In opening salvo, Trump accused at trial of corrupt Ukraine scheme

By Richard Cowan and David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The lead Democratic prosecutor accused President Donald Trump at his impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday of setting up a corrupt scheme to pressure Ukraine to help him win re-election this coming November.

Trump sounded a defiant note, telling reporters in Switzerland that Democrats did not have enough evidence against him.

In the opening argument for the prosecution, Representative Adam Schiff said Trump had pushed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son on unsubstantiated corruption charges last year.

In his dealings with Ukraine, Trump solicited foreign interference to improve his chances in this year’s U.S. presidential election, Schiff said, laying out the main Democratic argument for why Trump abused his power and should be found guilty.

“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,” Schiff said.

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

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

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 Trump’s November re-election bid is unclear.

The case against him 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.

“Nothing could be more dangerous to a democracy than a commander in chief who believed that he could operate with impunity, free from accountability. Nothing, that is, except a Congress that is willing to let it be so,” said Schiff, who is leading the prosecution team of Democratic “managers” from the 435-seat House of Representatives.

Democrats have up to three 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.

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.

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.

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

Democrats to make opening arguments in Trump impeachment trial

By Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Republican-controlled U.S. Senate will hear opening arguments in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial on Wednesday, beginning up to six days of presentations on the question of whether Trump should be removed from office.

After battling into the early morning hours on Wednesday over the trial’s rules, senators voted 53-47 to approve a hastily revised set of procedures put forth by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that allows up to 48 hours of opening arguments – 24 hours for each side – over six days.

Trump was impeached last month by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress for pressuring Ukraine to investigate former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden, a political rival, and impeding the inquiry into the matter.

The president denies any wrongdoing.

The Senate trial, the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history, will resume at 1 p.m. (1800 GMT), the day after Democrats argued more witnesses and records were needed since the Trump administration had not complied with requests for documents and urged officials not to participate.

Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, who helped spearhead the House impeachment inquiry, said the evidence against Trump was “already overwhelming” but further witness testimony was necessary to show the full scope of the misconduct by the president and those around him.

“They insist that the president has done nothing wrong, but they refuse to allow the evidence and hearing from the witnesses … and they lie, and lie and lie and lie,” Representative Jerrold Nadler, one of the House’s impeachment managers, said of the president’s lawyers.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone fired back.

“Mr Nadler, you owe an apology to the president of the united states and his family,” Cipollone said. “You owe an apology to the Senate. But most of all you owe an apology to the American people.”

REMEMBER WHERE YOU ARE

That back-and-forth led Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the impeachment, to admonish both men.

“I do think those addressing the Senate should remember where they are,” he said.

Republican senators have not ruled out the possibility of further testimony and evidence at some point after opening arguments and senators’ questions, but they held firm with Trump to block Democratic requests for witnesses and evidence.

During a debate that finally wrapped up near 2 a.m. (0700 GMT) on Wednesday, 13 hours after it started, senators rejected on party lines, 53-47, four motions from Democratic leader Chuck Schumer to subpoena records and documents from the White House, the State Department, the Defense Department, and the Office of Management and Budget related to Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.

By the same tally, senators also rejected requests for subpoenas seeking the testimony of acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, White House aide Robert Blair and White House budget official Michael Duffey.

Under the rules, lawyers for Trump could move early in the proceedings to ask senators to dismiss all charges, according to a senior Republican leadership aide, a motion that would likely fall short of the support needed to succeed.

Even if such a motion fails, Trump is almost certain to be acquitted by the Republican-majority 100-member chamber, where a two-thirds majority is needed to remove him from office.

But the impact of the trial on his re-election bid in November is far from clear.

The Senate trial is expected to continue six days a week, Monday through Saturday, until at least the end of January.

Trump and his legal team say there was no pressure and that the Democrats’ case is based on hearsay. Cipollone described the Ukraine investigation as an illegal attempt to remove a democratically elected president and avert his re-election.

No president has ever been removed through impeachment, a mechanism the nation’s founders – worried about a monarch on American soil – devised to oust a president for “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” One, Richard Nixon, resigned in the face of a looming impeachment.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan, Patricia Zengerle, David Morgan and Susan Cornwell; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Scott Malone, Robert Birsel)

Senate approves Trump impeachment trial rules

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate voted early on Wednesday to approve rules governing the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, including delaying a debate over whether to call witnesses until the middle of the trial.

