Trump eyes White House changes after impeachment acquittal: source

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump is eyeing a series of staff changes days after securing an acquittal in his impeachment trial, including ousting a national security official who testified against him and replacing his acting chief of staff, a source familiar with the situation and media reports said on Friday.

Trump emerged victorious this week with a near party-line vote in the Senate, controlled by his fellow Republicans who rejected abuse of power and obstruction of justice charges from the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.

But the president, whose term has been clouded by a series of investigations – first into Russian interference in the 2016 election and then the impeachment inquiry over his handling of Ukraine – has said he is still bitter about the ordeal as he turns his attention to the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, the White House National Security Council’s (NSC’s) top Ukraine expert who testified in lawmakers’ impeachment inquiry, will be reassigned to the Defense Department, a source familiar with the situation told Reuters.

Bloomberg News first reported the planned White House removal of Vindman, citing two people familiar with the matter who said the move would be cast as part of a larger NSC downsizing. Three other people familiar with the matter, however, told Bloomberg some reassignments were because of perceived disloyalty.

The Washington Post, which also reported Vindman’s possible move, said Trump has also discussed removing other national security officials who cooperated with House Democrats’ investigations, though no final decisions have been made, citing unnamed people familiar with his comments.

Another senior white House aide who testified over impeachment, Jennifer Williams, left earlier this week for a post at the U.S. Central Command, according to Bloomberg News.

Trump has cast both Vindman and Williams as “Never Trumpers” who oppose him.

CNN reported Trump was weighing a permanent chief of staff to replace his acting aide Mick Mulvaney, who was a central figure in the impeachment inquiry over Trump’s efforts to pressure ally Ukraine to investigate Democrats and withhold military aid for Kiev.

White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere, asked about the reports, confirmed his statement to CNN: “We have no personnel announcements at this time.”

In two speeches on Thursday, Trump took aim at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her fellow House Democrats as well as Republican Senator Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 presidential nominee and the only Republican senator to back an impeachment charge.

“So many people have been hurt, and we can’t let that go on,” Trump told the typically bipartisan National Prayer Breakfast, attended by Pelosi. “When they impeach you for nothing, then you’re supposed to like them, it’s not easy, folks,” he said.

At a White House celebratory event with his legal team and congressional supporters, Trump on Thursday also called out former FBI Director James Comey, House Democrats’ lead impeachment manager Adam Schiff, and his 2016 Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, though he stopped short of announcing any specific actions to be taken against anyone.

White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham had told Fox News that Trump was considering “just how horribly he was treated and that maybe people should pay for that.”

Separately, two Trump aides brought in to the White House to help with the impeachment proceedings, Tony Sayegh and Pam Bondi, were leaving following the Senate’s acquittal on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Steve Holland and Susan Heavey; Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Howard Goller)

A newly emboldened Trump gives Democrats a reason to fret

By James Oliphant

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump took the stage for his State of the Union speech in an unfamiliar position: With the wind at his back.

For most of his three years in office, Trump has been surrounded by tumult, much of it of his own making, resulting ultimately in his impeachment by the House of Representatives.

Now, for the first time in a long time, things are looking up.

He is on the verge of being acquitted by his fellow Republicans in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday. Opinion polls show his approval ratings on an upswing. And the Democratic presidential nomination race was consumed by chaos as results from the Iowa caucuses this week were delayed by a full day because the mobile app used to record the results had a coding problem.

For Trump, the timing could not be better.

Despite being impeached, he is firmly entrenched in office, after surviving the Mueller investigation into Russian electoral interference and accusations that he abused his office by pressuring Ukraine to investigate a political rival, former vice president Joe Biden.

“He has had existential political threats facing him from the moment he was elected until tomorrow,” said Texas-based Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak, referring to the impending acquittal vote on impeachment charges.

All of it brought out the showman in the former reality TV star during his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night. At one point, he choreographed a reunion between a U.S. servicemember returning from Afghanistan and his family to cheers from lawmakers.

