents sought by the House. A conviction on either count would have elevated Vice President Mike Pence, another Republican, into the presidency. Romney joined the rest of the Republican senators in voting to acquit on the obstruction charge. No Democrat voted to acquit.

On each of the two charges, the senators voted one by one on the Senate floor with U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts presiding.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans engineered a stripped-down trial with no witnesses or new evidence. Democrats called the trial a sham and a cover-up. Trump called the impeachment an attempted coup and a Democratic attempt to annul his 2016 election victory.

Throughout the impeachment drama, Trump and his Republican allies kept up their attacks on Biden’s integrity. It remains to be seen how much political damage that inflicted. In the first of the state-by-state contests to determine the Democratic challenger to Trump, Biden placed a disappointing fourth in Iowa, according to incomplete results from Monday’s voting. Biden has accused Trump of “lies, smears, distortions and name-calling.”

 

‘APPALLING ABUSE’

Trump faces no serious challengers for his party’s presidential nomination. He is poised to claim the nomination at the party’s convention in August and previewed in his State of the Union address on Tuesday campaign themes such as American renewal, economic vitality and hardline immigration policies.

Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, broke with his party to vote to convict Trump on the abuse-of-power charge. Romney called the president’s actions in pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden “grievously wrong” and said Trump was “guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust.”

“What he did was not ‘perfect,'” Romney said on the Senate floor, as Trump has described his call with Ukraine’s president that was at the heart of the scandal. “No, it was a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security and our fundamental values. Corrupting an election to keep one’s self in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine.”

Romney, a moderate and elder statesman in his party, paused during his speech as he became choked with emotion after mentioning the importance of his religious faith.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham lashed out at Democrats, saying: “What you have done is unleash the partisan forces of hell.”

Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, said Trump’s acquittal in an unfair trial was worth nothing.

“No doubt, the president will boast he received total exoneration. But we know better. We know this wasn’t a trial by any stretch of the definition.”

In his speech, McConnell said: “The architects of this impeachment claimed they were defending norms and traditions. In reality, it was an assault on both.”

 

BIGGEST VICTORY YET

Democrats expressed concern that an acquittal would further embolden a president who already challenges political norms. They have painted him as threat to U.S. democracy and a demagogue who has acted lawlessly and exhibited a contempt for the powers of Congress and other institutions. They also have voiced concern over Russia interfering in another American election.

Trump’s legal team offered a vision of nearly unlimited presidential powers, a view Democrats said placed any president above the law.

The acquittal handed Trump his biggest victory yet over his Democratic adversaries in Congress. Democrats vowed to press ahead with investigations – they are fighting in court for access to his financial records – and voiced hope that the facts unearthed during the impeachment process about his conduct would help persuade voters to make him a one-term president.

Trump’s job approval ratings have remained fairly consistent throughout his presidency and the impeachment process as his core conservative supporters – especially white men, rural Americans, evangelical Christians and conservative Catholics – stick with him.

The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll, conducted on Monday and Tuesday, showed 42% of American adults approved of his performance, while 54% disapproved. That is nearly the same as when the House launched its impeachment inquiry in September, when his approval stood at 43% and disapproval at 53%.

The trial formally began on Jan. 16. The Senate voted 51-49 last Friday to defeat the Democrats’ bid to call witnesses such as Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton, with only two Republicans joining them.

In the previous presidential impeachment trials, Andrew Johnson was acquitted in 1868 in the aftermath of the American Civil War and Bill Clinton was acquitted in 1999 of charges stemming from a sex scandal.

In the hours before the vote, numerous senators gave speeches on the Senate floor explaining their vote.

 

SHADOW OF INVESTIGATION

Trump, now seeking a second four-year term, has been under the shadow of some sort of investigation for most of his presidency. The acquittal marked the second time in 10 months that he withstood an existential threat to his presidency.

In March 2019, Special Counsel Robert Mueller found insufficient evidence that Trump engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Russia in its interference on his behalf in the 2016 election. Mueller did not exonerate Trump of obstruction of justice in seeking to impede the investigation but stopped short of concluding the president acted unlawfully. Trump declared full vindication.

