Charges read out on floor as Trump impeachment trial opens in Senate
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Charges read out on floor as Trump impeachment trial opens in Senate

‘Today we will make history,’ says Nancy Pelosi as she presents documents. ‘This president will be held accountable’

US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, speaks during her weekly press briefing on Capitol Hill, January 16, 2020, in Washington, DC. (OLIVIER DOULIERY / AFP)
US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, speaks during her weekly press briefing on Capitol Hill, January 16, 2020, in Washington, DC. (OLIVIER DOULIERY / AFP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress opened the impeachment trial of US President Donald Trump on Thursday, with House Democrats reading the formal charges from the well of the US Senate ahead of the swearing in of all 100 senators as jurors for only the third impeachment trial in US history.

“Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye!” said the Senate’s sergeant at arms, calling the proceedings to order.

Seven lawmakers prosecuting the charges, led by Rep. Adam Schiff of the Intelligence Committee and Rep. Jerrold Nadler of the Judiciary Committee, made the solemn walk across the Capitol for a second day. It’s the start of ceremonial protocol that shifts the proceedings out of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Democratic-run House to the Republican-majority Senate.

Schiff, standing in the well of the Senate usually reserved for senators, began reading the resolution, “Impeaching Donald John Trump, president of the united states for high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Chief Justice John Roberts was later sworn in to preside over the trial, then immediately administered the oath to the full Senate to ensure “impartial justice” as jurors for only the third such proceeding in American history.

Roberts made the short trip across the street from the Supreme Court before being ushered to the Senate chamber.

Chief Justice of the United States, John Roberts walks to the Senate chamber at the Capitol in Washington, January 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

“Will all senators now stand, and remain standing, and raise their right hand,” Roberts said.

“Do you solemnly swear that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of Donald John Trump, president of the United States, now pending, you will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws, so help you God?”

The senators, at their desks, responded and then were called up to sign the oath book

The Constitution mandates the chief justice serve as the presiding officer. Roberts, who has long insisted judges are not politicians, is expected to serve as a referee for the proceedings rather than an active participant. Senators will ultimately render the verdict.

GOP Sen. James Inhofe was absent, home in Oklahoma for a family medical issue, his office said. He plans to return when the full trial begins next week.

The events, unfolding during an election year as Trump seeks another term, will be a test not only of his presidency but also of the nation’s three branches of power and its system of checks and balances. Several senators are running for the Democratic party’s nomination to challenge Trump in November.

The US president calls the impeachment a “hoax,” even as new information emerges about his actions toward Ukraine that led to the charges against him.

The seven House impeachment managers, including House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Rep. Val Demings (D-FL) leave the Senate chamber of the U.S. Capitol after transmitting two impeachment articles January 15, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP)

Pelosi said new allegations from an indicted associate of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Lev Parnas, only reinforces the need for the Senate to consider further testimony about the president’s actions toward Ukraine.

Pelosi noted that typically a special prosecutor would investigate but she doubted that would happen.

“This is an example of all of the president’s henchmen,” Pelosi said, “and I hope that the senators do not become part of the president’s henchmen.”

Trump faces a charge that he abused his presidential power by pressuring Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden, using military aid to the country as leverage. Trump was also charged with obstructing Congress’ ensuing probe.

Ahead of the proceedings the Government Accountability office said Thursday that the White House violated federal law in withholding the security assistance to Ukraine, which shares a border with hostile Russia.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opened the chamber Thursday decrying Pelosi’s decision to hand out “souvenir pens” after she signed the resolution to transmit the charges to the Senate.

“This final display neatly distilled the House’s entire partisan process into one perfect visual,” McConnell said. “’It was a transparently partisan process from beginning to end.”

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) (C) is handed a document while signing the articles of impeachment of US President Donald Trump during an engrossment ceremony on Capitol Hill January 15, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP)

Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer renewed his party’s request that the trial include new witnesses and documents not available for the House impeachment proceedings.

“What is the president hiding? What is he afraid of?’’ Schumer said.

“The gravity of these charges is self-evident,” he said. “The House of Representatives have accused the president of trying to shake down a foreign leader for personal gain.”

The US president has suggested recently that he would be open to a quick vote to simply dismiss the charges, but sufficient Republican support is lacking for that. Still, an eventual vote to acquit Trump is considered highly likely.

On Wednesday, in a dramatic procession across the US Capitol, House Democrats carried the charges to the Senate.

“Today we will make history,” Pelosi said as she signed the documents, using multiple pens to hand out and mark the moment. “This president will be held accountable.”

House impeachment managers Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Rep. Val Demings (D-FL), Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO) and Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX) walk through Statuary Hall as they pass from the House to the Senate at the U.S. Capitol on January 16, 2020 in Washington, DC.(Mark Wilson/Getty Images/AFP)

Moments later the prosecutors walked solemnly through the stately hall, filing into the Senate back row as the clerk of the House announced the arrival: “The House has passed House Resolution 798, a resolution appointing and authorizing managers of the impeachment trial of Donald John Trump, president of United States.”

Opening arguments are to begin next Tuesday after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

Earlier Wednesday, the House voted 228-193, almost entirely along party lines, ending a weeks-long delay to deliver the charges with a tally reflecting the nation’s split.

The top Republican in the House, Kevin McCarthy of California, said Americans will look back on this “sad saga” that tried to remove the president from office with the “weakest case.”

The US president’s team expects acquittal with a Senate trial lasting no more than two weeks, according to senior administration officials. That would be far shorter than the trial of President Bill Clinton, in 1999, or the first one, of President Andrew Johnson, in 1868. Both were acquitted.

US President Donald Trump stands for the national anthem before the beginning of the NCAA College Football Playoff National Championship game between LSU and Clemson, in New Orleans, January 13, 2020. (Evan Vucci/AP)

On Wednesday, Schiff released new records from Parnas about the Ukraine strategy, including an exchange with another man about surveilling later-fired US Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.

Lev Parnas arrives to court in New York, Decmber 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Schiff said the new evidence should bring more pressure on McConnell, who is reluctant to allow witnesses to testify and prefers swift acquittal. The White House has instructed officials not to comply with House subpoenas for testimony and documents.

“The challenge is to get a fair trial,” Schiff said in an interview with The Associated Press. “It shouldn’t be a challenge — if the senators are really going to live up to their oath to be impartial, they’ll want a fair trial. That’s obviously not where Mitch McConnell is coming from.”

The managers are a diverse group with legal, law enforcement and military experience, including Hakeem Jeffries of New York, Sylvia Garcia of Texas, Val Demings of Florida, Jason Crow of Colorado and Zoe Lofgren of California.

Two are freshman lawmakers — Crow a former Army Ranger who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, Garcia a former judge in Houston. Demings is the former police chief of Orlando and Jeffries is a lawyer and member of party leadership. Lofgren has the rare credential of having worked on the congressional staff investigation of President Richard Nixon’s impeachment — he resigned before the full House voted on the charges — and then being an elected lawmaker during Clinton’s.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is leading an effort among some Republicans, including Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, to consider Senate witnesses. She told reporters she was satisfied the rules will allow votes on that.

Romney said he wants to hear from John Bolton, the former national security adviser at the White House, who others have said raised alarms about the alternative foreign policy toward Ukraine being run by Giuliani.

Any four senators could force an outcome. Republicans control the chamber, 53-47, but it takes just 51 votes during the trial to approve rules or call witnesses. It also would take only 51 senators to vote to dismiss the charges against Trump.

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