Along that line, for much of the speech, Trump appeared to be making an overt appeal to suburban voters who could decide his fate.

He spoke of child-care initiatives, and efforts to combat AIDS and the opioid crisis. He called for greater transparency for medical bills, and he sought to take credit for protecting Americans with pre-existing healthcare conditions, even though his administration supports a lawsuit that would gut the Affordable Care Act.

Trump also touted bipartisan accomplishments such as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal and vowed to protect entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security. He pledged to protect the public from the coronavirus that is spreading in China and beyond.

RIGHT TURN

But lest anyone think the combustible Trump had turned touchy-feely, he also reassured his hardline supporters by previewing what promises to be a recurrent campaign theme: accusing Democrats of supporting unlimited free healthcare to undocumented immigrants.

As he did during his first presidential campaign, he warned of the dangers of so-called “Sanctuary Cities” and detailed incidents of violent crime committed by border-crossers.

Trump, too, seemed eager to exploit divisions among Democrats as they struggle to settle on a candidate who could mount the biggest threat to him.

The early favorite, Biden, appeared to have stumbled badly in Iowa, while U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist, was much more competitive.

At one point, Trump appeared to reference Sanders, who favors a government-run healthcare system, by declaring “We will never let socialism destroy American healthcare!”

At a campaign event in New Hampshire, Sanders drew a laugh from the crowd on Tuesday when he questioned Trump’s pledge to improve healthcare in America: “Really? How gullible do you think the American people are?” he said.

In his speech to Congress, Trump did not address the most polarizing topic in the room, the months-long attempt by Democrats to remove him from office. He avoided any temptation to take a victory lap ahead of Wednesday’s Senate vote.

“It was very smart to ignore the impeachment trial, stay above the fray and instead provide a laundry list of accomplishments along with proposals that will keep his base rock solid,” said Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist in Washington.

That did not stop partisan tensions from running high. At the close of his remarks, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who had orchestrated Trump’s impeachment in the House, tore up her copy of his speech. Earlier, Trump had refused to shake her hand upon entering the chamber.

While recent polls showed that more than 40 percent of Americans favored Trump’s conviction and removal from office on charges that he tried to persuade Ukraine to interfere in the coming election, Trump received good news from another poll on Tuesday.

The Gallup organization said he had reached his personal best in their tracking poll, hitting 49% approval – the highest since he took office.

That prompted nervous Democrats on social media all day to fret that Trump, after three years of non-stop drama, might be peaking at just the right time.

(Reporting by James Oliphant; Additional reporting by Simon Lewis in Manchester, New Hampshire; Editing by Howard Goller)

Dogged by impeachment, Trump goes head to head with Congress in big speech

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – With the impeachment drive against him ebbing, U.S. President Donald Trump will face his Democratic accusers on Tuesday night at a State of the Union speech where he is expected to push his case for another four years in office.

Trump, a Republican, may be tempted to lash out at the Democratic critics seated before him in the U.S. House of Representatives, seeing it as a chance for payback against those who sought to oust him through what he calls a “witch hunt.”

Some of his aides and allies, however, are pressing for him to avoid a confrontation.

The Republican-led Senate is almost certain to end the impeachment drive on Wednesday with a vote to acquit him. His speech, which starts at 9 p.m. ET (0200 GMT) on Tuesday, affords Trump the opportunity to advance his message for what is likely to be a hard-fought battle for re-election on Nov. 3.

Aides say there has been an internal debate inside the White House over whether he should even bring up impeachment in his speech.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose fellow Democrats charged Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of justice over his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate his Democratic opponents, told the New York Times they would treat him “as a guest … and we hope he will behave as a guest.”

But, she added: “I think the spotlight that is on him will be very hot for him to handle.”

A senior administration official said on Monday night that Trump was not expected to delve deeply into the issue, if at all, but acknowledged that this could always change.

Trump himself has said he plans an upbeat speech offering an optimistic vision at a time when Washington – and the rest of the country – is polarized over his leadership.