Last July 25, Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy during a phone call to “do us a favor” and open an investigation into Biden and his son Hunter Biden and into a discredited theory beneficial to Russia that Ukraine colluded with Democrats to meddle in the 2016 election to harm Trump.

Hunter Biden had joined the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma while his father was U.S. vice president. Trump accused the Bidens of corruption without offering substantiation. The Bidens denied wrongdoing.

Democrats said Trump further abused his power by withholding $391 million in security aid approved by Congress to help Ukraine battle Russia-backed separatists and by dangling a coveted White House meeting as leverage to pressure Zelenskiy to announce the investigations.

Under the Constitution, impeachment is the mechanism for removing a president or certain other federal officials for “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

 

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell, Richard Cowan, Lisa Lambert, David Morgan, Patricia Zengerle and Makini Brice; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Paul Simao and Peter Cooney)

Explainer: Why will Republicans vote to acquit Trump in his impeachment trial?

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Republican-led U.S. Senate is expected to acquit President Donald Trump on Wednesday at the end of his impeachment trial on charges that he abused his power in dealings with Ukraine and obstructed efforts to uncover the alleged misconduct.

Here is a summary of the reasons that Trump’s Republicans, who control 53 seats in the 100-seat chamber, say he should not be removed from office:

– Trump did nothing wrong

The impeachment charges against Trump contend that he sought to pressure Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading 2020 Democratic presidential contender, to benefit his own re-election campaign.

They say Trump withheld nearly $400 million in U.S. security aid and a coveted White House meeting with the newly elected Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Some Republicans say he did nothing wrong. They say Trump was simply trying to crack down on corruption in a country where that has long been a problem and wanted U.S. allies to share the burden of supporting Ukraine.

“Both of those objectives are consistent with law, are permissible and legal,” Republican Senator Ted Cruz said on the Senate floor.

Senators making this argument tend to represent reliably conservative states or, like Cruz, do not face re-election this year.

– Trump’s actions were wrong, but not impeachable

Nearly half-a-dozen Senate Republicans, including some from electoral swing states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio, say Trump’s actions were wrong but do not qualify as “high crimes and misdemeanors,” which the U.S. Constitution specifies as grounds for impeachment.

“The president did it, shouldn’t have done it. But it’s a far cry from what the Constitution sets out as the standard for removing a president from office,” said Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

Others making that argument include Susan Collins, a moderate Republican facing a tough re-election campaign in Maine. She told the Senate that Trump’s request for an investigation of Biden was “improper and demonstrated very poor judgment.”

– Removal of Trump would upset voters

Regardless of the merits of the impeachment case, a large number of Republicans say ousting the president from office could worsen partisan divisions.

“Can anyone doubt that at least half of the country would view his removal as illegitimate — as nothing short of a coup d’etat?” Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida said in statement.

No Republicans voted for Trump’s impeachment in the Democratic-led House of Representatives in December. During the Senate impeachment trial, Trump’s lawyers accused Democrats of seeking to remove Trump from office even before he became president in January 2017.

Trump’s approval rating has shown little change since news broke of his efforts to pressure Zelenskiy in September, and he remains popular among Republican voters. Reuters/Ipsos polling shows that Trump’s approval rating stood at 39 percent at the end of last week, down from 43 percent in late September, which is not a statistically significant change.

Trump’s popularity among Republican voters is surely a factor for the 21 Republican senators seeking re-election this year, as they could face a backlash if they were to vote to convict.

– Not enough evidence

Republicans accuse House Democrats of bringing a “half-baked” impeachment case to the Senate, saying they failed to fight in federal court for vital witnesses and documents that Trump has withheld.

They say House investigators have since inappropriately tried to persuade the Senate to complete the task for them by subpoenaing additional witnesses and documents. All but two Republicans voted last week against a Democratic motion to call more witnesses and present more evidence that could help make the case.

