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Senate OKs Rules, Rejects Witnesses    01/22 06:17

   The U.S. Senate plunged into President Donald Trump's  impeachment trial 
with Republicans abruptly abandoning plans to cram opening arguments into two 
days but solidly rejecting Democratic demands for more witnesses to expose what 
they deem Trump's "trifecta" of offenses.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. Senate plunged into President Donald Trump's  
impeachment trial with Republicans abruptly abandoning plans to cram opening 
arguments into two days but solidly rejecting Democratic demands for more 
witnesses to expose what they deem Trump's "trifecta" of offenses.

   The daylong session started Tuesday with the setback for Republican Senate 
leader Mitch McConnell and the president's legal team, but it ended near 2 a.m. 
Wednesday with Republicans easily approving the rest of the trial rules largely 
on their terms. The result is Trump's historic trial, unfolding amid a watchful 
public in an election year.

   "We have a great case," Trump said as he began his second day at a global 
economic forum in Davos, Switzerland. He said he thought his legal team was 
doing a "very good job." 

   The trial is now on a fast-track with almost no signs of Republican 
resistance to the actions that led to his impeachment. 

   "It's about time we bring this power trip in for a landing," said White 
House counsel Pat Cipollone, the president's lead lawyer, lashing out at the 
House Democrats prosecuting the case.

   "It's a farce," he said about the impeachment proceeding, "and it should 
end."

   Chief Justice John Roberts gaveled open the session, with House prosecutors 
on one side, Trump's team on the other, in the well of the Senate, as senators 
sat silently at their desks, under oath to do "impartial justice." No 
cellphones or other electronics were allowed.

   As the day stretched deep into the night, lawyerly arguments gave way to 
more pointedly political ones. Tempers flared and senators paced the chamber. 
Democrats pursued what may be their only chance to force senators to vote on 
hearing new testimony. 

   After one particularly bitter post-midnight exchange, Roberts intervened, 
taking the rare step of admonishing both the Democratic House managers 
prosecuting the case and the White House counsel to "remember where they are."

   "I think it is appropriate at this point for me to admonish both the House 
managers and the president's counsel in equal terms to remember that they are 
addressing the world's greatest deliberative body," the usually reserved 
Roberts said. He told them that description of the Senate stemmed from a 1905 
trial when a senator objected to the word "pettifogging," because members 
should "avoid speaking in a manner and using language that is not conducive to 
civil discourse."

   Over and over, Republicans turned back Democratic amendments to subpoena 
documents from the White House, State Department, Defense Department and budget 
office. By the same 53-47 party-line, they turned away witnesses with front-row 
seats to Trump's actions including acting White House chief of staff Mick 
Mulvaney and John Bolton, the former national security adviser critical of the 
Ukraine policy. 

   Only on one amendment, to allow more time to file motions, did a single 
Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, join Democrats. But it, too, was 
rejected, 52-48.

   "It's not our job to make it easy for you," Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman 
of the House Intelligence Committee leading the prosecution, told the Senate. 
"Our job is to make it hard to deprive the American people of a fair trial."

   As the visitors' gallery filled earlier with guests, actress-and-activist 
Alyssa Milano among them, and Trump's most ardent House allies lining the back 
rows, the day that began as a debate over rules quickly took on the cadence of 
a trial proceeding over whether the president's actions toward Ukraine 
warranted removal from office.

   Cipollone led the prosecution, scoffing that the House charges against Trump 
were "ridiculous," insisting the president "has done absolutely nothing wrong."

   The White House legal team did not dispute Trump's actions, when he called 
Ukraine and asked for a "favor," which was to investigate Democrat Joe Biden as 
the U.S. was withholding military aid the ally desperately needed as it faced 
off with hostile Russia on its border. But the lawyers insisted the president 
did nothing wrong. "Absolutely no case," Cipollone said.