With Republicans banding together, the Senate voted 53-47 to adopt the trial plan, which allows opening arguments from House lawmakers prosecuting the case to begin later on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Eric Beech)

U.S. Senate rejects Democratic bid for documents in Trump impeachment trial

By Susan Cornwell and David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Republican-controlled U.S. Senate rejected a Democratic bid on Tuesday to force the White House to produce documents and evidence in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, an early sign the trial could proceed along lines favorable to Trump.

As the third impeachment trial in U.S. history began in earnest, senators voted 53-47 along party lines to block a motion from Democratic leader Chuck Schumer to subpoena White House documents related to Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.

Schumer immediately introduced a second motion demanding a subpoena of State Department records and documents related to the matter. The Senate will debate the motion for up to two hours.

Democrats have called on the Senate to remove Trump from office for pressuring Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a political rival, and then impeding the inquiry into the matter.

Trump, who was impeached last month by the Democratic-led House of Representatives on charges of abusing power and obstructing Congress, denies any wrongdoing and describes his impeachment as a partisan hoax to derail his 2020 re-election.

During early debate, Trump’s chief legal defender attacked the case as baseless and a top Democratic lawmaker said there was “overwhelming” evidence of wrongdoing.

With the television cameras rolling, U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts convened the proceedings and the two sides began squabbling over Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s proposed rules for the trial.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who is leading Trump’s defense, attacked the foundation of the charges against the Republican president and said Democrats had not come close to meeting the U.S. Constitution’s standard for impeachment.

“The only conclusion will be that the president has done absolutely nothing wrong,” Cipollone said as he argued in favor of McConnell’s proposal to decide on whether to allow further witnesses or documents later in the trial.

“There is absolutely no case,” he said.

DEMOCRATS SEEK TESTIMONY

Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, who helped spearhead the House impeachment inquiry, summarized the charges against Trump and said the president had committed “constitutional misconduct justifying impeachment.”

Schiff said that although the evidence against Trump was “already overwhelming,” further witness testimony was necessary to show the full scope of the misconduct by the president and those around him.

Democrats want a number of current and former Trump administration officials, including Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton, to testify.

“For all of the name-calling and fingerpointing from the president’s counsel, we did not hear a single argument on the merits about why there should not be the documents and witnesses we requested in this trial,” Schumer said.

McConnell unveiled a plan on Monday for what would be a potentially quick trial without new testimony or evidence. It would have given Democratic prosecutors and Trump’s lawyers 48 hours, evenly split, to present their arguments over four days.

That plan was changed to give each side three days to give up to 24 hours of opening arguments. The rules also will allow the House’s record of the impeachment probe admitted as evidence in the trial, as Democrats had demanded.

“We discussed it at lunch. It was pretty much a (Republican) conference consensus that made a lot more sense,” Republican Senator Ron Johnson said.

Democrats had accused McConnell of trying to rig a trial with proposed rules they said would prevent witnesses from testifying and bar evidence gathered by investigators.

McConnell has repeatedly said the rules would mirror those the Senate used in the 1999 impeachment of then-President Bill Clinton, a Democrat. Republican senators have not ruled out the possibility of further witness testimony and evidence.

Under McConnell’s plan, lawyers for Trump could move early in the proceedings to ask senators to dismiss all charges, according to a senior Republican leadership aide, a motion that would likely fall short of the support needed to succeed.

Even if such a motion fails, Trump is almost certain to be acquitted by the 100-member chamber, where a two-thirds majority is needed to remove him from office.

But the impact of the trial on his re-election bid in November is far from clear.

TRUMP SUPPORT FIRM

Democrats accuse Trump of pressuring Ukraine, a vulnerable ally, to interfere in U.S. elections at the expense of American national security and say he is a danger to American democracy.

Trump and his legal team say there was no pressure and that the Democrats’ case is based on hearsay. Cipollone has described the Ukraine investigation as an illegal attempt to remove a democratically elected president and avert his re-election.