“They claimed dozens of times, that their existing case was, quote, ‘overwhelming and incontrovertible,'” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. “At the same time, they were arguing for more witnesses.”

Other Republicans say the impeachment case relies too heavily on unprovable assertions that Trump’s motives were corrupt. They say it could set a precedent that would allow a future Congress to punish a president for pursuing genuine anti-corruption policies.

“The House of Representatives’ abuse-of-power theory rests entirely on the president’s subjective motive. This very vague standard cannot be sustained,” said Republican Senator Chuck Grassley.

– Let the voters decide

Republicans frequently said impeachment would subvert the will of voters who elected Trump in 2016. They say the Senate should not interfere with the Nov. 3 presidential election, in which Trump will seek another four years in office.

“Under the Constitution, impeachment wasn’t designed to be a litmus test on every action of the president. Elections were designed to be that check,” Republican Senator Joni Ernst said.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Peter Cooney)

Trump nears likely acquittal as U.S. Senate to cast impeachment vote

By Susan Cornwell and David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Four months after Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives launched a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, the Senate is poised on Wednesday to acquit him on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Trump, a Republican and only the third president in U.S. history to be impeached by the House and tried by the Senate, faces a 4 p.m. (2100 GMT) vote that will determine whether he can complete his term as president or must immediately turn over his office to Vice President Mike Pence.

While the vote will be historic, there is little doubt of the outcome as none of the Senate’s 53 Republicans have said they will vote to convict him.

It would take 67 of the 100 senators to oust the 45th president from office – an action that has never been taken by the Senate.

In 1999, Democratic President Bill Clinton was acquitted on charges of lying under oath and obstruction of justice stemming from a sexual relationship with a White House intern.

In 1868, President Andrew Johnson was found not guilty of 11 charges, which partially revolved around a post-Civil War tussle over his removal of the secretary of war.

Richard Nixon, the only president to resign, did so in 1974 when many of his fellow Republicans abandoned him during a House impeachment probe related to a break-in at Democratic Party offices in Washington.

If Trump is acquitted, Republicans and Democrats will take their respective cases to voters as Trump seeks re-election on Nov. 3. Rancor amid the proceedings echoed in Congress late Tuesday as Trump delivered his annual State of the Union remarks, with tensions between the president and House Democrats spilling into public view.

Trump’s Senate trial, spanning 21 days, focused on whether he withheld U.S. aid to Ukraine last summer as leverage to get Kiev to launch an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic contender in this year’s U.S. presidential election.

Trump denied any wrongdoing and Republicans in the House and Senate largely rallied around him. But over the past few days, some Republican senators have criticized Trump’s behavior, while defending his right to remain in office.

“It was wrong for him to ask a foreign country to investigate a political rival,” Senator Susan Collins, a moderate Republican up for re-election this year, said on Tuesday, adding that Trump had learned his lesson.

Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen rejected that argument, telling CNN on Wednesday that “we know from the president’s own words that he has not,” as Democrats argue Trump will remain undeterred if faced with no rebuke.

Even with the outcome in sight, it remains to be seen whether any Democrats from Trump-leaning states break ranks to hand Trump a bipartisan acquittal.

Senator Mitt Romney, the only other moderate Republican along with Collins to go against the party earlier by urging more witness testimony, is also expected to make remarks on Wednesday. Once the party’s standard-bearer as its 2012 presidential nominee, he has at times appeared out of step with a party now fully behind the president.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, has waged a full-throated defense of Trump on Tuesday, urging the Senate to “vote to keep factional fever from boiling over and scorching our republic.”

In response, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer argued that it was “the beginning of the end of democracy” if Americans believe their elections are being manipulated through foreign interference, such as that solicited by Trump.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted on Jan. 27 and 28 showed 39% of American adults approved of Trump’s performance in office, while 55% disapproved. That is slightly down from when the House launched its impeachment inquiry in September, when his approval stood at 43% and his disapproval at 53%.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell and David Morgan; Additional reporting by Makini Brice; Writing by Richard Cowan and Susan Heavey; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Peter Cooney)

Factbox: Trump impeachment – What happens next?