   Schiff, the California Democrat, said America's Founders added the remedy of 
impeachment in the Constitution with "precisely this type of conduct in mind 
--- conduct that abuses the power of office for a personal benefit, that 
undermines our national security, and that invites foreign interference in the 
democratic process of an election." 

   Said Schiff: "It is the trifecta of constitutional misconduct justifying 
impeachment.''

   The other lead lawyer on Trump's team, Jay Sekulow, retorted, "I'll give you 
a trifecta," outlining complaints over the House Democrats' impeachment inquiry 
process.

   The impeachment trial is testing whether Trump's actions toward Ukraine 
warrant removal as voters are forming their own verdict on his White House.

   All four senators who are presidential candidates were off the campaign 
trail, seated as jurors. "My focus is going to be on impeachment," Sen. Bernie 
Sanders, the Vermont independent, told reporters. 

   McConnell stunned senators and delayed the start of proceedings with his 
decision to back off some of his proposed rules. He made the adjustment after 
encountering resistance from Republicans during a closed-door lunch meeting. 
Senators worried about the political optics of "dark of night" sessions that 
could come from cramming the 24 hours of opening arguments from each side into 
just two days.

   Collins and Sen. Lisa Murkowksi of Alaska, who often buck party leadership, 
along with a substantial number of other Republicans, wanted to make the 
changes, according to people familiar with the situation.

   It was only when the clerk started reading the dry language of the 
resolution that the hand-written changes to extend debate to three days became 
apparent. It also allowed the House impeachment record to be included in the 
Senate.

   The turnaround was a swift lesson as White House wishes run into the reality 
of the Senate. The White House wanted a session kept to a shorter period to 
both expedite the trial and shift more of the proceedings into late night, 
according to a person familiar with the matter but unauthorized to discuss it 
in public.

   "READ THE TRANSCRIPTS!" the president tweeted from overseas, at a global 
leaders conference in Davos, Switzerland. 

   That's the transcript of his phone call in which he asked new Ukrainian 
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for "a favor." The Democrats cite that transcript 
as solid evidence against Trump, though he repeatedly describes it as "perfect."

   The House impeached Trump last month on a charge of abuse of power for 
pushing Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Biden and his son Hunter Biden 
as the White House was withholding military aid from Ukraine. Trump also was 
impeached on a second charge, of obstruction of Congress, in the House probe. 

   Trump's legal team, absent its TV-showcase attorneys, Alan Dershowitz and 
Kenneth Starr who were not in the chamber, argued that in seeking new evidence 
the House was bringing a half-baked case.

   But Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, one of the House managers and the first 
woman to argue for the prosecution in a presidential impeachment trial, said 
the House wasn't asking the Senate to do the job for them. "The House is asking 
the Senate to do its job, to have a trial," she said. "Have you ever heard of a 
trial without evidence?''

   The White House had instructed officials not to testify in the House 
inquiry, and refused to turn over witnesses or documents, citing what is says 
is precedence in defiance of congressional subpoenas.

   The ambassadors and national security officials who did appear before the 
House delivered often striking testimony, highlights that were displayed on 
television screens during the Senate proceeding.

   Democrat Schiff displayed video of Trump himself suggesting there should be 
more witnesses testifying.

   One by one, the House managers made the case, drawing on their own life 
experiences.

   Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., a former police chief, said she never saw anyone 
take "such extreme steps to hide evidence.'' Rep. Jason Crow, a former Army 
Ranger who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, seemed to capture senators' 
attention when he told them near he knew the hour was late, but it was morning 
in Ukraine where soldiers were waking up to fight Russia, depending on U.S. aid.

   It was when Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the House Judiciary Committee chairman also 
leading the prosecution, said the White House lawyers "lie" that Cipollone and 
Sekulow retorted that Nadler should be embarrassed and apologize, leading to 
Roberts' admonition. 

   No president has ever been removed from office. With its 53-47 Republican 
majority, the Senate is not expected to mount the two-thirds vote needed for 
conviction.


(KR)

 
 
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