The presidency of Donald Trump is on trial in the US Senate.
Nearly a month after the House of Representatives took two historic votes to impeach the 45th president of the United States, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi held a vote Wednesday, Jan. 15, to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate. The upper chamber of Congress is now tasked with conducting a trial.
On a mostly party-line vote, the House impeached Trump Dec. 18, 2019, on charges of abusing the power of his office and obstructing a congressional probe. The votes followed a nearly three-month formal inquiry into allegations that Trump withheld aid from Ukraine in exchange for an investigation that would benefit the president politically.
Related: How Trump was impeached: A timeline
Now the impeachment moves to trial in the Senate. Senators will act as a jury to decide whether or not to remove the president from office, with proceedings overseen by Chief Justice John Roberts of the Supreme Court. The House impeachment managers prosecuting the case against Trump in the trial are Adam Schiff (CA), Jerry Nadler (NY), Zoe Lofgren (CA), Hakeem Jeffries (NY), Val Demings (FL), Jason Crow (CO) and Sylvia Garcia (TX).
Trump is the third president in American history to be impeached, following Bill Clinton in 1998 and Andrew Johnson in 1868. No president in the history of the United States has been removed from office by impeachment.
A two-thirds majority would be required to oust Trump in the 100-member Senate, meaning at least 20 Republicans would have to join Democrats in voting against Trump — an unlikely outcome.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told Fox News in December that his party would be in lockstep with White House counsel over the trial, drawing concern that the trial will face significant credibility issues.
“I'm coordinating with the White House counsel,” McConnell said. “There will be no difference between the president's position and our position as to how to handle this, to the extent that we can.”
Democrats and Republicans have clashed over the Senate rules for the trial, particularly over whether the trial will include new witness testimony. Pelosi attempted to exercise some leverage over these rules negotiations by withholding the transfer of the articles of impeachment to the Senate until mid-January.
The World is following the trial and will continue updating this story with new developments.
The Republican-controlled Senate voted 52-48 to acquit Trump on the first charge of abuse of power stemming from his request that Ukraine investigate political rival Joe Biden, a contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in the Nov. 3 election. One Republican, Mitt Romney, joined the Democrats in voting for conviction. No Democrats voted for acquittal.
The Senate then voted 53-47 to acquit him of obstruction of Congress by blocking witnesses and documents sought by the House. A conviction on either count would have elevated Vice President Mike Pence, another Republican, into the presidency. Romney joined the rest of the Republican senators in voting to acquit on the obstruction charge. No Democrat voted to acquit.
Republican Sen. Mitt Romney issued a scathing criticism of Trump as he broke with his party to vote to convict the president for abuse of power in his impeachment trial.
"Corrupting an election to keep one's self in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one's oath of office that I can imagine," Romney said in a speech on the Senate floor.
Romney — a moderate who represents Utah in the Senate and unsuccessfully challenged Democratic President Barack Obama as the Republican Party's nominee in 2012 — had sided with Democrats in calling for more witness testimony in Trump's impeachment trial, a move Republicans blocked.
The senator's speech was answered with a swift rebuke from Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., on Twitter.
Ryan Williams, who was a campaign aide to Romney during his presidential campaign, predicted that the senator's decision will anger many in the Republican Party and was motivated by his personal beliefs.
"But I think he understands the consequences and made the decision that he felt right,” Williams said.
Many Democrats, and some Republicans, had hoped that Romney might spearhead a drive for a Senate conviction of Trump. Instead, Romney repeatedly told reporters he would quietly weigh the evidence before deciding how he would vote at the end of the trial.
At the start of his floor speech, Romney, 72, had to pause as he appeared to be choking back tears when he noted that as a Mormon, "I am profoundly religious. My faith is at the heart of who I am."
Romney's speech outlining his denunciation of Trump's actions came less than two hours before the Senate was poised to vote on whether to convict Trump on two impeachment charges: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
"The president is guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust," Romney declared.
Trump has a track record of vigorously attacking politicians who criticize him and some Republican officeholders have been careful to toe the Trump line or else face a Trump-backed primary opponent.
In his speech, Romney predicted that his position on impeachment could cause him to be "vehemently denounced."
Nonetheless, referring to Trump's contention that he has conducted himself in a "perfect" manner, Romney said, "What he did was not perfect. No, it was a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security and our fundamental values."