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate will conclude its impeachment trial of U.S. President Donald Trump this week, with a final vote set for Wednesday. The Republican-controlled chamber is all but certain to acquit the president.

Monday Feb. 3

– The Senate trial will resume at 11 a.m. (1600 GMT) with Chief Justice John Roberts presiding. There will be four hours of closing arguments by the House impeachment managers and White House lawyers. The trial will then be recessed and the Senate will hold a regular session to hear speeches from senators on whether Trump should be convicted or acquitted. Roberts will not be present for this session.

Tuesday Feb. 4

– Speeches by senators continue. Trump is scheduled to deliver his annual State of the Union address to both chambers of the U.S. Congress at 9 p.m. (0200 GMT).

Wednesday Feb. 5

– The trial resumes with a final vote expected on the acquittal or conviction of the Republican president by 4 p.m. (2100 GMT).

(Reporting by David Morgan, Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Sandra Maler)

Trump impeachment trial end gets closer; witness bid likely to fail

By James Oliphant and David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial faces a climactic vote on Friday, when senators are due to decide whether to call witnesses and prolong the historic proceedings or instead bring them to the swift conclusion and acquittal that Trump wants.

Democrats need to persuade four Republicans to vote with them in the Senate in order to call witnesses such as John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser. Senator Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee and sometime critic of Trump, on Friday became the second Republican senator to state support for voting for witnesses, joining fellow moderate Susan Collins.

Barring an unforeseen change of heart by another Republican senator, that would leave Democrats short of the 51 votes they need and allow Trump’s allies to defeat the request for additional evidence and move toward a final vote that is all but certain to acquit the president and leave him in office.

That final vote could take place late on Friday or on Saturday, congressional sources said.

GRAPHIC: Impeachment of U.S. President Donald Trump – https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-TRUMP-WHISTLEBLOWER/0100B2EZ1MK/index.html

Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, who had been undecided, said late on Thursday that Democrats had proven the case against Trump but that the president’s actions did “not meet the United States Constitution’s high bar for an impeachable offense.”

Senate Democrats have been arguing throughout the two-week proceedings that lawmakers need to hear from witnesses in order for it to be a fair trial. This would be the first Senate impeachment trial in U.S. history with no witnesses, including trials of two prior presidents and a number of other federal officials.

Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley said a trial barring witnesses and new evidence would be a “kangaroo court” and a “tragedy in every possible way.”

“Lamar’s decision – it’s an offense against the Senate, it’s an offense against the rule of law, and it’s an offense against the American people,” Merkley told CNN.

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives impeached Trump in December, formally charging him with abuse of power for asking Ukraine to investigate a political rival, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. The House also charged Trump with obstruction of Congress for blocking current and former officials from providing testimony or documents.

“The truth is staring us in the eyes,” Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, the lead House prosecutor, said on the Senate floor.

“We know why they don’t want John Bolton to testify. It’s not that we don’t really know what’s happened here. They just don’t want the American people to hear it in all of its ugly, graphic detail.”

Trump is only the third president in U.S. history to be impeached. A vote of two-thirds of the Senate is required to remove him from office and no Republicans have yet indicated they will vote to convict.

Trump’s Republican allies have tried to keep the trial on a fast track and minimize any damage to the president, who is seeking re-election on Nov. 3. Trump’s acquittal would allow him to claim vindication just as Democrats hold the first of the state-by-state nominating contests on Monday in Iowa to choose the party’s nominee to challenge Trump in the election.

The president held a rally in Des Moines, Iowa, on Thursday night and denounced the impeachment trial, calling it an effort by Democrats to overturn his 2016 election victory.

“They want to nullify your ballots, poison our democracy and overthrow the entire system of government,” Trump told his supporters.

SHOWDOWN

On Friday, the Democrats prosecuting Trump and the president’s lawyers are expected to present closing arguments before the Senate votes on whether to call witnesses.

