Articles of impeachment charging US President Donald Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of the US Congress were yesterday to be formally read to the US Senate, starting a historic trial that threatens to remove him from office.
US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts was then to be sworn in to preside over the trial and senators sworn in as jurors, as preparations get under way for an impeachment trial that would start on Tuesday next week.
Following their delivery to the Senate on Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that the articles would be formally read to the chamber at noon.
“This is a difficult time for our country, but this is precisely the kind of time for which the framers created the Senate,” McConnell said, referring to the authors of the US constitution.
“I’m confident that this body can rise above short-termism and factional fever, and serve the long-term best interests of our nation. We can do this, and we must,” he said.
The two articles of impeachment — one for abuse of power and the other for obstructing an investigation by the US House of Representatives — were delivered in blue folders in a solemn procession by House managers, seven Democrats chosen to prosecute the case against the president.
“So sad, so tragic for our country, that the actions taken by the president to undermine our national security, to violate his oath of office and to jeopardize the security of our elections, has taken us to this place,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said as she signed the articles.
“This president will be held accountable,” she said. “No one is above the law.”
The solemn formalities underscored the grimness of the occasion, Trump becoming only the third US president in history to be placed on trial in the Senate.
“We feel we are carrying out the will of the framers of our constitution, and that’s a pretty serious load,” said US Representative Adam Schiff, the Democratic lawmaker tapped to lead the prosecution team.
Trump is accused of secretly holding up US$391 million in aid to Ukraine from July to September last year to pressure Kiev to investigate former US vice president Joe Biden, a Democratic front-runner in this year’s White House race.
The president is also charged with obstruction for holding back witnesses and documents from the House impeachment investigation in defiance of congressional subpoenas. He was formally impeached on Dec. 18.
However, Pelosi held back on delivering the articles to the Senate as she pressured McConnell to agree to subpoena the witnesses and documents that the White House blocked from the House probe.
McConnell has refused to commit, saying that the issue would only be decided after the trial’s opening arguments and questioning, which could take two weeks.
A Trump administration official on Wednesday told reporters that they expect the trial to last no longer than two weeks, suggesting that McConnell could use his 53-47 Republican majority in the Senate to stifle calls for witnesses and quickly take the charges to a vote.
With impeachment rules requiring a two-thirds majority to convict and remove a president, Trump’s acquittal is widely expected.
On Tuesday, Democrats released newly acquired files that showed Trump’s personal lawyer, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, working with Ukrainian-born American Lev Parnas early last year to pressure Kiev to investigate Biden.
In a televised interview that aired on Wednesday, Parnas told MSNBC that “President Trump knew exactly what was going on.”
“He was aware of all of my movements. I wouldn’t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president,” he added.
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