“We’re really looking to giving a very, very positive message,” Trump told reporters during a Super Bowl party at his golf club in West Palm Beach, Florida, on Sunday.

Senator Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican and strong Trump supporter, told reporters on Capitol Hill on Monday that Trump would help himself by taking the high road.

“I hope he will smother people with the milk of human kindness,” Roberts said.

Asked if Trump could turn impeachment to his advantage by being gracious about it going forward, Roberts said, “Could. Some of us have urged that.”

The theme of Trump’s speech is “The Great American Comeback.” He plans to highlight the strength of the U.S. economy and achievements to support it like a China trade deal and another trade pact with Mexico and Canada.

Trump is also expected to offer to work with his political opponents on issues like reducing healthcare costs and drug prices and rebuilding infrastructure, officials said.

But with the two parties immersed in election-year politicking, no major legislative action is expected this year.

Trump is expected to contrast his vision for healthcare with the plans advanced by his Democratic rivals, a reference to left-leaning proposals by two of the Democratic presidential candidates he frequently attacks, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

He is also expected to promote his efforts to limit migrants from crossing the southern U.S. border, and will bring two relatives of a man who was killed by an undocumented immigrant as guests to the speech, White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham told Fox News in an interview on Tuesday morning.

Trump will also highlight national security moves such as his decision to kill Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani with a U.S. drone strike.

Still, the president held out little hope for bipartisan cooperation this year in the wake of the impeachment fight, saying he doubted Democrats would want to work with him.

“I’m not sure that they can do it, to be honest,” Trump told the Fox network in a Super Bowl Sunday interview.

Pelosi, who will be seated behind Trump when he addresses Congress, told the Times in her interview Monday that she had not spoken to Trump since October.

The State of the Union speech is attended by Democratic and Republican lawmakers from both the House and the Senate as well as such VIP guests as Cabinet secretaries and Supreme Court justices. The television audience for last year’s speech was estimated at 47 million people.

(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell and Jeff Mason; Editing by Howard Goller)

Top Senate Republican lashes out at Democrats over Trump impeachment

By Susan Cornwell and Makini Brice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A day before the Senate is expected to acquit President Donald Trump in his impeachment trial, the chamber’s top Republican on Tuesday exhorted senators to clear Trump and stop Democrats’ “factional fever” from scorching America’s system of government.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Democratic counterpart, Senator Chuck Schumer, said the president, not impeachment, was the threat to democracy in the United States.

The impeachment trial of the 45th U.S. president began on Jan. 16 and is winding to a close on Wednesday, when the deeply divided Senate is scheduled to vote on whether Trump should be removed from office. He appears assured of acquittal, with a two-thirds vote needed to remove him from office and his fellow Republicans occupying 53 of the Senate’s 100 seats.

Senators on Tuesday were delivering a series of speeches explaining how they will vote.

McConnell, who helped engineer a stripped-down trial with no witnesses or new evidence, lashed out during a speech on the Senate floor at the Democratic House of Representatives for pursuing impeachment.

The House impeached Trump on Dec. 18 on charges of abuse of power for asking Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter and obstruction of Congress for blocking testimony and documents sought in the investigation. The Constitution allows for the removal of a president for committing “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

“We must vote to reject the House abuse of power, vote to protect our institutions, vote to reject new precedents that would reduce the framers’ design to rubble, vote to keep factional fever from boiling over and scorching our republic,” McConnell said.

McConnell echoed the arguments made by Trump’s legal team that Democrats were seeking to annul the 2016 election in which Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton.

“Washington Democrats think President Donald Trump committed a high crime or misdemeanor the moment – the moment – he defeated Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. That is the original sin of this presidency – that he won and they lost,” McConnell said. “Ever since, the nation has suffered through a grinding campaign against our norms and institutions from the same people who keep shouting that our norms and institutions need defending.”