Contradicting Trump’s version of events, Bolton wrote in an unpublished book manuscript that the president told him he wanted to freeze $391 million in security aid to Ukraine until Kiev pursued investigations of Democrats, including Biden and the former vice president’s son, Hunter Biden, the New York Times reported.

Bolton’s allegations go to the heart of impeachment charges against Trump. Democrats have said Trump abused his power by using the security aid – passed by Congress to help Ukraine battle Russia-backed separatists – as leverage to get a foreign power to smear a political rival.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on a visit to Kiev, emphasized U.S. support for Ukraine.

Pompeo, the highest-ranking U.S. official to travel to Ukraine since the impeachment began, also denied that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy would be granted a visit to the White House to meet Trump only if Ukraine agreed to announce an investigation of Hunter Biden.

If further witnesses and documents are permitted, Republicans have threatened to call either Joe or Hunter Biden and perhaps the whistleblower within the intelligence community whose complaint about Ukraine led the House to begin its investigation.

If the vote on whether to allow witnesses is 50-50, Chief Justice John Roberts could step in to break the tie. But there is so little precedent for impeachment trials that Senate aides said there was no way to know exactly what would occur.

Merkley said he did not expect Roberts to break a tie. “He’s not taking a stand for the institutions of the United States,” Merkley said.

If Roberts declines to break a tie, the deadlock would mean a defeat for Democrats.

(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan in Washington and Jeff Mason in Des Moines, Iowa; Writing by James Oliphant; Editing by Andy Sullivan, Robert Birsel, Chizu Nomiyama and Dan Grebler)

Republicans hope for quick end to Trump trial as Democrats push for witnesses

By Patricia Zengerle and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate is expected to wrap up the initial phase of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial on Thursday before turning to the explosive question of whether to call witnesses such as former national security adviser John Bolton.

Republicans, who control the Senate, said there was a chance the trial could end on Friday with Trump’s acquittal on abuse of power and obstruction of Congress charges approved by the Democratic-led House of Representatives in December.

An acquittal would leave the Republican president in office and allow him to claim vindication just as the Democratic Party holds its first nominating contest for the Nov. 3 election in Iowa on Monday. Trump will hold a rally in the state on Thursday night.

Democrats accuse Trump of abusing his power by using congressionally approved military aid as leverage to get a foreign power to smear a leading contender for the Democratic nomination, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Lawyers for Trump and the House Democrats who are managing the impeachment prosecution will spend a second day on Thursday answering questions about the case written down by lawmakers and read aloud by U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts.

Then, probably on Friday, each side will present what amount to closing arguments before the senators move to the central question of whether to call witnesses to shed more light on Trump’s attempt to persuade Ukraine President Volodmyr Zelenskiy to investigate Biden.

Democrats need to persuade at least four Republican senators to vote with them to assure a majority vote in the 100-seat chamber, an effort the top Democrat in the Senate has called an uphill fight.

At least four Republicans – Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee – and two Democrats – West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Alabama’s Doug Jones – are seen as potentially on the fence on the issue.

Democrats are unlikely to muster the two-thirds majority needed to remove Trump from office no matter what happens, but allowing witnesses could inflict political damage on the president as he seeks re-election.

Possible testimony from Bolton is of particular interest after a report – which he has not denied – that he planned to say in an upcoming book that Trump told him he wanted to freeze $391 million in U.S. military aid for Ukraine until it investigated Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.

Representative Sylvia Garcia, one of the Democratic impeachment managers, told reporters on Thursday morning she still thought it was possible that Bolton would appear.

“Today our job will be to convince them (the senators) that this will be a fair trial,” Garcia said on a conference call.

PRESIDENTIAL POWER

In questioning on Wednesday, Trump lawyer Alan Dershowitz offered an expansive defense of presidential power, saying: “If a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in an impeachment.”

Representative Adam Schiff, the lead House prosecutor, responded on Thursday in a tweet: “We’ve seen a remarkable lowering of the bar. According to Trump’s lawyers, everything is okay as long as the president believes it helps his reelection. It’s not okay to solicit foreign election interference, even if you fail. It just makes you a failed crook.”

