Senate opens first day of impeachment trial with debate on rules

Reps. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., (R) and Adam Schiff, D-Calif., two Democratic impeachment managers who will present the impeachment case against President Donald Trump at the Senate trial, speak to reporters at the U.S. Capitol Tuesday. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI

Jan. 21 (UPI) — The Senate on Tuesday began its historic impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell introducing a resolution to establish rules for the proceedings.

McConnell quietly changed how much time each side will have for opening arguments — 24 hours over the course of three days, up from two days. The language of the resolution also changed the rules on evidence, allowing evidence to be admitted unless there’s a vote otherwise.

Senators began their debate over the rules, a process that’s expected to occupy the entire first day of the trial.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone opened the discussion, offering support for McConnell’s resolution and saying that Trump has done nothing wrong.

“We support this resolution. It is a fair way to proceed with this trial,” Cipollone said. “It is long past time to start this proceeding, and we are here today to do it.”

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., one of the Democratic managers from the House, urged the Senate to allow senators to call witnesses and conduct a “fair trial.”

“Why should this trial be different than any other trial? The short answer is it shouldn’t. But leader McConnell’s resolution would turn the trial process on its head,” he said.

McConnell issued a blueprint late Monday, which called for House Democratic managers and Trump’s defense to receive 24 hours for opening remarks.

McConnell has said he will seek to have the trial follow the same structure as that of former President Bill Clinton’s in 1999, but the majority leader’s outline indicates Republicans want to fast track the trial.

Democrats criticized the plan, with Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer saying it’s an attempt to “conceal” Trump’s misconduct “in the dark of night” — and Schiff calling it a “rigged” trial process.

“I do think by structuring the trial this way it furthers our case that what’s going on here … is a cover up,” Schiff, the chairman of the House intelligence committee, said.

“It’s clear Sen. McConnell is hell-bent on making it much more difficult to get witnesses and documents and intent on rushing the trial through,” Schumer said. “On something as important as impeachment, Senator McConnell’s resolution is nothing short of a national disgrace.”

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Schumer said Tuesday he will introduce amendments to the proposed rules, including one that seeks a subpoena for all White House documents related to the charges against Trump — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, both of which are tied to the president’s dealings with Ukraine last year.

“Those documents include the records of meetings and calls between President Trump and the president of Ukraine, as well as those records created or received by … White House personnel about the decision to hold and release the military assistance to Ukraine,” Schumer said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi held onto the articles of impeachment for three weeks in an effort to secure assurances the trial would be fair. Democrats said they want the trial to include key administration witnesses and new evidence that has emerged since the House impeached Trump in mid-December.

A few “swing” Republicans in the upper chamber have indicated an openness to include witnesses.

Schumer has said he will seek to force votes on witnesses before opening arguments, which are expected to begin Wednesday.

“Overall, [McConnell’s plan] aligns closely with the [Clinton] rules package,” said Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, the only senator who’s said he wants to hear from former national security adviser John Bolton. “If attempts are made to vote on witnesses prior to opening arguments, I would oppose those efforts.”

The trial will go six days per week, from Monday through Saturday beginning at 1 p.m. and will last for 4 or 5 hours a day through the end of the trial. Both sides have said they expect the session Tuesday to run long.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who will preside over the trial, was sworn in last week on the first official day of the trial. Every member of the Senate also took an oath to be impartial over the course of the proceeding.

Trump was in Switzerland on Tuesday, where he spoke at the World Economic Forum.

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