Democrats turn focus to obstruction charge in Trump impeachment trial

Democrats turn focus to obstruction charge in Trump impeachment trial
By David Morgan and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats serving as prosecutors in U.S. President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial in the Republican-led Senate will make their case he improperly interfered in Congress’ probe of his dealings with Ukraine in their final day of arguments on Friday.

Democratic managers from the House of Representatives will try to convince senators and the U.S. public that the Republican president is guilty of the charge of obstructing Congress for withholding key witnesses and documents from the investigation.

The Democratic-led House impeached Trump last month on that charge and a separate charge of abuse of power for allegedly trying to coerce Ukraine’s government into digging up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden, a top contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

The impeachment trial in the Senate, the third such proceeding in U.S. history, will determine whether Trump is ousted from power less than 10 months before he faces re-election.

The U.S. Constitution sets out the impeachment process for removing a president who commits “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Trump denies wrongdoing, while his Republican allies argue his conduct does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense.

Once Democrats conclude their opening arguments, Trump’s legal team will have up to 24 hours over three days to mount a defense. Senate Republicans are expected to acquit him. A two-thirds vote of the chamber is required to eject him from office.

Trump on Friday retweeted dozens of supporters who repeated his criticism of the proceedings as unfair and politically motivated. The former reality television personality also complained his lawyers would have to begin arguments on Saturday, when, he said, nobody watches television.

“Looks like my lawyers will be forced to start on Saturday, which is called Death Valley in T.V.,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

As the trial neared the end of its first week, there was little sign that Senate Republicans were being persuaded by the Democratic case.

Democrats spent Thursday meticulously detailing their allegations that Trump only grew interested in corruption in Ukraine when it appeared that Biden could become a serious political threat.

Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, the lead House manager, said Trump had used U.S. foreign policy for his own personal interest, and that failing to oust him from office would open the door to a “lot of damage” in the coming months.

“This is why if you find him guilty, you must find that he should be removed. Because right matters. Because right matters and truth matters. Otherwise we are lost,” Schiff said in his closing argument on Thursday.

In a July 25 phone call, Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma. Trump temporarily withheld $391 million in U.S. military aid to Ukraine, which Democrats say was leverage for his demands.

DEMOCRATS PUSH FOR WITNESSES

On Friday, they will argue that Trump also unlawfully refused to cooperate with the House probe of the matter by directing officials to ignore Democratic requests to testify and for relevant documents.

Key administration officials who refused to comply with subpoenas in the probe included Vice President Mike Pence, White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Former national security adviser John Bolton refused a request by the House to testify.

Democrats sought to have Bolton testify in the trial, but senators voted along party lines on Tuesday against all Democrats’ proposed witnesses.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone, a member of Trump’s legal team, has accused Democrats of using the impeachment process to try to “steal” the 2020 election and said the president had a constitutional right to keep aides from testifying.

During the proceedings, Democrats have argued the Senate should allow new witnesses such as Bolton to testify. Republicans have resisted their push but have threatened to call a witness such as Joe or Hunter Biden in retaliation.

The Senate could return next week to that issue. Democrats are holding out hope that they can persuade enough moderate Republican senators to vote to allow additional witness testimony and documents into the trial.

Democratic Representative Val Demings, one of the House impeachment managers, said Democrats will continue to press for that, but added there was a strong case against the president without additional testimony.

“The best witness is the president himself and listening to his own words” in the Zelenskiy call and Trump’s public calls for other nations to interfere in the November election, Demings said in an interview with MSNBC. “That’s hard to ignore.”

(Reporting by Richard Cowan, Susan Cornwell and David Morgan; Writing by James Oliphant and Paul Simao; Editing by Peter Cooney, Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

Democrats use words of Trump allies against him in impeachment trial

By David Morgan, Richard Cowan and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats on Thursday pressed their case at U.S. President Donald Trump’s Senate trial for removing him from office by using the words of his own allies against him to make the point that his actions constituted impeachment offenses, but his fellow Republicans showed no signs of turning against him.

The Democratic House of Representatives lawmakers serving as prosecutors in the trial presented the second of their three days of opening arguments as they appealed to senators to convict him on two charges – abuse of power and obstruction of Congress – passed by the House last month.

The U.S. Constitution sets out the impeachment process for removing a president who commits “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Trump’s legal team has argued that the House charges were invalid because impeachable offenses must represent a specific violation of criminal law.