“They’re not here to steal one election, they’re here to steal two elections,” Cipollone said on Tuesday.

Cipollone also repeated a charge that Republicans were excluded from the secure facility where the initial depositions for the House impeachment hearings took place. In fact, Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee were not only present but questioned witnesses.

The Senate trial is expected to continue six days a week, Monday through Saturday, until at least the end of January.

Trump has sought to rally his base with the impeachment issue, fundraising off it. At raucous election rallies, he has painted himself as the victim of a witch hunt.

Televised congressional testimony from a parade of current and former officials who spoke of a coordinated effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens has done 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.

According to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll conducted Jan. 13 and 14, 39% of U.S. adults approved of Trump’s job performance, while 56% disapproved. It also found 45% of respondents said Trump should be removed from office, while 31% said the impeachment charges should be dismissed.

MARKETS SHRUG OFF TRIAL

The trial of a U.S. president could be freighted with drama, huge political risk and the potential unraveling of a presidency. But financial markets have shrugged it off, and the disclosures in the months-long impeachment investigation thus far have done little to boost anti-Trump sentiment among undecided voters or shift away moderate Republican voters.

No president has ever been removed through impeachment, a mechanism the nation’s founders – worried about a monarch on American soil – devised to oust a president for “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

A pivotal event in the impeachment case is a July 25 phone call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate the Bidens and a discredited theory that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 U.S. election.

Hunter Biden had joined the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma while his father was vice president. Trump has accused the Bidens of corruption without offering evidence. They have denied wrongdoing.

Democrats said Trump abused his power by initially withholding $391 million in Ukraine security aid intended to fight Russia-backed separatists, and a coveted White House meeting for Zelenskiy, to pressure Ukraine to announce the investigations of the Bidens. Trump’s legal team says there is no evidence that the aid was a condition for receiving help.

The obstruction of Congress charge relates to Trump directing administration officials and agencies not to comply with House subpoenas for testimony and documents related to impeachment.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Richard Cowan, Doina Chiacu, David Morgan, Jan Wolfe, Susan Cornwell, Susan Heavey, Karen Freifeld, Lisa Lambert and Tim Ahmann in Washington; Writing by Paul Simao and John Whitesides; Editing by Howard Goller, Grant McCool 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)

Trump nemesis Schiff to lead Democratic team at impeachment trial

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday unveiled a seven-member team to prosecute President Donald Trump at his impeachment trial in the Senate, headed by a former prosecutor who has become a nemesis of the Republican president.

After weeks of delay, the House was poised on Wednesday afternoon to send the two impeachment charges – abuse of power and obstruction of Congress – passed on Dec. 18 against Trump to the Senate, clearing the way for a trial that will determine whether he is removed from office to start in earnest next week.

The trial in the Senate – controlled by Trump’s fellow Republicans – is expected to end in his acquittal after several weeks of a televised proceedings, leaving him in office. But it will focus attention on Trump’s request that Ukraine investigate domestic political rival Joe Biden, just as the 2020 presidential campaign heats up.

Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, 59, will lead the House “managers” who will present the case to senators that Trump should be ousted for pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son and for obstructing the House investigation by refusing to provide requested testimony and documents.

Schiff spearheaded the House impeachment investigation launched in September into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine and he is a frequent target of Trump attacks. Trump called Schiff, a former federal prosecutor, “a deranged human being” at a NATO meeting in Britain in December.

Other managers include Jerrold Nadler, 72, who crafted the two articles of impeachment against Trump, as House Judiciary Committee chairman. [L1N29K0R3]

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the prosecutors – a group of four men and three women including two African Americans and a Hispanic lawmaker – were selected for their ability to make an effective case.

“The emphasis is making the strongest possible case to protect and defend our Constitution, to seek the truth for the American people,” Pelosi told a news conference.

The White House greeted the announcement of the House team with scorn.

“The naming of these managers does not change a single thing,” White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said in a statement. “President Trump has done nothing wrong. He looks forward to having the due process rights in the Senate that Speaker Pelosi and House Democrats denied to him, and expects to be fully exonerated.”