This was not the first time Romney and Trump have tangled.
In a tweet last year, the president called his fellow Republican a "pompous ass" after Romney criticized Trump's urging Ukraine to investigate Biden.
At one point in the 2016 presidential campaign, Romney warned that if Republicans nominate Trump for president, "the prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished."
Shortly after Trump's November 2016 victory, however, Romney met privately with the president-elect as he was weighing picks for top administration jobs.
Trump ended up not hiring him to be secretary of state or to hold any other administration position.
McConnell exhorted fellow senators on Tuesday to acquit Trump, warning that the fate of the republic depended on it, even as his Democratic counterpart accused Republicans of a cover-up.
McConnell urged the Senate to stop what he called the Democrats' abuse of power in impeaching Trump in the House of Representatives.
"We must vote to reject the House abuse of power, vote to protect our institutions, vote to reject new precedents that would reduce the framers' design to rubble, vote to keep factional fever from boiling over and scorching our republic," McConnell said.
Sen. Chuck Schumer said the president himself, not impeachment, was the threat to democracy in the United States and that in blocking Democratic efforts to hear witnesses in Trump's trial, Republicans were "hiding the truth."
McConnell expressed surprise at the Democrats' decision to impeach Trump, saying that his acquittal was always assured.
Trump has drawn almost uniform support among Republican senators though several have called his actions wrong and inappropriate.
The Constitution allows for the removal of a president for committing "high crimes and misdemeanors." McConnell said he did disagree with the view offered by Trump's legal team that a president cannot be impeached without a violation of statutory law.
Senators on Tuesday were delivering a series of speeches explaining how they will vote.
Democratic Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, running for re-election in a state Trump won in 2016, said he would vote to convict, saying the facts were clear.
"Tomorrow, by refusing to hold President Trump accountable for his abuses, Republicans in the Senate are offering him unbridled power without accountability and he will gleefully seize that power," Peters said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, said that even if the Senate votes to acquit the president as expected, Democrats have succeeded in uncovering Trump's actions that they argue make him unfit for office or re-election.
"Whatever happens, he has been impeached forever. And now these senators, though they don't have the courage to assign the appropriate penalty, at least are recognizing that he did something wrong," Pelosi told the New York Times.
Senators heard closing arguments in the impeachment trial Monday. When the closing arguments are complete, senators will be able to make speeches on the matter until Wednesday, when a final vote is scheduled at 4 p.m. EST on whether Trump is guilty of the charges and should be removed. Several Republican senators have called Trump's actions wrong and inappropriate, but not impeachable.
Even with acquittal seemingly assured, the Democrats prosecuting Trump urged the Senate to convict him to show that no president is above the law. Trump's legal team faulted the case brought against him.
"I submit to you on behalf of the House of Representatives that your duty demands that you convict President Trump," Democratic Representative Jason Crow told the 100-member Republican-controlled Senate.
The trial's outcome will have a lasting effect "not only for this president, but for all future presidents: whether or not the office of the presidency of the United States of America is above the law," Crow added.
Trump defense lawyer Kenneth Starr, the former independent counsel who paved the way for the impeachment of Democratic former President Bill Clinton in 1998 in a sex scandal, said the House did not follow the rules in impeaching the president and engaged in a rush to judgment.
Starr asked the senators whether the House charges "when fairly viewed" rise to the level of the "high crimes and misdemeanors" set out in the US Constitution as grounds for removing a president from office. He accused Democrats of trying to take away the public's ability to choose the US president.
The Senate seems certain to acquit Trump. A two-thirds majority is required to remove the president. None of the 53 Senate Republicans has indicated support for conviction.
Rep. Adam Schiff, who heads the Democratic prosecution team, said that Trump, if left in office, would continue to seek foreign interference in the Nov. 3 election in which he is asking voters to give him four more years as president. Biden is a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to challenge Trump.
"A president free of accountability is a danger to the beating heart of our democracy," Schiff said.
Meanwhile, the first contest in the state-by-state battle to determine the Democratic candidate who will challenge Trump was taking place on Monday in Iowa, a stern test for Biden as he seeks his party's nomination. Three senators are seeking the Democratic nomination: Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar.
The US Senate on Friday voted against calling witnesses and collecting new evidence in President Donald Trump's impeachment trial, clearing the way for Trump's likely acquittal in the coming days.