“Impeachment is not a punishment for crimes,” Democratic Representative Jerrold Nadler told the assembled senators. “Impeachment exists to address threats to the political system, applies only to political officials and responds not by imprisonment or fines but only by stripping political power.”

Nadler played a video clip of one of Trump’s most prominent defenders, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, arguing during the 1999 impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton that presidents could be impeached even if the conduct in question was not a statutory criminal violation.

Nadler also played a 1998 video clip of Alan Dershowitz, a member of Trump’s legal team, recognizing abuse of power as impeachable, and cited a memo written by Attorney General William Barr, a Trump appointee, that made the same point.

Trump’s legal team has stated that abuse of power is a “made-up theory” for an impeachable offense “that would permanently weaken the presidency by effectively permitting impeachments based merely on policy disagreements.”

Dershowitz said in the clip that abuse of power “certainly doesn’t have to be a crime. If you have somebody who completely corrupts the office of the president and who abuses trust and who poses great danger to our liberty, you don’t need a technical crime.”

“As our recital of the facts indicated, the articles are overwhelmingly supported by the evidence amassed by the House, notwithstanding the president’s complete stonewalling, his attempt to block all witnesses and all documents from the United States Congress,” Nadler said.

The charges against Trump arise from his request last year that Ukraine investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden and the president’s actions to impede a House inquiry into the matter.

“His conduct is not America first. It is Donald Trump first,” Nadler said.

Trump is almost certain to be acquitted by the 100-member Senate, which has 53 Republican members. A two-thirds majority is needed to remove him from office.

The case focuses on Trump’s request that Ukraine investigate Biden, a top contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in the Nov. 3 presidential election, and Biden’s son on unsubstantiated corruption allegations.

Trump also asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate a discredited theory beneficial to Russia that Ukraine worked with Democrats to hurt Trump in the 2016 U.S. election. Last year, Trump temporarily withheld $391 million in U.S. military aid to Ukraine, which Democrats say was leverage for his demands.

Trump denies wrongdoing.

While it remains a long shot for Democrats to secure Trump’s removal through impeachment, the trial presents gives them a venue to inflict political damage on him ahead of the November election, with millions of Americans watching the televised proceedings.

Trump condemned the proceedings as “unfair & corrupt” in a Twitter post on Thursday.

‘AGAIN AND AGAIN’

Before Thursday’s arguments began, some Republican senators said they had heard nothing new in the presentation made by the Democratic managers and already have decided to vote for acquittal.

“I’ll say we shouldn’t be in an impeachment trial,” Republican Senator Ron Johnson said.

Republican Senator Thom Tillis said he has already made up his mind to vote for acquittal. Referring to the Democrats’ presentation, Tillis told reporters, “It reminds of the shopping channel, the hits of the ’80s, you hear it again and again and again and again. I can almost recite the testimony.”

Republican Senator James Lankford added, “It’s a more organized presentation of the same facts.”

Republican Senator Mike Braun said he will vote for acquittal if nothing new emerges on Thursday or Friday.

Other Republicans were more circumspect. Republican Senator Mitt Romney said, “Sorry, but I’m not going to be commenting on the evidence or process until the entire trial is over.”

The top Senate Democrat, Chuck Schumer, called the arguments presented by the Democratic prosecutors “powerful,” “precise” and “devastating.” Referring to Senate Republicans, Schumer said, “It may have planted the first seed in their minds that, yes, perhaps the president did something very wrong here.”

Schumer also made a fresh appeal for Republican senators to join with Democrats in voting to allow witnesses and new evidence to be presented in the trial. Four Republicans would have to join the Democrats in order to win a simple majority vote.

“Republican senators – four of them, it’s in their hands – can make this trial more fair, if they want to,” Schumer added.

This is only the third impeachment trial in U.S. history. It began in earnest on Tuesday and Democrats started their opening arguments on Wednesday

The Senate’s schedule means that Trump’s defense team, a group of White House lawyers and outside counsel who will be given three days for rebuttal to the Democratic opening arguments, would likely start to present their case on Saturday.

Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow said it was unclear whether the Trump defense would need all three days, suggesting it could last as little as six hours.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Karen Freifeld, Susan Cornwell, Steve Holland, David Morgan, Lisa Lambert, Richard Cowan, Doina Chiacu; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Trump impeachment trial opens; White House faulted on Ukraine aid freeze

By Susan Cornwell and Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As the Senate formally opened the impeachment trial on whether to remove Donald Trump from office, a nonpartisan congressional watchdog on Thursday dealt the Republican president a blow by concluding that the White House violated the law by withholding security aid approved for Ukraine by U.S. lawmakers.