McConnell called the two charges constitutionally incoherent, though he did disagree with the view offered by Trump’s legal team that a president cannot be impeached without a violation of statutory law.

Shortly after McConnell spoke, top Senate Democrat Schumer said Trump’s actions in the Ukraine matter were the true threat to America. Schumer said that for a president to “blackmail a foreign country to interfere in our elections gets at the very core of what our democracy is about.”

“If Americans believe that they don’t determine who is president, who is governor, who is senator, but some foreign country out of reach can join us on elections, that is the beginning of the end of democracy,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.

Trump has drawn almost uniform support among Republican senators though several have called his actions wrong and inappropriate.

THE NOVEMBER ELECTION

Trump is running for re-election in the Nov. 3 election. Former Vice President Biden is a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to challenge Trump. Besides aiming to unseat Trump, Democrats hope to keep their majority in the House and seek to seize the Senate from Republican control.

Trump is scheduled to deliver the annual State of the Union address to Congress in the House chamber on Tuesday night.

Any hints of fallout in the impeachment trial will be most closely watched in electoral districts and states closely divided between Republicans and Democrats and will play a pivotal role in November’s House and Senate races.

Any backlash against the impeachment drive could hurt some Democratic incumbents seeking re-election, while Republicans who have staunchly defended Trump could find themselves in a tough spot with their moderate constituents.

On Monday night, Republican U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, a moderate, said she would vote to acquit Trump but also sharply criticized the president and lawmakers in both parties.

“The president’s behavior was shameful and wrong. His personal interests do not take precedent over those of this great nation,” Murkowski said on the Senate floor.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, said that even if the Senate votes to acquit the president as expected, Democrats have succeeded in uncovering Trump’s actions that they argue make him unfit for office or re-election.

“Whatever happens, he has been impeached forever. And now these senators, though they don’t have the courage to assign the appropriate penalty, at least are recognizing that he did something wrong,” Pelosi told the New York Times.

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

After controversial trial, U.S. Senate poised to acquit Trump

By David Morgan and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Donald Trump was on the brink of ending the darkest chapter of his tumultuous presidency on Monday as the U.S. Senate began the final phase of his impeachment trial that will almost certainly conclude on Wednesday with his acquittal.

The 100 senators will hear four hours of closing arguments split equally between Trump’s legal team and prosecutors from the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, which charged him with abusing power by pressuring Ukraine to probe political rival Joe Biden, and then obstructing their inquiry.

The Republican-run Senate voted on Friday not to hear from witnesses including Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton, despite a strong push by Democrats and opinion polls showing most Americans wanted to hear from them.

When the arguments are complete, the senators will be able to make speeches until Wednesday when a final vote will be taken at 4 p.m. EST (2100 GMT) to determine whether Trump is guilty of the charges and should be removed from office.

The tenor of the speeches is expected to reflect the deepening polarization between Democrats and Republicans as senators seek to justify to the American public why they plan to vote yay or nay for ousting Trump.

The Senate is almost certain to acquit the president, as a two-thirds majority is required to remove Trump and none of its 53 Republicans have indicated they will vote to convict.

Several Republican senators have said that what Trump did was inappropriate but not impeachable. The president says he is the victim of an unlawful Democratic effort to derail his campaign for re-election.

BRUISING BATTLE

During the trial, Trump’s lawyers offered an expansive view of presidential powers as they argued that their client had wide latitude to conduct U.S. foreign policy and that he could not be thrown out of office for abuse of power. They urged senators to let the people decide when they go to the polls in November.

Trump is only the third president in U.S. history to be impeached and the first in an election year.

The vote on Wednesday is expected to be an anti-climactic end to a trial where the outcome was never seriously in doubt, despite testimony from former and current government officials that Trump, his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and others pressed Ukraine to announce investigations of opponents that would benefit him politically.

While all 100 senators took an oath to be impartial jurors, the top Republican in the chamber, Mitch McConnell, declared in December before the start of the trial, “We all know how it’s going to end.”