By a vote of 51-49, the Republican-controlled Senate stopped Democrats' drive to hear testimony from witnesses like former National Security Adviser John Bolton, who is thought to have firsthand knowledge of the president's efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.
Those actions prompted the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives to formally charge Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in December.
That made Trump only the third president in US history to be impeached. He denies wrongdoing and has accused Democrats of an "attempted coup."
The Senate is almost certain to acquit Trump of the impeachment charges, as a two-thirds Senate majority is required to remove Trump and none of the chamber's 53 Republicans have yet indicated they will vote to convict.
Trump is seeking reelection in a Nov. 3 vote. Biden is a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to face him.
The timing of that final vote was unclear. Senators said it could take place any time between late Friday and Wednesday. Republican senators had said it could come late on Friday or on Saturday.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a pivotal Republican, announced opposition on Friday to calling witnesses in President Donald Trump's US Senate impeachment trial, appearing to doom a bid by Democrats to permit testimony and paving the way for his expected acquittal.
Murkowski said she carefully considered the need for witnesses and documents in the trial that will determine whether Trump is removed from office, but ultimately decided against it. A vote on allowing witnesses, such as former national security adviser John Bolton, began around 5:30 p.m. ET.
Trump's fellow Republicans so far have blocked witnesses and new evidence, and have tried to expedite the process to secure a quick acquittal. Democrats, who called a trial without witnesses a sham, need four Republicans to join them to win a vote on the issue. Two of the 53 Republicans in the 100-seat Senate, moderates Mitt Romney and Susan Collins, have come out in favor.
Murkowski said in a statement that the charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress brought against Trump by the Democratic-led House of Representatives on Dec. 18 were rushed and flawed.
The Senate will wrap up the question-and-answer phase in the impeachment trial today. Then, probably on Friday, each side will present what amount to closing arguments, before the senators move to the explosive question of whether to call witnesses such as former national security adviser John Bolton.
Republicans, who control the Senate, said there was a chance the trial could end on Friday with Trump's acquittal on the abuse of power and obstruction of Congress charges approved by the Democratic-led House of Representatives in December.
One of Trump's lawyers, Alan Dershowitz, offered an expansive defense of presidential power on Wednesday, saying: "If a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in an impeachment."
Representative Jason Crow, one of the House Democrats acting as prosecutors, said that was an attempt to put the president above the law.
"The implication is ... that the president is above the law. ... That's what they want you to believe, and it's a very dangerous thing," said Crow on CNN Thursday.
While the Senate is expected to acquit Trump and leave him in office no matter what happens, allowing witnesses could inflict political damage on him as his re-election bid picks up steam.
US Senate TV/Handout via Reuters
After days of sitting (mostly) silent “on pain of imprisonment,” senators will have the chance to pose questions to both Trump's legal team and House managers who have served as prosecutors in the trial.
The questions will take up to eight hours a day over Wednesday and Thursday. There is no time limit on the answers, which cannot be challenged by senators, Senate aides said.
Trump's defense counsel Pat Cipollone urged senators to acquit the president on the last day of opening arguments Tuesday: “This should end now, as quickly as possible.”
But the contentious impeachment trial in the Senate could be extended if at least four Republicans join Democrats in a vote to call witnesses — a move that looks increasingly likely after revelations from former national security adviser, Bolton, were leaked. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he doesn't yet have the votes to block witnesses. That vote could happen on Friday.
Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat whose state strongly backs Trump, said it was critical to have witnesses and that he had yet to decide whether to acquit Trump, saying the two days of questioning would help him decide.
In an interview with MSNBC, Manchin said that "being afraid to put up anybody who might have pertinent information is wrong, whether you're Democrat or Republican."
Trump unleashed his sharpest attack yet on John Bolton after his former national security adviser depicted the president as playing a central role in a politically motivated pressure campaign on Ukraine.
Trump has denied telling Bolton he sought to use the aid as leverage to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. Trump has said he fired Bolton, a foreign policy hawk who served as a temporary "recess appointee" as American ambassador to the United Nations under Republican former President George W. Bush. Bolton, however, has said he quit.
Saying "it is time for this to end," President Donald Trump's legal team appealed to the US Senate on Tuesday to acquit him in his impeachment trial and sought to marginalize former national security adviser John Bolton's explosive allegations about Trump's conduct.