Democrat Adam Schiff, who heads a team of seven House of Representatives members who will serve as prosecutors, appeared on the Senate floor to read the two charges passed by the House on Dec. 18 accusing Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress arising from his dealings with Ukraine.

The trial’s opening formalities were to continue later in the day, with U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts set to be sworn in to preside over the proceedings and then swear in all 100 senators to serve as jurors. Opening statements in the trial, only the third in U.S. history, are expected on Tuesday.

The abuse of power cited by the House included Trump’s withholding of $391 million in security aid for Ukraine, a move Democrats have said was aimed at pressuring Kiev into investigating political rival Joe Biden, the president’s possible opponent in the Nov. 3 U.S. election.

“Faithful execution of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law,” the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded, referring to the fact that Congress had already voted to appropriate the funds.

An arm of Congress, the GAO is viewed as a top auditing agency for the federal government that advises lawmakers and various government entities on how taxpayer dollars are spent.

While the agency’s assessment was a setback to Trump, it was unclear how or even if it would figure in his trial in the Republican-led Senate given that key issues such as whether witnesses will appear or new evidence will be considered remain up in the air.

Democrats said the GAO report showed the importance of the Senate hearing from witnesses and considering new documents in the trial.

“This reinforces – again – the need for documents and eyewitnesses in the Senate,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told a news conference.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, has said senators should consider only the evidence amassed by the House.

The House voted on Wednesday 228-193, largely along party lines, to give the Senate the task of putting Trump on trial. The Senate is expected to acquit him, keeping Trump in office, as none of its 53 Republicans has voiced support for removing him, a step that requires a two-thirds majority.

Trump has denied wrongdoing and has called the impeachment process a sham.

DEMOCRAT SOUGHT REPORT

The GAO issued its opinion after receiving a letter inquiring about the aid from Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen. The agency’s findings are not legally binding, but its reports are seen by lawmakers as objective, reliable and generally uncontested. The GAO has no prosecutorial power.

Its report noted that the U.S. Constitution grants a president no unilateral authority to withhold funds in the way that Trump did. Instead, a president has a “strictly circumscribed authority” to withhold spending only in limited circumstances expressly provided by law. Holding up money for a policy reason, which the Trump administration did in this case, is not permitted, the report said.

Asked about the GAO report, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy defended Trump’s withholding of aid, citing concerns about corruption in Ukraine’s new government.

“I think it was the rightful thing to do,” McCarthy told a news conference.

Congress approved the $391 million to help Ukraine combat Russia-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country. The money ultimately was provided to Kiev in September after the controversy had spilled into public view.

A pivotal event leading to Trump’s impeachment was a July 25 call in which he asked Ukraine’s president to investigate Biden and his son Hunter Biden over unsubstantiated allegations of corruption and to look into a discredited theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.

Schiff indicated that the House prosecutors were considering calling Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, as a witness if the Senate permits testimony in the trial.

“We are continuing to review his (media) interviews and the materials he has provided to evaluate his potential testimony in the Senate trial,” Schiff said in a statement.

Giuliani has said Parnas, a Ukraine-born U.S. citizen, helped him in investigating the Bidens. Documents released this week indicate Parnas was also involved in monitoring the movements of former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch before Trump removed her in May after being urged to do so by Giuliani.

Democrats have said Trump abused his power by asking a foreign government to interfere in a U.S. election for his own benefit at the expense of American national security.

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.

The Senate will formally notify the White House of Trump’s impending trial later on Thursday.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell and Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by David Morgan and Richard Cowan; Writing by Sonya Hepinstall; Editing by Will Dunham)

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)

House to vote on sending Trump impeachment charges; trial now imminent

By David Morgan and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives will vote on Wednesday to send formal impeachment charges against President Donald Trump to the Senate, lawmakers said on Tuesday, setting the start of Trump’s trial for as early as this week.

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

The House impeached Trump last month on charges of abusing power by pressuring Ukraine to announce an investigation into his Democratic rival Joe Biden and of obstructing Congress.

But Pelosi has delayed sending the charges to the Senate in an unsuccessful effort to get that chamber’s Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to agree to include new witness testimony that could be damaging to the Republican president.

