Republicans in Trump impeachment trial on the spot over Bolton book report

By Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans in the U.S. Senate came under fresh pressure on Monday to allow witnesses and new documents in his impeachment trial, while Trump’s defense team argued that policy differences were a crucial reason that Democrats have sought to remove him from office.

A New York Times report that former national security adviser John Bolton has written in an unpublished book manuscript that Trump told him he wanted to freeze security aid to Ukraine until Kiev helped with politically beneficial investigations prompted fresh calls by Democrats for Bolton and other witnesses to testify at the trial.

Republican Senator Mitt Romney, a sometime critic of Trump, said there was a growing likelihood that at least four Republican senators would vote to call for Bolton to testify, which would give Democrats the votes necessary to summon the former national security adviser.

Senate Republicans so far have refused to allow any witnesses or new evidence in the trial that will determine whether Trump is removed from office. Trump’s legal team on Monday resumed its presentation of opening arguments in the trial, including remarks by Ken Starr, the former independent counsel whose investigation paved the way for the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, in 1998.

The New York Times cited the manuscript by Bolton as saying that Trump told him he wanted to freeze $391 million in security aid to Ukraine until it helped with investigations into Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.

Bolton left his post in September. Trump said he fired him. Bolton said he quit.

If confirmed, the report would add weight to Democrats’ accusations that Trump used the aid – approved by the U.S. Congress to help Ukraine combat Russia-backed separatists – as leverage to get a foreign country to help him dig up dirt on a domestic political rival.

Biden is a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Trump on Monday denied telling Bolton that he sought to use the aid to pressure Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskiy to investigate the Bidens on unsubstantiated corruption allegations. Hunter Biden worked for a Ukrainian energy firm while his father was U.S. vice president.

“I think it’s increasingly likely that other Republicans will join those of us who think we should hear from John Bolton,” Romney told reporters.

Another moderate Republican senator, Susan Collins, said the reports regarding Bolton’s book “strengthen the case for witnesses.” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, a Republican ally of Trump, said he would support issuing a subpoena to obtain Bolton’s manuscript to see if it should be added to the record, a CNN reporter said on Twitter.

The Democratic-led House of Representatives impeached Trump last month on charges of abuse of power in his dealings with Ukraine and obstruction of Congress, setting up the trial in the Republican-led Senate.

Trump is expected to be acquitted in the 100-seat Senate, where Republicans hold 53 seats and a two-thirds vote is required to convict and remove a president from office.

Trump denied telling Bolton he was seeking something in return for unfreezing the Ukrainian aid, which eventually was provided in September after the controversy became public.

“I haven’t seen the manuscript, but I can tell you nothing was ever said to John Bolton,” Trump told reporters outside the White House.

DEFENSE ARGUMENT

In its second day of its opening arguments, Trump’s defense team said a crucial reason that House Democrats impeached Trump was not due to misconduct by the president but because of deep political differences.

“We live in a constitutional republic where you have deep policy concerns and deep differences. That should not be the basis of an impeachment,” Jay Sekulow, one of Trump’s lawyers, told the senators.

“It is our position, as the president’s counsel, that the president was at all times acting under his constitutional authority, under his legal authority, international interest, and pursuant to his oath of office. Asking a foreign leader to get to the bottom of issues of corruption is not a violation of an oath,” Sekulow added.

The issue of whether to call witnesses might be resolved in a Senate vote on Friday or Saturday. Democrats said the Bolton report made it all the more pressing for the Senate to call Bolton as a witness in what is only the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history.

“It completely blasts another hole in the president’s defense,” said Representative Adam Schiff, the head of the House Democratic team of “managers” who are presenting the prosecution case against Trump, told CNN.

Many Republicans want a speedy trial without witnesses or any evidence beyond the material amassed in the House impeachment inquiry. But Republican senators and staff spent Monday morning getting up to speed on how the witness process would work, according to a senior Republican aide, in case the trial goes in that direction.

The White House directed current and former administration officials not to provide testimony or documents in the House inquiry, leading the House also to charge him with obstruction of Congress as well as abusing his office.

Starr, a former federal judge and Justice Department official, said there were ways short of impeachment for the House to force an administration to comply with its oversight obligations.

“Go to court. It really is as simple as that, I don’t need to belabor the point,” Starr said.