The White House and congressional Republicans complained that Trump was treated unfairly in the impeachment inquiry. The investigation led by House Democrats included numerous public and private hearings, with testimony from numerous witnesses. Trump instructed current and former officials not to cooperate in the inquiry and rejected an invitation to have lawyers representing him play a role in public hearings.

Biden is one of 12 candidates vying for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in the Nov. 3 presidential election, and the trial might still be underway when Iowa and New Hampshire hold their first party nominating contests in early February.

Not one of the Senate’s 53 Republicans has voiced support for ousting Trump, a step that would require a two-thirds majority in the 100-member chamber.

Democrats are pressing to call Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton as a trial witness, which could prove damaging to Trump. Other witnesses in the impeachment inquiry said Bolton was a vocal critic of the effort to pressure Ukraine.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has resisted the idea of calling witnesses at all, saying his chamber should consider only the evidence that has been amassed by the House. Other Republicans and Trump himself have said they would like to call witnesses of their own – including Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.

“If McConnell makes this the first trial in history without witnesses, it will be exposed for what it is, and that is an effort to cover up for the president,” Schiff told the news conference.

House Democrats indicated on Wednesday they would expand their case against Trump by including phone records and other documents provided over the weekend by Florida businessman Lev Parnas, who worked with Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to pressure Ukraine.

Schiff said material released on Tuesday showed Giuliani was acting at Trump’s direction.

“The president was the architect of this scheme,” Schiff said.

A pivotal event for the impeachment case against Trump 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.

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

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)

U.S. Senate panel advances North American trade deal, final vote timing uncertain

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate Finance Committee overwhelmingly approved the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement on Tuesday, moving the revamped North American trade deal a step closer to a final Senate vote in the coming days or weeks.

The committee advanced the USMCA implementing legislation by a 25-3 vote, drawing opposition from Republican senators Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

The timing of a long-delayed final U.S. congressional vote to approve the trade pact remains uncertain, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said its consideration would likely have to wait until after a Senate trial over the impeachment of President Donald Trump.

The trade deal, first agreed in October 2018 and revised last month, aims to modernize and broaden the 26-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Trump’s Senate trial is also in limbo, because House Democrats have not yet sent articles of impeachment approved in December to the Senate as the two parties argue over terms of the proceedings.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley earlier told CNBC http://bit.ly/36vNLSN television USMCA would “pass the Senate sometime within the next few days or at the most the end of this month.”

Following the Senate panel’s vote, Grassley said the timing was up to McConnell, but articles of impeachment would take precedence over USMCA. A vote could occur quickly as there was little other legislation to stand in its way, he added.

The Senate’s parliamentarian has directed other some other committees to consider the legislation, which could delay a floor vote slightly, but Grassley said those panels were expected to quickly approve the trade deal.

“The intent is for the leader to get them to move quickly,” Grassley added.

The finance committee’s vote indicates broad bipartisan support for USMCA, which includes new chapters covering digital trade, stronger intellectual property protections and new requirements for automakers to use more parts and materials sourced in the region and from high-wage areas, notably the United States and Canada.

Toomey, an ardent free trade Republican, objected to the new automotive content rules, saying they were “designed to raise the cost to American consumers of buying Mexican-made cars.”

“It’s the first time we are ever going to go backwards on a trade agreement,” Toomey said during the committee’s debate.

Cassidy complained that the agreement weakens NAFTA’s investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, which will deter big projects such as a gas pipeline from the United States to Mexico.

Whitehouse, an ardent environmentalist, said he objected to USMCA because the trade deal does not mandate any action to fight global warming and rising sea levels.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Tom Brown)

With Trump impeachment trial on hold, Senate to focus on ‘ordinary business’

With Trump impeachment trial on hold, Senate to focus on ‘ordinary business’
By Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. senators, who had expected just weeks ago to be turning their attention to an impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, will kick off the week focusing on “ordinary business,” with lawmakers still at loggerheads over trial rules.

Democrats have been pressing for witnesses to be called, but Trump’s fellow Republicans have held firm that any decision on testimony must wait until after opening statements are heard.