The Senate is expected to acquit Trump, as no Republicans have voiced support for ousting him, a step that would require a two-thirds majority.

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

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

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

The 1999 impeachment trial of then-President Bill Clinton lasted five weeks. If the Senate conducts its trial along those lines, as Republican McConnell has suggested, that would mean lawmakers would still be considering charges against the president while the first nominating contests of the 2020 presidential election were underway in Iowa and New Hampshire.

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

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

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

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

Explainer: What is McConnell’s proposed impeachment trial format?

Explainer: What is McConnell’s proposed impeachment trial format?
By Jan Wolfe

(Reuters) – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he has enough support from his fellow Republicans to begin the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump even though lawmakers have yet to agree whether to call witnesses.

The framework supported by Republican senators, which McConnell has described as a “phase one” deal, would postpone the decision on whether to have witnesses testify during the trial — mirroring the process used during former Democratic President Bill Clinton’s five-week impeachment trial in 1999.

The Democratic-controlled House impeached Trump in December on charges he pressured Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

The following explains what the Republican-supported resolution on trial rules is expected to look like.

What will be covered by the Republican-backed “phase one” plan?

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 Clinton trial.

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.

It allowed senators to seek dismissal of the charges against Clinton in the middle of the trial, which would have effectively ended the process. A senator sympathetic to Clinton filed such a motion, but it was voted down.

Crucially, the resolution, which passed 100-0, did not resolve whether witnesses would be called — one of the most contentious questions in any impeachment trial. A follow-up resolution allowing for three witnesses to testify in videotaped depositions passed 2-1/2 weeks later along a party-line vote, backed by 54 Republicans and opposed by 44 Democrats.

The type of resolution described by McConnell would supplement, rather than replace, a set of detailed impeachment trial rules dating back to 1868 known as the “standing rules,” said Donald Wolfensberger, a congressional scholar in Washington.

The “standing rules” specify speeches different individuals must recite and the times of day when events must occur, among other items.

How many votes does McConnell need for his “phase one” plan?

The answer to this question depends on whether U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi transmits the articles of impeachment against Trump to the Senate, said Wolfensberger.

Once that happens, the Senate can open the trial and only a simple majority of senators would be needed to decide on the sort of initial rules McConnell has described, Wolfensberger said.

That vote would not occur until after Pelosi sends over the impeachment package, McConnell has said. Pelosi has held onto the papers in hopes of pressuring the Republican-controlled Senate into agreeing to hear testimony during the trial.

Frustrated with Pelosi’s delay, Republican Senator Josh Hawley on Jan. 5 introduced a resolution that would allow the Senate to dismiss the impeachment articles before the House transmits them. It would require the support of two-thirds of the Senate to pass, making that outcome unlikely.

Could there still be witnesses in the Senate trial?

It is possible congressional Democrats will succeed in their push to hear from witnesses during the trial.

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.

Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton said on Jan. 5 he would testify before the Senate if issued a subpoena, a surprise development that could potentially strengthen the case that Trump should be removed from office.

U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer now is pressuring Republican lawmakers to vote to allow witnesses and documents. Democrats hope to hear from Bolton and three current White House officials, including acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. Republicans could conceivably try to call witnesses of their own, like Biden or the government whistleblower whose complaint ultimately led to the impeachment inquiry.

Trump is unlikely to be removed from office, however, because under the U.S. Constitution that would require the support of two-thirds of the Senate.

(Reporting by Jan WolfeEditing by Andy Sullivan and Cynthia Osterman)

No sign of end to standoff over Trump impeachment trial

By Susan Cornwell and David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Wednesday there would be no haggling with the Democratic-led House of Representatives over the rules for U.S. President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial.

With lawmakers’ shifting their attention to the U.S.-Iran tensions, McConnell said he would not be pressured by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has effectively delayed Trump’s trial by refusing to send the Senate the two articles of impeachment approved by the House last month.

“There will be no haggling with the House over Senate procedure. We will not cede our authority to try this impeachment,” McConnell said on the Senate floor a day after he announced he had enough Republican votes to start the trial without agreeing to Democrats’ demands for the introduction of new witness testimony and documentary evidence.

McConnell, who has pledged to coordinate the trial with the White House, accused Pelosi of wanting to keep Trump “in limbo” indefinitely.

Some Senate Democrats are now saying that Pelosi should release the impeachment articles so that the trial can get underway. But there appeared to be no clamor from Pelosi’s fellow Democrats in the House for a change in her strategy.

