Democrats to vote on sending impeachment charges as Trump trial edges closer
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives will vote on Wednesday to send formal impeachment charges against President Donald Trump to the Senate, lawmakers said on Tuesday, likely setting the start of Trump's trial for later this week.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told a party meeting that she would also name the Democrats' team of "managers" who will lead the prosecution of Trump at the trial, Democratic congressman Henry Cuellar said.
Trump became only the third U.S. president to be impeached when the House last month approved charges that he abused his power by pressuring Ukraine to announce an investigation into his Democratic rival Joe Biden and obstructed Congress.
GRAPHIC: Impeachment of U.S. President Donald Trump - https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-TRUMP-WHISTLEBLOWER/0100B2EZ1MK/index.html
But Pelosi has delayed sending the charges to the Senate in an unsuccessful effort to get that chamber's Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to agree to include new witness testimony that could be damaging to the Republican president.
The Senate is expected to acquit Trump, as none of its 53 Republicans have voiced support for ousting him, a step that would require a two-thirds majority in the 100-member Senate.
A Wednesday vote would allow the Senate to start the trial on Thursday afternoon, although the first few days will be consumed with housekeeping duties such as swearing in members and formally reading the two impeachment charges. Lawmakers likely would not hear opening arguments until next week at the earliest.
"We’ll have I think about a 10-minute debate and we’ll vote on it and then send everything over. And the Senate trial, I assume, will start next week,” Cuellar said.
In a U.S. presidential impeachment trial, the senators act as a jury in proceedings overseen by the head of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Roberts. Republicans and Democrats are likely to clash over the issue of whether to call new witnesses.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing and has dismissed his impeachment as a partisan bid to undo his 2016 election win as he tries to win re-election in November.
The White House said on Tuesday the trial was "purely political."
"It's out of a desire to gain more power. It has nothing to do with the rule of law by any stretch because the articles they came up with don't actually cite any crime. It's just to try and smear this president because they know they can't beat him at the ballot box," White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told Fox News.
The case against Trump is focused on a July 25 telephone call in which he asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to open a corruption investigation into former Vice President Biden and his son Hunter, and into a discredited theory that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 U.S. election.
Democrats say Trump abused his power by asking a foreign government to interfere in an American election for his own political benefit at the expense of U.S. national security.
Joe Biden, whose son served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company, is a leading Democratic candidate for the presidential nomination to face Trump in the Nov. 3 election.
The two articles of impeachment -- or formal charges -- against Trump include an accusation that he obstructed Congress' efforts to investigate him by instructing officials to ignore House committee subpoenas to testify or to produce documents at an earlier stage of the Ukraine investigation.
Democrats want to hear at the trial from current and former White House officials such as former national security adviser John Bolton for insight into Trump's pressure campaign on Ukraine that could be damaging for the president's defense.
But the Republican majority in the Senate will set the trial's rules and McConnell has not committed to allowing any witnesses or new documents. He instead could steer the process toward a quick acquittal.
McConnell has left open the possibility of deciding on witness testimony until later in the trial. Allowing new witness testimony could be a double-edged sword for Democrats, as some Republicans have said they want to call their own witnesses.
Pelosi could name up to 10 lawmakers as managers to argue the case against Trump, including House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who spearheaded the impeachment probe, and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler.
The 1999 impeachment trial of then-President Bill Clinton lasted five weeks. If the Senate conducts its trial along those lines, as Republican McConnell has suggested, that would mean lawmakers would still be considering charges against the president while the first nominating contests of the 2020 presidential election were underway in Iowa and New Hampshire.
That could make life difficult for the four senators who are running for the Democratic nomination: Elizabeth Warren, Michael Bennet, Amy Klobuchar and Bernie Sanders.
Republicans presume Biden would have been damaged politically by a Ukrainian probe into him and his son, but Trump and his allies have offered no evidence that they were involved in corruption in Ukraine.
A U.S. cybersecurity firm said on Monday that Russian military hackers tried to steal emails from the Ukrainian energy firm Bursima where Hunter Biden was on the board.
No U.S. president has been removed as a direct result of impeachment. Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 before he could be removed, while Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were impeached by the House, respectively in 1868 and 1998, but not convicted by the Senate.
(Reporting by David Morgan and Richard Cowan; writing by Alistair Bell; editing by Andy Sullivan and Jonathan Oatis)
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