US President Trump set for midweek acquittal after witnesses blocked

01 February 2020
US President Trump set for midweek acquittal after witnesses blocked
US President Donald J. Trump waves as he prepares to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 31 January 2020. Photo: EPA

The US Senate on Friday rebuffed Democratic calls for new witnesses at President Donald Trump's impeachment trial, paving the way for his acquittal next week of charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Following the 51-49 vote, the Senate scheduled four hours of closing arguments by Democratic prosecutors and White House defense lawyers on Monday and a vote for acquittal on Wednesday.

A Wednesday vote will mean the historic trial will not have concluded before Tuesday, when Trump is scheduled to give his nationally televised annual "State of the Union" speech to a joint session of Congress.

Trump is all-but-assured of being acquitted by the Senate, where Republicans hold 53 seats to 47 for the Democrats and a two-thirds majority -- or 67 senators -- is needed to remove a president from office.

Two Republican senators -- Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine -- joined 47 Democrats in voting to introduce further witnesses into the trial.

But Democrats failed to muster the four votes needed to allow testimony from Trump's former national security advisor John Bolton, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and others.

Senate Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called it a "grand tragedy."

"America will remember this day -— a day when the United States Senate did not live up to its responsibilities, turned away from truth and instead went along with a sham trial," Schumer said.

- 'Impeached forever' -

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, which impeached Trump on December 18, accused Republicans who voted against allowing witnesses of being "accomplices to the president's cover-up." 

"He is impeached forever," Pelosi said. "There can be no acquittal without a trial. And there is no trial without witnesses, documents and evidence."

Democrats had been eager to hear from Bolton following reports that he claims in an upcoming book to have been personally told by Trump that military aid to Ukraine was tied to Kiev investigating Joe Biden, his potential Democratic rival in November's presidential election.

The charge is the crux of the case which led to Trump becoming just the third president in US history to be impeached by the House of Representatives.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Trump ally, said House prosecutors, known as "managers," had already presented enough evidence to make their case and there was no need for further witnesses.

"A majority of the US Senate has determined that the numerous witnesses and 28,000-plus pages of documents already in evidence are sufficient to judge the House Managers' accusations and end this impeachment trial," he said.

"There is no need for the Senate to re-open the investigation," he said. "Never in Senate history has this body paused an impeachment trial to pursue additional witnesses."

McConnell said the Senate would resume as a court of impeachment at 11:00 am (1600 GMT) on Monday to allow House prosecutors and White House lawyers to deliver their final arguments. Each side will have two hours to speak.

The Senate will then vote at 4:00 pm on Wednesday on the two articles of impeachment passed last month by Democrats in the House.