“There is no chance the president’s going to be removed from office,” McConnell said in an interview with Fox News.

While an acquittal will leave Trump still firmly entrenched in the Oval Office, the impeachment battle has renewed focus on the powers of the presidency and the power of Congress to hold a U.S. president accountable. Trump’s White House refused to cooperate in the congressional inquiry, withholding documents and key witnesses in a bruising contest with lawmakers.

The confrontation has consumed Washington since last September, but has had far less impact on the campaign trail, where voters said they were more concerned with bread-and-butter issues. Democratic candidates for their party’s presidential nomination have rarely spoken about impeachment, amid polls showing voters had already mostly made up their minds about Trump’s innocence or guilt.

Trump will deliver his annual State of the Union speech to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night. Republicans had been pushing for a final vote on impeachment last weekend so that he could use the speech to reset his agenda. But late last Friday that timetable was upended for reasons that were not immediately clear, and the vote was pushed to Wednesday.

(Reporting by David Morgan and Susan Cornwell; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Ross Colvin and Daniel Wallis)

Democrats accuse Trump at impeachment trial of corrupt scheme to pressure Ukraine

By Susan Cornwell and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats accused President Donald Trump at his impeachment trial on Wednesday of a corrupt scheme to pressure Ukraine to help him get re-elected and warned that America’s global prestige would suffer if the U.S. Senate acquits him.

The Republican Trump, who has denied wrongdoing, sounded a defiant note, telling reporters in Switzerland the Democrats did not have enough evidence to find him guilty and remove him from office.

In a two-hour opening argument for the prosecution after days of procedural wrangling, U.S. Representative Adam Schiff said Trump had pushed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and Biden’s son on unsubstantiated corruption charges last year.

“To implement this corrupt scheme, President Trump pressured the president of Ukraine to publicly announce investigations into two discredited allegations that would benefit President Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign,” said Schiff, leading the House Democrats’ prosecution team of “managers.”

The Democratic team pressed its case against Trump in eight hours of arguments, which will resume on Thursday.

They contend that Trump was trying to find dirt on Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination for the November election, and his son Hunter Biden who had served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company, to help the president win a second term.

Trump was impeached last month by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress for his dealings with Ukraine and impeding the inquiry into the matter.

Trump is almost certain to be acquitted by the Republican-controlled 100-member Senate, where a two-thirds majority is needed to remove him from office. But the trial’s effect on his re-election bid is unclear.

FOCUS ON JULY 25 CALL

His fellow Republicans in the Senate say his behavior does not fit the description of “high crimes and misdemeanors” outlined in the U.S. Constitution as a reason to oust a U.S. president.

“We believe without question that the president will be acquitted,” Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow told reporters at the end of Wednesday’s session.

Democrats have two more days to make their case. Trump’s defense team will have three days after that for rebuttal in a trial that could potentially conclude next week.

The case against Trump is focused on a July 25 telephone call in which he asked Zelenskiy to open a corruption investigation into the Bidens as well as a discredited theory that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 U.S. election. U.S. military aid to Ukraine was frozen for a period of time.

“We have the evidence to prove President Trump ordered the aid withheld, he did so to force Ukraine to help his re-election campaign … we can and will prove President Trump guilty of this conduct and of obstructing the investigation into his conduct,” Schiff said as the day concluded.

Making references to 18th century U.S. founding father Alexander Hamilton and the late Republican President Ronald Reagan, Schiff said the world was watching.

“For how can any country trust the United States as a model of governance if it’s one that sanctions precisely the political corruption and invitation to foreign meddling that we have long sought to eradicate in burgeoning democracies around the world?”

He said senators would “also undermine our global standing” if they did not oust Trump three years into his tumultuous presidency.

Tuesday’s start of the impeachment trial drew about 11 million TV viewers, according to Nielsen ratings data, a figure that fell short of the roughly 13.8 million who watched last November for the first day of the House impeachment inquiry into Trump.