Dershowitz tweeted on Thursday that the media had “distorted” his remarks.

Senator John Barrasso, the No. 3 Republican in seniority, has said it was possible the trial could end on Friday without witnesses being called in spite of pressure from Democrats.

“The momentum is clearly in the direction of moving to final judgment on Friday,” he said. Other Republican senators were predicting a similar outcome.

Democrats were not conceding defeat, however.

“There’s tremendous pressure from a vindictive, nasty president on every Republican senator, but I think (as) they sit there … we’ve got a real shot to get witnesses and documents,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said on Wednesday.

If the vote on whether to allow witnesses is 50-50, Chief Justice Roberts could step in to break the tie. There is so little precedent for impeachment trials – this is only the third of a president in U.S. history – Senate aides said there is no way to know exactly what would occur, however.

(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan, David Morgan and Mohammad Zargham; Writing by Sonya Hepinstall; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Paul Simao)

Trump impeachment: What happens next?

(Reuters) – Lawyers defending U.S. President Donald Trump in his Senate impeachment trial wrapped up their presentation on Tuesday.

Here is what to look out for next:

WEDNESDAY

* When the Senate returns at 1 p.m. EST (1800 GMT), the 100 senators will get a chance to question the Democratic lawmakers prosecuting the case, as well as Trump’s defense team.

* The Senate has set aside up to 16 hours for questioning over two days. Lawmakers will not ask questions directly themselves but will submit them to U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the trial.

* Questions can be directed at the prosecution or the defense, but not at other senators. Roberts will pose the questions.

THURSDAY

* Questioning is likely to continue, although it is not clear whether lawmakers will use all of their time.

FRIDAY AND BEYOND

* At the conclusion of the question period, the impeachment managers and Trump’s lawyers will have four hours, equally divided, to make what could amount to closing arguments.

* The Senate will then debate on Friday whether to subpoena witnesses and documents, followed by a vote. In the event of a tie vote, the motion fails.

* If the Senate votes to hear more evidence, it would then hold subsequent votes on which witnesses senators would like to call and what documents they want to read.

* If the Senate subpoenas witnesses, they would be deposed privately before the Senate decides on public testimony.

* If no witnesses or additional documents are subpoenaed, senators could consider other motions or proceed to vote on each article of impeachment.

* Theoretically, the trial could conclude this week. But if witnesses are called, it could still be going on when Trump delivers the annual State of the Union address to Congress on Feb. 4.

(Reporting by David Morgan, Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Peter Cooney)

New phase begins in President Trump’s impeachment trial

By Susan Cornwell, Patricia Zengerle and Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump unleashed his sharpest attack yet on John Bolton after his former national security adviser depicted Trump as playing a central role in a politically motivated pressure campaign on Ukraine, as the U.S. Senate prepared on Wednesday to enter a new phase in the president’s impeachment trial.

Senators will begin the first of two planned days of posing questions to both Trump’s legal team and the Democrats in the House of Representatives lawmakers who have served as prosecutors in the trial on charges of abusing power and obstructing Congress arising from his request that Ukraine investigate political rival Joe Biden.

The questioning, set to begin at about 1 p.m. (1800 GMT), precedes a vote later in the week on whether to call witnesses including Bolton, as Democrats have sought.

Senate Republicans so far have refused to allow any witnesses or new evidence in the trial, with Republican leaders hoping to vote as quickly as possible to acquit Trump, leaving him in office.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told senators on Tuesday he did not have the votes to block Democrats from calling witnesses because some Republicans remained uncommitted, several media outlets reported. Democrats need four Republican senators to join them in voting for witnesses in order to get a majority in the 100-seat Senate.

The Senate is expected to acquit Trump but allowing witnesses such as Bolton could inflict political damage on the Republican president as he seeks re-election on Nov.3.

Removing Trump from office would take a two-thirds majority. There are 53 Republican senators and none of them has publicly advocated removal. The Democratic-led House impeached Trump last month.