“We need to know what the plan is,” Democratic Representative Gregory Meeks.

House Democrats’ meeting Wednesday morning focused on hostilities with Iran, not impeachment, lawmakers said.

Iranian forces fired missiles at military bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq on Wednesday in retaliation for the U.S. killing of an Iranian military commander last week. Trump administration officials are expected to brief lawmakers later on Wednesday.

The House last month 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.

Under the U.S. Constitution, the House brings impeachment charges and the Senate holds the subsequent trial to decide whether to remove a president from office. A two-thirds majority of the Senate is needed to do so.

Trump, who says he did nothing wrong and has dismissed his impeachment as a partisan bid to undo his 2016 election win, is likely to be acquitted in the trial, as no Republicans have voiced support for ousting him from office.

McConnell has said that Senate rules prevent it from starting the trial until the House sends it the articles of impeachment.

Pelosi said late on Tuesday that McConnell should reveal the Senate’s plans for the coming trial in a written resolution before she agrees to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate.

(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Paul Simao)

Explainer: How impeachment works and why Trump is unlikely to be removed

By Jan Wolfe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate is due to hold a trial to consider whether President Donald Trump should be removed from office, after the House of Representatives voted in December to impeach him for pressuring Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential rival in the 2020 presidential election.

What happens next and why is Trump unlikely to be removed from office?

WHY IMPEACHMENT?

The founders of the United States feared presidents abusing their powers, so they included in the Constitution a process for removing one from office.

The president, under the Constitution, can be removed from office for “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

High crimes and misdemeanors have historically encompassed corruption and abuses of the public trust, as opposed to indictable violations of criminal statutes.

Former President Gerald Ford, while in Congress, famously said: “An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.”

No president has ever been removed as a direct result of impeachment. One, Richard Nixon, resigned before he could be removed. Two, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, were impeached by the House but not convicted by the Senate.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

Impeachment begins in the House, the lower chamber, which debates and votes on whether to bring charges against the president via approval of an impeachment resolution, or “articles of impeachment,” by a simple majority of the body’s members.

The Constitution gives House leaders wide latitude in deciding how to conduct impeachment proceedings, legal experts said.

The House Intelligence Committee investigated whether Trump abused his power to pressure Ukraine to open probes that would benefit him politically, holding weeks of closed-door testimony and televised hearings before issuing a formal evidence report.

The House Judiciary Committee used the report to draft formal charges and voted 23-17 along party lines to approve charges against Trump of abuse of power and obstructing House Democrats’ attempts to investigate him for it.

The Democratic-controlled House approved both of those charges on Dec. 18 in votes that fell almost completely along party lines.

That set up a trial in the Republican-controlled Senate.

WHAT WOULD A SENATE TRIAL LOOK LIKE?

House members act as the prosecutors; the senators as jurors; the chief justice of the United States presides.

Historically, the president has been allowed to have defense lawyers call witnesses and request documents.

Beyond that, parameters of the trial are uncertain at this point. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer is pressing for four Trump aides to testify, including Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, and John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has thrown cold water on that idea, saying House Democrats should have secured the testimony of Bolton and Mulvaney during their investigation.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has delayed sending over the impeachment articles to the Senate in a bid to pressure McConnell. The two sides appear to have made little progress toward an agreement.

CAN THE SENATE REFUSE TO HOLD A TRIAL?

There is debate about whether the Constitution requires a Senate trial. But Senate rules in effect require a trial, and McConnell has publicly stated that he will allow one to proceed.

Republicans could seek to amend those rules, but such a moveis politically risky and considered unlikely, legal experts said.

WHAT’S THE PARTY BREAKDOWN IN CONGRESS?

The House comprises 431 members at present. Only three of the chamber’s 233 Democrats voted against one or both articles of impeachment; one voted “present” and another did not vote. Among Republicans, 195 voted against both articles and two did not vote. Independent Justin Amash, a former Republican, voted for both articles.

In 1998, when Republicans had a House majority, the chamber also voted largely along party lines to impeach Clinton, a Democrat.

The Senate now has 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats and two independents who usually vote with the Democrats. Conviction and removal of a president would require a two-thirds majority.

That is highly unlikely in this case. No Senate Republicans have indicated they may vote to convict the leader of their party. Should all 100 senators vote, at least 20 Republicans and all the Democrats and independents would have to vote against him.

