Senate approves impeachment trial rules, rejecting witnesses

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States (US) Senate plunged into US 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 offences.

The day-long session started on Tuesday with the setback for Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell and the President’s legal team, but it ended near 2am yesterday with Republicans easily approving the rest of the trial rules largely on their terms.

The result is the 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 time 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.

White House Counsel Pat Cipollone at the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump in the Senate at the US Capitol in Washington. PHOTO: AP

“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.”

After one particularly bitter post-midnight exchange, Chief Justice John 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”.

Over and over, Republicans turned back Democratic amendments to subpoena documents from the White House, State Department, Defence 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.

The White House legal team did not dispute Trump’s actions, when he called Ukraine and asked for a “favour” which was to investigate Democrat Joe Biden as the US 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.

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,” Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, told reporters.

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.