HISTORIC TRIAL

It is the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history. The opening days have been dominated by arguments over Democratic requests for more witnesses and records.

The Trump administration has not complied with subpoenas for documents and has urged officials like former national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo not to participate in the impeachment investigation.

A Reuters-Ipsos poll released on Wednesday found a bipartisan majority of Americans wanting to see new witnesses testify in the impeachment trial.

It said about 72% agreed that the trial “should allow witnesses with firsthand knowledge of the impeachment charges to testify,” including 84% of Democrats and 69% of Republicans.

In Davos, Switzerland, Trump told reporters at the World Economic Forum that he was happy with the way the trial was going.

“I thought our team did a very good job. But honestly, we have all the material. They don’t have the material,” Trump said.

Democratic U.S. Representative Val Demings, one of the House impeachment managers, said Trump’s comment amounted to boasting about obstruction of Congress.

“This morning, the president not only confessed to it, he bragged about it: ‘Honestly, we have all the material. They don’t have the material,'” she said.

But a senior administration official, asked to explain what Trump was referring to, said: “What he’s clearly saying is we have all the facts on our side, and those facts prove he’s done nothing wrong.”

Trump said allowing Bolton to testify at the trial would present national security concerns.

“He knows some of my thoughts, he knows what I think about leaders. What happens if he reveals what I think about a certain leader and it’s not very positive?” Trump said.

Bolton, a foreign policy hawk who was fired by Trump last year, has disdainfully described the Ukraine pressure campaign as a “drug deal” and testimony from him could be awkward for the president.

A parade of current and former officials spoke at House impeachment hearings last year of a coordinated Trump effort to pressure Ukraine.

But those televised hearings did little to change support for and against Trump’s impeachment. Reuters/Ipsos polling since the inquiry began shows Democrats and Republicans responding largely along party lines.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and David Morgan; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Heavey; Writing by Alistair Bell and Steve Holland; Editing by Andy Sullivan, Howard Goller and Peter Cooney)

Trump rejects impeachment charges as an affront to U.S. Constitution

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday rejected the Democratic-led House of Representatives’ impeachment charges, describing the allegations that he had abused his power and obstructed Congress as affronts to the U.S. Constitution that must be rejected.

“The Senate should speedily reject these deficient articles of impeachment and acquit the president,” an executive summary of the Republican president’s pre-trial brief said in Trump’s first comprehensive defense before the start of his Senate trial.

Trump, only the fourth of 45 American presidents to face the possibility of being ousted by impeachment, is charged with abusing the powers of his office by asking Ukraine to investigate a Democratic political rival, Joe Biden, and obstructing a congressional inquiry into his conduct.

The executive summary asserted that the “House Democrats theory of ‘abuse of power’ is not an impeachable offense.” It rejected the obstruction of Congress charge as frivolous and dangerous, saying the president exercised his legal rights by resisting congressional demands for information.

It accused the House Democrats of conducting a rigged process and said they succeeded in proving that Trump had done nothing wrong.

While the Republican-controlled Senate is highly unlikely to remove Trump from office, it is important for the Republican president to diminish the Democratic accusations as a partisan witch-hunt. He needs to limit the political damage to his re-election bid as he seeks a second term in November.

Trump’s legal team says he was well within his constitutional authority to press Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy last year to investigate Biden and his son Hunter as part of what Trump says was an anti-corruption drive. The Bidens deny any wrongdoing and Trump’s allegations have been widely debunked.

Democrats say Trump abused his power by withholding U.S. military assistance to Ukraine as part of a pressure campaign and obstructed Congress by refusing to hand over documents and barring administration officials from testifying, even when subpoenaed by House investigators.

Trump’s team says he is protected by the U.S. Constitution’s separation of powers provisions.

In a 111-page document filed before the Senate trial begins in earnest on Tuesday, Democratic lawmakers laid out their arguments against Trump, saying the president must be removed from office to protect national security and preserve the country’s system of government.