Complicating the calculus, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi – the top Democrat in Congress – has yet to send the House-approved impeachment articles to the Senate, putting a question mark over the schedule for a trial and buying time for Democrats to try to build the case for witnesses.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who Pelosi accuses of carrying water for the president, has said a trial cannot begin until the charges are formally sent to the chamber, although another senior Republican called on Sunday for the rules to be changed if Pelosi does not act soon.

“We’re not going to let Nancy Pelosi use the rules of the Senate to her advantage,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, told Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures.”

Without the articles in hand, McConnell said on Friday that senators would focus on “ordinary business” – in Monday’s case, a nomination for a new head of the Small Business Administration.

The earliest the House could take any action would be Tuesday when it reconvenes, but top Democrats have given no sign they are set to move this week.

“I don’t think it’s going to be indefinite,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, a Democrat, told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday when asked about the delay in transmitting the impeachment articles.

“I don’t think that’s at all the desire, motivation here. The desire is to get a commitment from the Senate that they’re going to have a fair trial.”

The Democratic-led House has charged Trump with abusing his power for personal gain by asking 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 president with obstructing Congress by directing administration officials and agencies not to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry.

Trump says he did nothing wrong and has dismissed his impeachment as a partisan bid to undo his 2016 election win.

The Senate, which is controlled by Republicans 53-47, is unlikely to vote to find the president guilty and remove him from office, an act that would take a two-thirds majority.

But Democrats have been hopeful they could persuade a few Republicans to side with them on their push for witnesses, which would require only a simple majority and could unearth evidence damaging to Trump.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell and Rochard Cowan; Writing by Tim Ahmann; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Peter Cooney)

McConnell says Senate Republicans have not ruled out witnesses in Trump impeachment trial

McConnell says Senate Republicans have not ruled out witnesses in Trump impeachment trial
By Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Monday that Republicans had not ruled out hearing witnesses in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, one of the main sticking points in drafting rules for the proceedings.

However, McConnell made clear he would not accede to a Democratic request for the U.S. Senate to agree ahead of time to take testimony during the trial.

The Republican leader instead repeated his position in an interview with Fox News Channel that any decision on witnesses be made after opening arguments in the case from both Democrats and representatives for Trump.

Allowing witness testimony, particularly from current and former administration officials, was likely to prolong the trial and could bring up new evidence damaging to Trump.

Republicans have a 53-seat majority in the Senate, where 51 votes are needed to pass a set of rules for the Trump trial.

The Republican president was impeached last week by the Democratic-led House of Representatives on two charges over his pressuring Ukraine to announce an investigation of former vice president Joe Biden and Biden’s son. Biden is a potential Democratic candidate to run against Republican Trump in the November 2020 election. Hunter Biden was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.

Trump was charged with abuse of power and obstructing Congress’ investigation. He has said he did nothing wrong.

There is little chance Trump will be convicted and removed from office through a trial in the Republican-led Senate, but the impeachment proceedings could resonate at the ballot box in November.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer has requested to have four witnesses subpoenaed for the Senate trial expected to begin early next year. The White House blocked all four, including acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton, from testifying during impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives in December.

“We haven’t ruled out witnesses,” McConnell said in an interview with “Fox & Friends.” “We’ve said, ‘Let’s handle this case just like we did with President Clinton.’ Fair is fair.”

In that 1999 trial, he said, senators went through opening arguments, had a written question period and then decided what witnesses to call based on that.

McConnell and Schumer failed to reach an agreement on Thursday on rules for the trial, which McConnell said would be the Senate’s first order of business in the new year.

“We remain at an impasse on these logistics,” McConnell said on Thursday.

He used the word “impasse” again on Monday in saying senators could not take any action until House Speaker Nancy Pelosi formally transmits the articles of impeachment to the Senate. Pelosi has withheld them in a bid to pressure Senate Republicans to reach an accord with Schumer on trial rules.

Schumer and other Democrats have criticized McConnell for working closely with the White House on trial strategy, saying he was not acting like an impartial juror.

Senators are expected to be administered an oath promising to do “impartial justice according to the Constitution” at the start of any impeachment trial.

McConnell dismissed the criticism in the Fox interview, asking if any Democratic leaders were impartial.

“Let’s quit the charade,” McConnell said. “This is a political exercise. A political exercise.”

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Grant McCool)