Trump's lawyers wrapped up their third and final day of opening arguments, with the crucial question of calling trial witnesses including Bolton still unresolved in a Senate controlled by the president's fellow Republicans and almost certain to vote to keep him in office as he seeks reelection on Nov. 3.
"The election is only months away. The American people are entitled to choose their president. Overturning past elections and massively interfering with the upcoming one would cause serious and lasting damage to the people of the United States and to our great country. The Senate cannot allow this to happen," White House Counsel Pat Cipollone told the Senate.
"It is time for this to end, here and now. So, we urge the Senate to reject these articles of impeachment."
The next phase of the trial involves questions from the 100 senators to the lawyers representing Trump and the seven House of Representatives Democrats who have served as prosecutors. The Democratic-led House on Dec. 18 impeached the businessman-turned-politician on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress arising from his request that Ukraine investigate political rival Joe Biden.
Adam Schiff, who served as the lead Democratic prosecutor in arguing the case against Trump last week, said the question remained as to whether the trial would be fair or unfair, with Republicans refusing so far to allow any witness testimony or new evidence.
Trump's legal team is due to deliver its third and final day of arguments urging his acquittal. A source close to the team said the lawyers plan to wrap up in about 2 1/2 hours.
Lawyers have largely ignored explosive allegations by former national security adviser John Bolton, arguing they do not represent an impeachable offense.
Alan Dershowitz, a constitutional law professor who is a member of Trump's legal team, told the Senate on Monday: "Nothing in the Bolton revelations, even if true, would rise to the level of an abuse of power or an impeachable offense. That is clear from the history. That is clear from the language of the Constitution. You cannot turn conduct that is not impeachable into impeachable conduct simply by using words like 'quid pro quo' and 'personal benefit.'"
But Bolton's allegations go to the heart of impeachment charges against Trump. Democrats have said Trump abused his power by using the security aid — passed by Congress to help Ukraine battle Russia-backed separatists — as leverage to get a foreign power to smear a political rival.
Senate Republicans, who have so far refused to allow any witnesses or new evidence in the trial, faced mounting pressure from Democrats and some moderates in their own party to summon Bolton.
Most Americans want to see witnesses in the trial, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll.
Republican Senator James Lankford late on Monday urged Bolton to speak publicly outside of the impeachment trial.
"John Bolton is no shrinking violet," Lankford said in a video posted to his Facebook page. "My encouragement would be: If John Bolton's got something to say, there's plenty of microphones all over the country — that he should step forward and start talking about it right now."
Republicans in the Senate came under fresh pressure on Monday to allow witnesses and new documents in Trump's impeachment trial after a news report that former national security adviser John Bolton has written a book manuscript that undercuts Trump's versions of events in the Ukraine affair.
Republican Sen. Mitt Romney, a sometime critic of Trump, said there was a growing likelihood that at least four Republican senators would vote to call Bolton to testify, which would give Democrats the votes necessary to summon him.
The New York Times cited the manuscript of an unpublished book by Bolton as saying that the Republican president told him he wanted to freeze security aid to Ukraine until Kyiv helped with investigations into Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.
"It's clearly damaging," said Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University Law School who was the only witness called by the Republicans in the House impeachment proceedings. "It will fuel demands to hear from Bolton and other witnesses."
Halfway through dinner at the Trump Hotel, Trump can be heard giving the order to remove the US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, according to a video that surfaced on Saturday.
The video, obtained by Reuters from Lev Parnas' attorney Joseph Bondy, begins with Trump posing for photos, then entering a room with a table set for 15, including a close-up of the president's place setting.
The video from April 2018 lasts 83 minutes and most of it shows no images of the participants as the camera was pointed at the ceiling. Excerpts of the taped encounter were published on Friday by ABC News.
Halfway through the recording, after one of the participants suggests Yovanovitch is a problem, Trump's voice can be heard saying, "Get rid of her! Get her out tomorrow. I don't care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. Okay? Do it."
The White House did not respond to Reuters' request for comment.
Trump has said he had the right to fire Yovanovitch, a main figure in the series of events that led to his impeachment. Trump fired her in May 2019 and he told Fox News on Friday that he was "not a fan" of Yovanovitch.
Lawyers for Trump said in his Senate impeachment trial on Saturday that Democrats' efforts to remove the president from office would set a "very, very dangerous" precedent in an election year.
White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, the head of the defense team, told senators that removing Trump and taking him off the ballot in November would mean having to "tear up all of the ballots across this country on your own initiative, take that decision away from the American people."