Trump lashed out at Bolton on Twitter. He said Bolton “couldn’t get approved for the Ambassador to the U.N. years ago, couldn’t get approved for anything since, ‘begged’ me for a non Senate approved job” and added that “if I listened to him, we would be in World War Six by now.”

Trump added that Bolton, who left his White House post in September, “goes out and IMMEDIATELY writes a nasty & untrue book. All Classified National Security. Who would do this?”

Contradicting Trump’s version of events, Bolton wrote in an unpublished book manuscript that the president told him he wanted to freeze $391 million in security aid to Ukraine until Kiev pursued investigations into Democrats, including Biden and the former vice president’s son Hunter Biden, the New York Times reported.

Bolton’s allegations go to the heart of the impeachment charges. Democrats have said Trump abused his power by using the security aid – passed by Congress to help Ukraine battle Russia-backed separatists – as leverage to get a foreign power to smear a political rival.

Biden is a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in November.

Trump has denied telling Bolton he sought to use the aid as leverage to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. Trump has said he fired Bolton. Bolton, a foreign policy hawk who served as a temporary “recess appointee” as American ambassador to the United Nations under Republican former President George W. Bush, has said he quit.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, remained opposed to witnesses but said, “I am concerned when John Bolton’s credibility is attacked, it makes it more likely some will feel the need to call him as a witness. In that event, it would be important for the president and his team to call witnesses on other issues.”

PARNAS ARRIVES

Ukrainian-born U.S. businessman Lev Parnas, who worked with Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to press Ukraine to pursue the politically motivated investigations at the center of the impeachment drama, arrived in Washington and headed toward the U.S. Capitol, surrounded by reporters.

Parnas will not be able to enter the Senate gallery where the trial is taking place because he is wearing a court-ordered ankle-monitoring device, his lawyer said. Parnas, facing federal campaign finance charges in New York relating to donations to a pro-Trump political group and others, has provided information to House Democrats damaging to Trump.

Parnas indicated he would be willing to testify in the trial, adding, “The president knew everything that was going on with Ukraine.”

Wednesday’s questions during the trial will alternate between Republican and Democratic senators. They will be submitted in writing and read aloud by U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the trial.

Trump’s legal team wrapped up its opening arguments in the trial on Tuesday, saying he president did not commit any impeachable offenses even if what Bolton said was true.

The Senate is expected on Friday to debate and vote on whether to call witnesses. Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer made a fresh pitch for Republican support for witnesses, saying calling them would not result in a lengthy delay in the trial.

Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat whose state strongly backs Trump, said it was critical to have witnesses and that he had yet to decide whether to acquit Trump, saying the two days of questioning would help him decide.

In a break with his party, Manchin also said Hunter Biden, like Bolton, would be a relevant witness who should be called. Republicans oppose calling any witnesses but have said they would want to hear from Hunter Biden if witnesses are permitted.

The younger Biden had worked for a Ukrainian energy company when his father was vice president. Trump has made unsubstantiated allegations of corruption against the Bidens.

In an interview with MSNBC, Manchin said that “being afraid to put up anybody who might have pertinent information is wrong, whether you’re Democrat or Republican.”

Schumer told reporters that Republicans have a Senate majority and could vote to call Hunter Biden if they want to, but added, “Hunter Biden is irrelevant and a distraction.”

(Reporting by Richard Cowan, David Morgan, Doina Chiacu, Patricia Zengerle, Susan Heavey, Susan Cornwell, Makini Brice, Karen Freifeld and Lisa Lambert; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Howard Goller and Alistair Bell)

Trump team to wrap up impeachment trial defense as Bolton controversy simmers

By Susan Cornwell and Makini Brice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Lawyers for President Donald Trump were set on Tuesday to wrap up their arguments urging acquittal in his U.S. Senate trial as Democrats ramped up their calls for former national security adviser John Bolton to testify about explosive allegations regarding Trump’s role in a pressure campaign targeting Ukraine.