Seeking to show he is still conducting presidential business despite the trial, Trump is scheduled to depart late on Monday for Davos, Switzerland, to join global leaders at the World Economic Forum. Some advisers had argued against him making the trip.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Ross Colvin, Daniel Wallis and Bernadette Baum)

U.S. House votes to send Trump impeachment charges to Senate for trial

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Democratic-led House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to send two formal charges against President Donald Trump to the Senate, clearing the way for only the third impeachment trial of a U.S. president to begin in earnest next week.

Lawmakers voted 228 to 193 to give the Senate, controlled by Trump’s fellow Republicans, the task of putting him on trial on charges of abuse of power for asking Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden and of obstruction of Congress for blocking testimony and documents sought by Democratic lawmakers.

The vote was largely along party lines.

The Senate is expected to acquit Trump, keeping him in office, as none of its 53 Republicans has voiced support for removing him, a step that under the U.S. Constitution would require a two-thirds majority in the 100-seat chamber.

But Trump’s impeachment by the House last month will remain as a stain on his record and the televised trial in the Senate could be uncomfortable for him as he seeks re-election on Nov. 3, with Biden a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to challenge him.

“We are here today to cross a very important threshold in American history,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on the House floor before the vote.

Pelosi, who launched the impeachment inquiry in September after earlier resisting such a move centered on Trump’s actions related to Russian interference in the 2016 election, named a seven-member team of House Democrats to serve as prosecutors at the Senate trial. The House voted to approve them.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, a former federal prosecutor, was selected to head the team of House “managers.” The White House has yet to unveil its defense team. The trial will overseen by U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, has said opening statements in the trial were expected next Tuesday.

A pivotal event in Trump’s impeachment was a July 25 telephone call in which he asked Ukraine’s president to open a corruption investigation into Biden and his son, as well as a discredited theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.

Democrats have called this an abuse of power because Trump asked a foreign government to interfere in a U.S. election for his own benefit at the expense of American national security. Biden is one of 12 candidates vying for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in the presidential election.

Republicans have argued that Trump’s actions did not rise to the level of impeachable offenses. They have accused Democrats of using the Ukraine affair as a way to nullify Trump’s 2016 election victory.

No U.S. president has been removed as a direct result of impeachment. Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 in the Watergate corruption scandal before the full House could vote on articles of impeachment, while Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were impeached by the House, respectively in 1868 and 1998, but not convicted by the Senate.

Clinton’s trial lasted five weeks. If the Senate conducts the Trump trial along those lines, as McConnell has suggested, the televised Senate proceedings against the president would still be going on while the first nominating contests of the 2020 presidential election were underway in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Schiff, 59, spearheaded the House impeachment investigation and he is a frequent target of Trump attacks. Trump in December called Schiff, who served as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles for six years, “a deranged human being.”

Schiff urged Republicans to allow more evidence and witnesses at the trial.

“Americans overwhelmingly want a fair trial in the Senate, fair to the president and fair to the people. Senators must demand to see and hear the full evidence, including the documents and witnesses the president has blocked,” Schiff said in a statement.

Democrats want Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton to be called as a witness, which could prove damaging to Trump. Other impeachment witnesses have said Bolton was a vocal critic of the effort to pressure Ukraine.

The House managers include four men and three women, with two African American lawmakers and one Hispanic lawmaker. Other managers include Jerrold Nadler, 72, who crafted the two articles of impeachment against Trump as House Judiciary Committee chairman, and Val Demings, a former police chief of Orlando, Florida.

“The emphasis is on litigators, the emphasis is on comfort level in the courtroom, the emphasis is making the strongest possible case to protect and defend our Constitution, to seek the truth for the American people,” Pelosi said in announcing the House managers.

The White House greeted the announcement of the House team with scorn, with White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham saying Trump “expects to be fully exonerated.”

“The naming of these managers does not change a single thing,” Grisham said in a statement. “President Trump has done nothing wrong.”

