Analysis: Why Senate Impeachment Trial of Trump Will Fail, Trial Begins
Impeachment trial of President Donald Trump has officially begun in the Senate. The House of Representatives had voted against Trump, impeached him and transmitted the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate.
The 100-member senate has 57 Republican members and 43 Democrat members. To convict President, the Democrats need a two-third majority vote, that is 67 votes.
Unlike in the House where the Democrats had an easy sail, the Senate is dominated by Republicans who have volunteered a massive support for President Trump.
Trump’s legal team have called on senators, who will act as jurors in the trial, to “speedily reject” the impeachment case against him, arguing that he broke no laws in a submission made on the eve of his trial in the Senate.
But Democrats have condemned the trial rules outlined by the Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, which would give each side to just 24 hours to present their case.
Adam Schiff, the Democrat leading the prosecution, dismissed it as a “cover-up”. “This is not a process for a fair trial, this is the process for a rigged trial” he told reporters.
The 100 members of the Senate gathered in the chamber on Tuesday afternoon, with the chief justice of the US Supreme Court, John Roberts, presiding over the trial.
It is only the third time in history that a US president has endured an impeachment trial, after Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1999.
The first order of business on Tuesday was to set the rules of the trial, such as how long they will hear the arguments of the House managers, or prosecutors; how long they will hear the defense; the time allotted for questions, submitted by the senators but read by Justice Roberts; and whether they will call witnesses or seek other evidence.
Flexing his solid 53-47 majority, Mr McConnell laid out ground rules that would block subpoenaing key witnesses or documents while each side makes its case – potentially crippling prosecutors’ arguments.
“The basic structure we’re proposing is just as eminently fair and even-handed,” the Republican senate leader said.
Mr Trump’s team offered a preview of the president’s defence on Monday night in their 171-page legal brief, arguing the impeachment proceedings had been a “rigged process” and insisting Mr Trump “did absolutely nothing wrong”.
Mr Trump’s lawyers central argument is simple: he cannot be guilty of abuse of power – the first charge against him – because he is not accused of violating any law, unlike past presidents who have faced impeachment.
They also summarily rejected the second article of impeachment, charging Mr Trump with obstructing Congress, by arguing that his decision to reject legal demands for White House officials to testify to the impeachment investigation falls within the remit of his executive powers.
Mr Trump himself, who is in Davos, Switzerland for an economic conference, denounced the proceedings as “a total hoax,” as he does daily, and said, “I’m sure it’s going to work out fine.”
The Democrats’ impeachment managers, who will act as the prosecution in Mr Trump’s trial, begin outlining their case against the president on Tuesday.
They will make the case that Mr Trump tried to pressure Ukraine into interfering in the 2020 US election to help him win, and then tried to thwart a congressional probe of his behaviour.
Part of the scandal centers on a July 25 telephone call in which Mr Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to announce an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden, Mr Trump’s potential opponent in the November vote.
Democrats, who control the House of Representatives and led the investigation, accuse Mr Trump of manipulating Ukraine by withholding nearly $400 million in military aid for its war against Russian-backed separatists and a White House meeting for Mr Zelenskiy until the latter announced a Biden probe.
“The president did nothing wrong,” Mr Trump’s lawyers responded in their legal brief, which calls for the Senate to reject the articles “and acquit the president immediately”.
The president’s his 12-man legal team consists of high profile lawyers such as Kenneth Starr, who tried to bring down Mr Clinton over his affair with Monica Lewinsky.
While the Trump team’s is unlikely to succeed in their attempt to get the case against Mr Trump speedily dismissed, the president looks almost certain to ultimately be acquitted because of the 53-47 Republican majority in the Senate.
Mr McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, has proposed rules calling for each side to have 24 hours over two days to present their arguments. That makes for long trial days stretching late into the night but is a significantly quicker pace than in Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial in 1999. The chamber will debate and vote on the proposed rules Tuesday.
Chuck Schumer, the top Democratic senator, said Mr McConnell is rushing the trial and also making it harder for witnesses and documents to be presented.