Trump’s lawyers made the case to the Senate on Monday that the Republican president’s actions as described in Bolton’s unpublished book manuscript – even if true – do not represent an impeachable offense. Trump’s legal team was due to deliver its third and final day of arguments starting at around 1 p.m. (1800 GMT). A source close to the team said the lawyers will wrap up in around two to 2-1/2 hours.

Directly contradicting Trump’s account of events, Bolton in the manuscript said the president told him he wanted to freeze $391 million in security aid to Ukraine until Kiev helped with investigations into Democrats including Democratic political rival Joe Biden, and his son Hunter Biden, the New York Times reported.

Bolton’s allegations go to the heart of impeachment charges against Trump. Democrats have said Trump abused his power by using the security aid – passed by Congress to help Ukraine battle Russia-backed separatists – as leverage to get a foreign power to smear a political rival.

Trump is seeking re-election on Nov. 3. Biden is a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination to face Trump.

The trial will determine whether Trump is removed from office after being impeached by the Democratic-led House of Representatives last month on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress arising from his conduct toward Ukraine.

Senate Republicans, who have so far refused to allow any witnesses or new evidence in the trial, faced mounting pressure from Democrats and some moderates in their own party to summon Bolton.

Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer made a fresh appeal for four Republican senators – the number needed for a majority – to join Democrats in voting to call witnesses. Schumer also dismissed as “absurd” a proposal floated by Republican Senator James Lankford for Bolton’s manuscript to be made available for senators to review in a classified setting.

Bolton left his White House post last September. Trump has said he fired Bolton. Bolton said he quit after policy disagreements.

Schumer criticized Trump’s legal team for stating during its arguments to the Senate that there was no eyewitness testimony detailing abuse of power by Trump “when we know that John Bolton has eyewitness testimony and is willing to testify.”

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally who was at the White House on Tuesday morning, wrote on Twitter that he supports Lankford’s proposal about making Bolton’s manuscript available on a classified basis.

Trump is expected to be acquitted in the 100-seat Senate, where Republicans hold 53 seats and a two-thirds majority is needed to remove him from office under the U.S. Constitution.

‘CLEAR FROM HISTORY’

Alan Dershowitz, a constitutional law professor who is a member of Trump’s legal team, told the Senate on Monday: “Nothing in the Bolton revelations, even if true, would rise to the level of an abuse of power or an impeachable offense. That is clear from the history. That is clear from the language of the Constitution. You cannot turn conduct that is not impeachable into impeachable conduct simply by using words like ‘quid pro quo’ and ‘personal benefit.'”

Trump has denied telling Bolton he sought to use the Ukraine aid as leverage to get Kiev to investigate the Bidens. He has denied any quid pro quo – a Latin term meaning a favor for a favor – in his dealings with Ukraine.

Lankford late on Monday urged Bolton to speak publicly outside of the impeachment trial.

“John Bolton is no shrinking violet,” Lankford said in a video posted to his Facebook page. “My encouragement would be: If John Bolton’s got something to say, there’s plenty of microphones all over the country – that he should step forward and start talking about it right now.”

The Senate may resolve the issue of whether to call witnesses in a vote on Friday or Saturday. Some moderate Republican senators, including Mitt Romney and Susan Collins, said the disclosures were likely to sway at least four Republicans to call Bolton to testify, which would give Democrats the votes necessary in the Republican-led Senate to summon him.

The focus was on whether two other moderate Republicans, Lamar Alexander and Lisa Murkowski, would vote to hear from Bolton.

“The question is: Do they want to hear the truth or do they want to hide the truth?” Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow told reporters.

Romney told Reuters on Tuesday that the idea of a “one-for-one” witness deal, with one witness called by Democrats and one by Republicans, “has merit,” but added: “I wouldn’t suggest any particular names.”

It was not clear when senators would begin submitting their questions to U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts, the next step in the trial. Roberts is presiding over the trial.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Susan Cornwell, Makini Brice, Karen Freifeld, David Morgan, Patricia Zengerle and Richard Cowan; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Peter Cooney)