WHO BECOMES PRESIDENT IF TRUMP IS REMOVED?

In the unlikely event the Senate convicts Trump, Vice President Mike Pence would become president for the remainder of Trump’s term, which ends on Jan. 20, 2021.

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe and Andy Sullivan; Editing by Ross Colvin and Grant McCool)

Coming out of the shadows: the U.S. chief justice who will preside over Trump’s trial

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts will be a central figure in the ongoing drama of the Donald Trump presidency in the coming months. He is due to preside over a Senate impeachment trial, while the Supreme Court he leads will rule on a titanic clash over the president’s attempts to keep his financial records secret.

The expected impeachment trial will focus on accusations that Trump abused his power by asking Ukraine to investigate former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden. The Democratic-led House of Representatives approved two articles of impeachment on Dec. 18, paving the way for the trial in the Republican-led Senate.

The normally reserved and mild-mannered Roberts, 64, will have the largely symbolic role of presiding officer, with senators casting the crucial votes.

But it is in the marble-lined corridors of the Supreme Court across the street from the Capitol Building, hidden from the TV cameras, where Roberts wields real power. Known for his cautious approach to major cases, he holds one of just nine votes that will decide by the end of June whether Trump’s financial records can be disclosed to Democratic-led congressional committees and a New York prosecutor.

The court’s rulings in those cases – on the power of Congress and local prosecutors to investigate a sitting president – will set precedents that may affect not just Trump but also future presidents.

The impeachment trial will be an unusual and potentially uncomfortable period for the low-key Roberts, who prefers to fly under the radar even while he has navigated the conservative-majority court in a rightward direction over the last decade and a half.

“My sense is that the chief doesn’t want to make himself the story,” said Sarah Binder, a scholar at the nonpartisan Brookings Institution.

Roberts declined to comment. During a rare public appearance in New York in September, Roberts appeared concerned about the hyperpartisan politics of Washington under Trump.

“When you live in a polarized political environment, people tend to see everything in those terms. That’s not how we at the court function,” he said.

Those who know Roberts, including former law clerks, say that he would take his role seriously and, as a history buff, he is likely reading up on the previous impeachment trials of Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton.

WASHINGTON INSIDER

Roberts, a conservative appointed by Republican President George W. Bush, has a reputation in Washington as a traditional conservative and a strong defender of the Supreme Court as an independent branch of government.

In a frictionless rise to prominence, he served in the administration of Republican President Ronald Reagan before becoming one of the most prominent Supreme Court advocates in town. Bush appointed him to the federal appeals court in Washington in 2003 before tapping him for the chief justice post two years later.

Roberts is often viewed as an incrementalist in his judicial philosophy, conscious of the fact that the Supreme Court risks its legitimacy if its 5-4 conservative majority is characterized as being too aggressive in moving the law to the right.

He has nonetheless voted consistently with his conservative colleagues on such issues as gay rights, abortion, religious liberty and gun rights. But in 2012, he broke ranks and cast the deciding vote to uphold the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, Democratic President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement.

Earlier this year, he again sided with the court’s liberals as the court ruled 5-4 against the Trump administration’s attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

Roberts clashed with Trump more directly in November 2018 when he took the unusual step of issuing a statement defending the federal judiciary after Trump repeatedly criticized judges who had ruled against his administration.

The cases concerning Trump’s financial records, with rulings due by the end of June, puts the sober Roberts and bombastic Trump on another collision course.

Legal experts have said Trump, who unlike previous presidents has refused to release his tax returns, is making broad assertions of presidential power that could place new limits on the ability of Congress to enforce subpoenas seeking information about the president.

If it is a close call, Roberts could cast the deciding vote.

In the Senate trial set to take place in January, Roberts’ role as presiding officer is limited mainly to keeping the process on track. Roberts could, however, be asked to rule on whether certain witnesses should be called.

If a majority of senators disagree with a ruling he makes, they can vote to overturn his decision.

In the Clinton impeachment trial in 1999, Chief Justice William Rehnquist had “relatively little to do,” said Neil Richards, who was present as one of Rehnquist’s law clerks and is now a professor at the Washington University School of Law in St. Louis.

“I think Chief Justice Roberts is likely to approach his role… the way he has approached his judicial career to date: Doing his best to be impartial, doing his best to preserve the dignity of his judicial office,” Richards added.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley. Additional reporting by Jan Wolfe and Andrew Chung, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)