Trump says he’s open to witnesses as trial rules are set
The United States (US) Senate plunged into President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial with Republicans abruptly abandoning plans to cram opening arguments into two days, but solidly rejecting, for now, Democrats’ demands for more witnesses to expose what they deem Trump’s “trifecta” of offences.
Trump himself said yesterday he wants top aides to testify, but qualified that by suggesting there were “national security” concerns to allowing their testimony.
“We have a great case,” Trump said at a global economic forum in Davos, Switzerland. In a press conference before returning to Washington, Trump said his legal team was doing a “very good job”.
He appeared to break with Republicans efforts to block Democratic motions to immediately call witnesses and subpoena documents. Instead, Trump said he’d like to see aides, including former National Security Adviser John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, testify as witnesses
Trump said he’d leave the “national security” concerns about allowing their testimony to the Senate.
Tuesday’s day-long session started 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.
With the rules settled, the trial is now on a fast track. At issue is whether Trump should be removed from office for abuse of power stemming from his pressure on Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden and Biden’s son, Hunter, as Trump was withhold aid to the country, and for obstructing Congress’ ensuing probe.
Chief Justice John Roberts gavelled 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 cell phones 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”.