In the two-hour session, the president's lawyers also tried to chip away at the Democrats' portrayal of a president who put US national security goals at risk by trying to enlist a foreign country to help his own political career.
They argued that the impeachment inquiry was flawed at its core and that subpoenas issued by Democratic-run committees for witnesses and documents in the inquiry were not valid.
Leading House manager Rep. Adam Schiff said the defense was trying to deflect from discussing what witnesses have described as Trump's pressure campaign against Ukraine.
Trump tweeted another of many ad hominem attacks on the Democratic leader.
Rep. Adam Schiff, making his closing argument in the impeachment trial on Friday, seemed to have the Senate chamber more or less rapt, with lawmakers listening respectfully, whether they agreed with his arguments or not.
Then the Democratic congressman mentioned a CBS News report about a Trump confidante suggesting serious ramifications for Republican senators if they voted against the president, and the mood on the Republican side of the aisle shifted. Dramatically.
"Not true," Senator Susan Collins of Maine declared out loud as fellow Republicans responded audibly and disgustedly at Schiff's remarks.
Collins is a moderate Republican whose support Democrats are trying to win. Her response and that of her colleagues was all the more notable because senators had been warned not to talk during the proceedings or face potential imprisonment.
But Schiff's remarks had touched a nerve. Leading the prosecution of Trump for Democrats from the House of Representatives, Schiff had cited a report suggesting that Republicans had been threatened.
"CBS News reported last night that a Trump confidante said that GOP senators were warned: Vote against your president ... and your head will be on a pike," Schiff said.
"I hope it's not true. But I was struck by the irony of the idea, when we're talking about a president who would make himself a monarch, that whoever that was would use the terminology of a penalty that was imposed by a monarch, a head on a pike."
Republicans said they were insulted.
Democrats will finish oral arguments today, likely focusing on the second article of impeachment — obstruction of Congress.
Trump on Friday retweeted dozens of supporters who repeated his criticism of the proceedings as unfair and politically motivated. The former reality television personality also complained his lawyers would have to begin arguments on Saturday, when, he said, nobody watches television.
Trump's legal team takes the floor on Saturday to rebut the evidence presented by House managers. Trump's team is expected to continue to focus its attacks on House manager Rep. Adam Schiff.
Trump and his allies have targeted Schiff with particular intensity since the fall, when he took leadership of the impeachment investigation.
Trump has branded the California lawmaker a “lowlife,” a “liar” and a “pencil-neck,” and suggested that Schiff should perhaps be arrested for treason in response to Schiff's September summary of the president's phone call with Zelenskiy.
Democratic House managers finished their second day of arguments around 10:30 pm Thursday, leaving about eight of their allotted 24 hours to wrap up their case Friday.
On Thursday, House managers focused on the abuse of power charge, narrowing in on both on the evidence of what occurred in the alleged pressure campaign on Ukraine, but also working to explain motive. Managers argued that the president was not concerned with rooting out corruption in Ukraine, but was rather concerned with his own personal gain.
Democrats also used some time to prepare for anticipated arguments from the president's defense. In particular, House managers looked at former Vice President Joe Biden's dealings in Ukraine, noting that his actions to oust Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin were in line with US policy priorities.
Several Republicans responded to the second day of arguments, calling the case against the president “repetitive.”
"It's not really changing our opinion, we're just hearing that same message," said Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA).
However, despite efforts from Democrats, Republicans voted against the introduction of new witness testimony at the start of the trial. Democrats are holding out hope that they can persuade enough moderate Republican senators to vote to allow additional witness testimony and documents into the trial next week.
In their second of three days of opening arguments, Democrats on Thursday pressed their case at for removing Trump from office by using the words of his own allies against him to make the point that his actions constituted impeachment offenses. But Trump's fellow Republicans showed no signs of turning against him.
Nadler played a video clip of one of Trump's most prominent defenders, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, arguing during the 1999 Clinton impeachment trial that presidents could be impeached even if the conduct in question was not a statutory criminal violation. Graham was absent from the Senate chamber when the clip was played.
Nadler also played a 1998 video clip of Alan Dershowitz, a member of Trump's legal team, recognizing abuse of power as impeachable, and cited a memo written by Attorney General William Barr, a Trump appointee, that made the same point.
