Impeachments in history: Bill Clinton's trial

This is the role the Chief Justice plays in impeachment

Members of the US Senate convened at the Capitol in Washington for the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, kicking off a debate and vote on the structure and rules of the proceedings that concluded in the early hours of Wednesday, as largely expected, with the approval of trial rules presented by Senate majority leader, Republican Mitch McConnell.

As the third presidential impeachment trial in USA history began in earnest, Trump's chief legal defender argued the Democratic case was a baseless effort to overturn the 2016 election but a top Democratic lawmaker said there was "overwhelming" evidence of wrongdoing.

A marathon session of almost 13 hours featured a setback for Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell and the President's legal team, exposing a crack in the GOP ranks and the growing political unease over the historic impeachment proceedings unfolding amid a watchful public in an election year.

The White House legal team did not dispute Mr Trump's actions, when he called Ukraine and asked for a "favour", which was to investigate Democrat Joe Biden as the U.S. was withholding military aid the ally desperately needed as it faced off with hostile Russian Federation on its border.

It is only the third presidential impeachment trial in USA history, coming just weeks before the first primaries of the 2020 election season and as voters are assessing Trump's first term and weighing the candidates who want to challenge him in the fall.

Democrats only need four Republican votes to get their way on the rules.

But Democrats said they forced repeated votes on evidence and witnesses, which extended late into the night, to get Republicans on the record immediately.

"The president's lawyers will finally receive a level playing field, " the Kentucky Republican said, contrasting it with the House impeachment inquiry.

In recent days, House Democrats have said they would continue their impeachment hearings, and some have threatened to impeach the president again.

"The question you must answer today: Will the president and the American people get a fair trial?" he asked.

Even if such a motion fails, Trump is nearly certain to be acquitted by the 100-member chamber, where a two-thirds majority is needed to remove him from office.

Acquitting Trump of the charges or dismissing the charges, however, takes only 51 votes.

McConnell maintains that he based his plan on the rules for the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in 1999, with each side getting 24 hours.

Cipollone accused the Democrats of "phony political investigations", against Trump ahead of his November re-election fight. Trump said he was doing his duty to root out corruption.

"They're not here to steal one election, they're here to steal two elections", Cipollone said.

Trump's attorneys, led by White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, argued the president did not commit an impeachable offense.

The White House defense team also repeated some false charges.

Mr Trump's legal team argued that in seeking new evidence the House was bringing a half-baked case that would be thrown out in any other court of law.

Schiff is claiming that new evidence House Democrats have received and witnesses that the House did not interview should be part of the Senate impeachment trial.

Televised congressional testimony from a parade of current and former officials who spoke of a coordinated effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens has done little to change support for and against Trump's impeachment.

It is the third time in American history that Senators have to judge the president for "high crimes and misdemeanours" and decide whether he should be removed from office. One, Richard Nixon, resigned in the face of a looming impeachment. When Roberts opened the trial, the chamber hushed as hand shakes and smiles gave way to serious and sober looks on both sides of the aisle.

They include Reps. Doug Collins, Jim Jordan, Mark Meadows and Elise Stefanik, all of whom were prominent during the House's impeachment investigation and have made frequent media appearances on behalf of the president.



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