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WASHINGTON, Dec 20 — US President Donald Trump pressed his Republican allies yesterday to exert rigid control of his Senate trial and ensure a swift exoneration, a day after he was impeached in a historic rebuke by the House of Representatives.
A bitter fight looms over the coming hearings, expected to begin as early as the second week of January, with Senate leaders already drawing battle lines over the evidence that will be allowed.
Trump is charged with abuse of office and obstruction of Congress but Democrats, who led the three-month House investigation, are threatening to delay sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate until they are reassured the process will be fair.
“I got Impeached last might without one Republican vote being cast with the Do Nothing Dems on their continuation of the greatest Witch Hunt in American history,” Trump tweeted.
“Now the Do Nothing Party want to Do Nothing with the Articles & not deliver them to the Senate, but it’s Senate’s call!”
Trump, the third president in US history to be impeached, suggested that the Democrats would “lose by default” if they decided not to show up at a date determined by the Senate.
Stark partisan divide
The House voted 230 to 197 along stark party lines late Wednesday to charge Trump with abuse of power for pressuring Ukraine’s president to investigate his potential White House challenger in 2020, the veteran Democrat Joe Biden.
Lawmakers also approved a second article of impeachment, obstruction of the congressional probe into his Ukraine dealings, by 229 votes to 198.
The vote leaves a permanent stain on Trump’s legacy — one that he appeared determined to mask with acquittal by the Senate.
“I don’t feel like I’m being impeached because it’s a hoax, it’s a set-up, it’s a horrible thing they did,” he told reporters at the White House.
He was welcoming one of the two Democrats who voted against impeachment, Jeff Van Drew, who announced he was switching parties to the Republicans.
“You know what? It’s a phony deal and they cheapen the word ‘impeachment,’” Trump said.
“That should never again happen to another president.”
The Senate Republicans have a 53-47 majority that makes the math for clearing Trump straightforward: his conviction and removal would require a two-thirds guilty vote on either charge.
Mitch McConnell, the longest-serving Senate Republican leader in history, has already set aside time for a speedy trial that could begin in the second week of January.
But minutes after the vote late Wednesday, Democrats began pressuring him to have four current and former White House aides with direct knowledge of Trump’s Ukraine dealings to testify.
Trump blocked all four from testifying in the House, and Democrats believe their appearances at trial would bolster the case for conviction.
In a speech on the Senate floor yesterday, McConnell ridiculed the witness demand and the evidence used as the basis for the impeachment articles.
He accused Democrats of a “partisan crusade” and said they had conducted the “most rushed, the least thorough and most unfair impeachment inquiry in modern history.”
No two impeachments are quite the same, but Trump was charged 84 days after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the inquiry.
Lawmakers voted to send Bill Clinton to a Senate trial 72 days after the inquiry was authorised while Richard Nixon resigned 183 days into his impeachment.
Andrew Johnson’s impeachment in 1868 took less than a week, although it is generally held up as the most frivolous.
McConnell, who has substantial power in planning the Senate trial this time around, urged fellow jurors to exonerate Trump.
“The Senate must put this right. There is only one outcome that is suited to the paucity of evidence, the failed inquiry, the slapdash case,” he said.
But Schumer blasted him for prejudging the case and rejecting the call for witnesses.
“Why is Leader McConnell so afraid of witnesses and documents?” he asked.
“Is the president’s case so weak that none of the president’s men can defend him under oath?” — AFP
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