Trump's legal team has stated that abuse of power is a "made-up theory" for an impeachable offense "that would permanently weaken the presidency by effectively permitting impeachments based merely on policy disagreements."
Dershowitz said in the clip that abuse of power "certainly doesn't have to be a crime. If you have somebody who completely corrupts the office of the president and who abuses trust and who poses great danger to our liberty, you don't need a technical crime."
Nadler said the Constitution is not "a suicide pact," adding, "It does not leave us stuck with presidents who abuse their power in unforeseen ways that threaten our security and democracy."
The Democrats also took aim at what Schiff told the Senate was the "completely bogus, Kremlin-pushed conspiracy theory" promoted by Trump and his allies alleging Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 election. Reps. Garcia and Schiff called it Russian propaganda.
The Democrats displayed a November quote from Russian President Vladimir Putin saying, "Thank God nobody is accusing us anymore of interfering in the US elections. Now they're accusing Ukraine."
Trump condemned the proceedings as "unfair & corrupt" in a Twitter post on Thursday.
"We have the evidence to prove President Trump ordered the aid withheld, he did so to force Ukraine to help his re-election campaign," said lead House impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff during the first day of arguments on Wednesday. "We can and will prove President Trump guilty of this conduct and of obstructing the investigation into his conduct."
Blocked so far in their drive to persuade the Republican-led Senate to let them call new witnesses, Democrats have been using their time to outline an extensive narrative based on the testimony presented during hearings in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and the president's own words, including Trump's public call for foreign interference in the upcoming elections. Included in Wednesday's arguments were some 50 video clips.
Managers also introduced evidence that was not available prior to Trump's impeachment in the House, including a letter from the president's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy asking for a meeting. The letter is part of a set of documents and text messages Giuliani’s associate Lev Parnas turned over to the House this month.
In a two-hour opening argument for the prosecution after days of procedural wrangling, Rep. Adam Schiff said Trump had pushed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son on unsubstantiated corruption charges last year. Trump solicited interference from Ukraine to improve his chances in this November's US presidential election, Schiff said, laying out the main Democratic argument for why Trump should be found guilty of abusing his power.
Democrats argue that Trump was trying to find dirt on Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, and his son, Hunter, who had served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company, to help the Republican president win a second term.
Trump denies any wrongdoing and his fellow Republicans in the Senate say his behavior does not fit the description of "high crimes and misdemeanors" outlined in the US Constitution as a reason to oust a US president.
After nearly 13 hours of debate that lasted into the wee hours of Wednesday morning, senators voted 53-47 along party lines to approve the rules governing the trial.
After harsh criticism from Democrats and pressure from some Republican senators — including Susan Collins and Rob Portman — McConnell put forth and the Senate approved a set of procedures slightly modified from the draft resolution released late Monday night.
A significant change allows for 24 hours of opening arguments over three days for each side. McConnell originally proposed cramming those hours into only two days, which would have almost guaranteed arguments made late into the night and departed from the precedent set by the Clinton impeachment trial. Another last-minute change allows for the inclusion of the House transcript into the Senate record.
Day one of the trial largely consisted of Democrats trying to amend the rules — primarily to subpoena documents and testimony. These attempts failed along party lines.
Republican senators have not ruled out the possibility of further testimony and evidence at some point after opening arguments and senators' questions, but they held firm with Trump to block Democratic requests for witnesses and evidence.
House impeachment managers and the president's legal team laid out their arguments during debate. Arguments became so heated that Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the trial, admonished both the defense and prosecution.
"I do think those addressing the Senate should remember where they are," he said.
The Republican-controlled US Senate rejected a second Democratic bid on Tuesday to obtain documents and evidence in President Donald Trump's impeachment trial, an early sign the trial could proceed along lines favorable to Trump.
As the third impeachment trial in US history began in earnest, senators voted 53-47 along party lines to block a motion from Democratic leader Chuck Schumer to subpoena State Department records and documents related to Trump's dealings with Ukraine.
The Senate earlier voted by the same margin to block a subpoena for documents and evidence from the White House on the matter.
Democrats have called on the Senate to remove Trump from office for pressuring Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a political rival, and then impeding the inquiry into the matter.
Trump, who was impeached last month by the Democratic-led House of Representatives on charges of abusing power and obstructing Congress, denies any wrongdoing and describes his impeachment as a partisan hoax to derail his 2020 reelection.