(Additional reporting by David Morgan, Doina Chiacu and Richard Cowan; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Will Dunham)

Factbox: Trump impeachment – what happens next?

(Reuters) – The Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on Wednesday to send formal impeachment charges against President Donald Trump to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he would help acquit his fellow Republican at a trial.

Here is what can be expected in the coming days and weeks:

Jan. 15

The House will vote to formally transmit the charges against Trump to the Senate, according to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Democratic lawmakers, who represent the House majority, voted along party lines on Dec. 18 to impeach Trump over his dealings with Ukraine.

The resolution would also appoint a number of House Democrats as “managers,” who would prosecute Trump in the Senate on charges that he abused his power by pressuring Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading Democratic presidential contender for 2020, and that Trump obstructed efforts by Congress to uncover any misconduct.

Pelosi had delayed sending the charges to the Senate in an unsuccessful effort to get McConnell to agree to allow new witness testimony that could be damaging to Trump.

Jan. 16

A Wednesday vote would lead the Senate to take up impeachment on Thursday. The Senate will likely take several days to get through formalities before the trial begins in earnest.

The Senate would initially receive notification from the House that managers have been appointed and then adopt a resolution telling the House when it is ready to receive the managers to present the charges, known formally as articles of impeachment.

The House managers would then physically bring the articles of impeachment into the well of the Senate and present them. The Senate would inform the House when it is ready for the trial and organize for the proceedings.

U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts would be sworn in to preside over the trial. Senators would be sworn in as jurors.

Week of Jan. 20

House managers would present their case against Trump, and the president’s legal team would respond, with senators sitting as jurors. McConnell has said the Senate will sit in session six days a week, taking only Sundays off.

Senators would then be given time to submit questions to each side.

Senators could also vote on whether to dismiss the charges against Trump.

McConnell has said that, once the charges are formally submitted to the Senate, he will back a resolution that would set initial rules for the trial but postpone a decision on whether to hear from witnesses.

McConnell has not yet published a draft of the resolution but he said it would be “very similar” to one adopted in January 1999 during the impeachment of Democratic former President Bill Clinton.

That resolution set deadlines for the prosecution and defense to submit “trial briefs” that laid out their cases in writing. The resolution also allocated 24 hours for representatives of each side to make oral arguments and set aside 16 hours for senators to ask them questions.

The Clinton resolution referenced by McConnell did not resolve whether witnesses would be called. A follow-up resolution allowing for three witnesses to testify in videotaped depositions passed later along a party-line vote.

Late January to early February

Democrats will push to hear from witnesses during the trial. If McConnell’s resolution on initial trial rules is adopted, as expected, senators would likely vote after the trial has started on whether to introduce witness testimony sought by the Democrats. Republicans could seek to call witnesses of their own as well.

The Senate now has 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats and two independents who usually vote with the Democrats. That means four Republicans would need to cross party lines and join Democrats in requesting witness testimony.

The trial could continue into February, when Iowa and New Hampshire hold the first nominating contests for the 2020 presidential election. That could pose logistical problems for the four senators seeking the Democratic nomination: Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar and Michael Bennet.

(Reporting by David Morgan and Jan Wolfe; editing by Andy Sullivan and Grant McCool)

McConnell says U.S. Senate to move forward unless House sends impeachment articles

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate will move forward with its own legislative agenda next week, unless it receives articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Thursday.

“There’s real business for the American people that the United States Senate needs to complete. If the speaker continues to refuse to take her own accusations to trial, the Senate will move forward next week with the business of our people,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.

Pelosi has effectively delayed Trump’s trial by refusing to send the Senate the two articles of impeachment approved by the House last month, as Democrats have pressed McConnell to guarantee that the trial will include testimony from top Trump administration officials. McConnell has resisted that effort.

The House charged Trump with abusing his power for personal gain in connection with his effort to pressure Ukraine to announce a corruption investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in November’s presidential election.

It also charged the Republican president with obstructing Congress by directing administration officials and agencies not to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Bernadette Baum)