Starr said impeachment was an overused tool.

“The Senate is being called to sit as the high court of impeachment all too frequently,” Starr said. “How did we get here with presidential impeachment invoked in its inherently destabilizing and acrimonious way?”

According to the Times, Trump was pressed for weeks by senior aides including Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to release the aid.

But in an August 2019 discussion with Bolton, Trump said he preferred sending no aid to Ukraine until officials there turned over all materials they had about the investigation that involved Biden, as well as Hillary Clinton backers in Ukraine, according to the Times.

Senior administration officials have disputed the report.

If senators do not allow new witnesses and evidence, the Senate could vote as soon as the end of this week on whether to remove Trump.

(Additional Reporting by Pete Schroeder, Arshad Mohammed, Tim Ahmann, Makini Brice, Steve Holland, Jeff Mason and Lisa Lambert; Writing Alistair Bell; Editing by Will Dunham; Editing by Andy Sullivan)

Trump trial enters pivotal week as calls for witnesses grow

By Richard Cowan and Karen Freifeld

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial enters a pivotal week on Monday as his lawyers resume their defense following a fresh report that could intensify pressure on Senate Republicans to call former national security adviser John Bolton to testify.

The New York Times cited an unpublished Bolton manuscript as saying that Trump told him he wanted to freeze security aid to Ukraine until its officials helped with investigations into Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter Biden.

The elder Biden is a leading Democratic contender to face the Republican president in the Nov. 3 U.S. election. Hunter Biden worked for a Ukrainian energy firm while his father was vice president.

The report, which did not quote the manuscript but cited multiple people describing Bolton’s account, may undercut a key element of Trump’s defense: that there was no quid pro quo when he asked Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskiy to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, in a July phone call.

Bolton’s lawyer Charles Cooper said in a statement on Sunday that the manuscript had been submitted to the White House for a standard prepublication security review for classified information.

“It is clear, regrettably, from The New York Times article published today that the prepublication review process has been corrupted and that information has been disclosed by persons other than those properly involved in reviewing the manuscript,” Cooper said.

A Bolton aide said he had not given the manuscript to anyone else besides the White House for review.

White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham cast doubt on the timing of the report, which was published around the time pre-ordering for Bolton’s book began.

Trump denied the allegations in a series of tweets early on Monday.

“I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens … If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book,” Trump wrote.

Trump’s team has previously said he was well within his constitutional authority to press Zelenskiy to investigate the Bidens as part of what he says was an anti-corruption drive. The Bidens deny wrongdoing.

In only the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history, Democrats argued last week that Trump should be removed for encouraging Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 U.S. election by pressuring its leader to dig up dirt on Biden.

Trump’s defense tried to turn that election interference line against the Democrats in its opening argument on Saturday by warning against removing a president less than 10 months before Americans vote on whether to give him a second term.

The president’s team will continue with his defense on Monday afternoon.

While the Republican-controlled Senate is highly unlikely to remove Trump from office, it is important for him to try to blunt the Democratic accusations to limit political damage to his bid for a second term.

The report drew immediate Democratic demands that the Senate call Bolton as a witness, an issue the 100-member chamber is likely to address later in the week.

The impeachment trial rules provide for a two-step process on whether to subpoena witness and documents, with an initial vote on whether to consider doing so and, if approved, subsequent votes to actually call witnesses or demand documents.

Democrats argue this could allow Republicans have it both ways – allowing them to first vote “yes” on whether to proceed and then vote “no” on actually allowing witnesses or documents.

As a result, vulnerable Senate Republicans could make the case to moderates that they had voted in favor of witnesses in the first vote while avoiding alienating Trump supporters by refusing to actually call any in later votes.

If the Senate called witnesses or demanded documents, the trial could lengthen. If not, the Senate could vote toward the end of the week on whether to remove Trump from office.

If that were to happen the trial could be over before the first U.S. voting contest takes place in Iowa on Feb. 3 and before Trump is scheduled to deliver the annual State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Feb. 4.

(Additional Reporting by Pete Schroeder, Arshad Mohammed, Tim Ahmann, Makini Brice, Steve Holland and Lisa Lambert; Writing Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Chizu Nomiyama)

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 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)

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)

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 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)

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)

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)