During early debate, Trump's chief legal defender attacked the case as baseless and a top Democratic lawmaker said there was "overwhelming" evidence of wrongdoing.
Democratic lawmakers in the House of Representatives said on Tuesday that evidence heard in their impeachment inquiry indicates White House counsel Pat Cipollone “played an instrumental role” in obstructing Congress and that his representation of Trump in the Senate threatens to undermine the integrity of the impeachment trial.
In a letter sent to Cipollone just hours before the trial was set to begin in earnest, lawmakers urged the White House counsel to disclose the full extent of his knowledge of Trump's alleged campaign to pressure Ukraine to investigate Trump's political rival, and said evidence suggested Cipollone's office had been directly involved "in potential efforts to conceal President Trump's scheme from Congress and the public."
There was no immediate comment from the White House.
One of the main pieces of evidence to support the obstruction charge against Trump is a widely criticized letter written by Cipollone on Oct. 8, 2019, in which he said Trump could not permit the administration to participate in the impeachment proceedings, which he described as an illegal attempt to remove a democratically elected president.
Jay Sekulow, another leading member of Trump's legal team, said the arguments in Cipollone's letter were "exactly what the founders had in mind in crafting a constitution that respects separation of powers."
McConnell released a draft resolution that would set initial rules for the trial. At least 51 senators would need to approve the resolution for it to pass.
McConnell has repeatedly said the rules for the trial would mirror those the Senate used in the 1999 impeachment of then-President Bill Clinton, though his proposed resolution does depart in significant ways from the Clinton rules.
The four-page resolution would allow for each side to make their case in 24 hours over a period of two days. The proceedings are expected to begin at 1 p.m. each day, meaning that under these rules, arguments would likely persist late into the night. It also would not automatically allow for evidence from the House impeachment inquiry to be officially part of the Senate record without an additional vote.
The resolution drew a quick rebuttal from Democrats and a promise to offer amendments.
“Under this resolution, Senator McConnell is saying he doesn't want to hear any of the existing evidence, and he doesn't want to hear any new evidence,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement. “A trial with no evidence — no existing record, no witnesses, no documents — isn't a trial at all. It's a cover up, and the American people will see it for exactly what it is.”
The resolution would allow the president's legal team to move early in proceedings to ask senators to dismiss all charges, a senior Republican leadership aide said, a motion that would likely fall short of the support needed to succeed.
It also includes hurdles for new witness testimony, a hotly debated subject in the lead-up to the trial. Republican senators have not ruled out the possibility of further witness testimony and evidence.
The president's legal team filed a trial brief expounding on the 7-page “answer” document submitted on Saturday. The 110-page brief outlines the defense the president's legal team will use to argue that the articles of impeachment against Trump are invalid.
As in the shorter answer document, the brief impugns House Democrats and argues direct evidence of wrongdoing by the president is lacking. “The Senate should speedily reject these deficient Articles of Impeachment and acquit the President,” the brief states.
The trial is expected to begin in earnest on Jan. 21.
The team defending the Republican president will be led by White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Trump's private attorney Jay Sekulow, Trump's legal team and a source said. Trump adviser and former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi and former independent counsel Robert Ray will also be on the team, according to the source familiar with the team's composition.
The Senate impeachment trial formally began, even as a congressional watchdog found the White House broke the law by withholding security aid for Ukraine approved by Congress.
Democrat Adam Schiff appeared on the Senate floor to read the two impeachment charges against Trump on abuse of power and obstruction of Congress arising from his dealings with Ukraine.
Chief Justice John Roberts took an oath to preside over the trial and then swore in the assembled senators who will serve as jurors. Roberts instructed them to raise their right hand, asking, "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 99 senators present signed their assent one by one.
In a largely party-line tally, the House voted to send impeachment charges to the Republican-controlled Senate, kicking off a trial that could last through early February. Seven Democratic lawmakers from the House will act as impeachment managers. The representatives who will prosecute the case against Trump in the trial are Adam Schiff (CA), Jerry Nadler (NY), Zoe Lofgren (CA), Hakeem Jeffries (NY), Val Demings (FL), Jason Crow (CO) and Sylvia Garcia (TX).
House Democrats announced that they would send new evidence to the Senate that provides more details on the push for Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. These include phone records, text messages and handwritten notes from Lev Parnas, an indicted associate of the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. The evidence also suggests that US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was under surveillance.