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    Trump impeachment: Failed witnesses vote paves way for acquittal

    February 01, 2020
     

    US President Donald Trump is set to be acquitted in his impeachment trial after senators voted against calling witnesses or admitting new evidence.Democrats hoped four swing Republicans would vote for witnesses, which would have extended the trial without in all likelihood changing its outcome.In the end, only two of the four Republicans voted with Democrats.The trial now moves forward to a vote on whether to acquit President Trump, which he is all but certain to win.

    Senior members of President Trump's Republican Party pushed from the outset for a speedy trial with no witnesses or new evidence. Above all, they wanted to avoid senators hearing from former National Security Adviser John Bolton.

    According to reporting by the New York Times, Mr Bolton writes in his forthcoming book that the president directly instructed him to withhold military aid from Ukraine in exchange for dirt on a Democratic political rival, Joe Biden.

    What acquittal would mean for the election
    Testimony from Mr Bolton about his involvement in the Ukraine affair threatened to significantly undermine the case made by the president's lawyers during his trial.

    Trump was impeached on two charges - abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The first charge stemmed from an allegation that he pressured Ukraine to damage Mr Biden for his own political benefit. The second from an allegation that he purposefully obstructed the Congressional impeachment investigation.

    The final vote on whether or not to acquit Mr Trump will be held on 5 February.

    What happens next?
    The Senate will vote on Wednesday 5 February on whether to convict or acquit the president on the two articles of impeachment brought against him.

    Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer said there would be four votes on Friday night on Democratic amendments, followed by closing arguments on Monday, speeches from senators from Monday to Wednesday, and a final vote on Wednesday - the day after President Trump's State of the Union address.

    All you need to know about Trump's impeachment
    A two-thirds majority in the chamber of 67 votes is required to remove him from office. The Republicans control the Senate with a 53-47 majority over Democrats, and no Republican senator has signalled that they plan to vote for Mr Trump's removal.

    Eyes will instead fall on several Democrats in Republican-leaning states who have indicated they may vote to acquit. Any Democratic defections would be a symbolic victory for the president that he will likely use to his advantage on the campaign trail in the coming months.

     

    Media captionRepublicans did not want witnesses called. Here's why.
    The battle over witnesses intensified a week ago after reports emerged that Mr Bolton might have highly damaging testimony about the president's involvement an alleged quid pro quo with Ukraine.

    Mr Bolton's forthcoming book reportedly alleges that the president personally directed the scheme to get dirt from Ukraine on Mr Biden, a former US vice president. The revelations threatened to undo Republican arguments that no impeachment witness had first-hand testimony of the president's involvement.

    But the slim chance of Mr Bolton being called to give testimony to the Senate slipped away from Democrats on Friday, after two of the four Republican senators they had hoped would defect confirmed that they would not.

    Could Bolton be a game-changer?
    Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said in a statement late on Thursday that, while the Democrats had clearly demonstrated the president's actions were "inappropriate", they had not proved to be impeachable offenses.

    "The question then is not whether the president did it, but whether the United States Senate or the American people should decide what to do about what he did," he said.

    "I believe that the constitution provides that the people should make that decision in the presidential election that begins in Iowa on Monday."

    Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
    Image caption
    John Bolton was fired from his post as National Security Adviser in September
    Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, another moderate, said in a statement on Friday afternoon: "The House chose to send articles of impeachment that are rushed and flawed. I carefully considered the need for additional witnesses and documents, to cure the shortcomings of its process, but ultimately decided that I will vote against considering motions to subpoena."

    Republican senators Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah decided to vote to call witnesses, but they were alone among the 53-strong Republican Senate caucus.

    Democratic House impeachment managers said throughout the process that a trial without witnesses amounted to a sham trial. They were joined on Friday by President Trump's former White House chief of staff, John Kelly, who told a New Jersey publication that Mr Trump had been subjected to only "half a trial".

    Donald Trump's Senate impeachment trial is all but over.

    Barring an unforeseen and unexpected blockbuster development, a largely party-line vote will acquit him of the two charges brought by the House of Representatives, which itself approved those articles of impeachment on a nearly party-line vote.

    Both sides will soon be left to sift through the political rubble just nine months before a national election that has the entire House, more than a third of the Senate and the presidency itself on the ballot.
    According to polls, the nation's political disposition is much as it was before the impeachment process began. The US is sharply divided along partisan lines. The president's approval ratings hover in the low to mid-40s, roughly where they've been the entirety of his term in office. His re-election chances are dicey but far from slim.
    The decision not to seek witnesses - which polls show Americans overwhelming wanted - may be forgotten before long.
    Polls don't tell the whole story, however, and there are other signs that the impeachment proceedings have made an impact.

    Three of the four Democratic senators running for president tweeted in the moments after the witnesses vote went against the party."Senate Republicans just failed the American people & broke their oath to the United States Constitution," wrote Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren.
    Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, wrote: "I've never heard of a trial where you don't have witnesses. This is a sad day in American history."Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota wrote: "If you don't have witnesses, you do not have a fair trial. The truth will come out."IMarco Rubio, Republican senator for Florida, said: "Just because actions meet a standard of impeachment does not mean it is in the best interest of the country to remove a President from office."

    What acquittal would mean for 2020 election
    Anthony Zurcher
    North America reporter
    @awzurcheron Twitter
    8 hours ago
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    Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
    Image caption
    Donald Trump waves goodbye to a crowd in Iowa, as well as to his impeachment trial
    Donald Trump's Senate impeachment trial is all but over.

    Barring an unforeseen and unexpected blockbuster development, a largely party-line vote will acquit him of the two charges brought by the House of Representatives, which itself approved those articles of impeachment on a nearly party-line vote.

    Both sides will soon be left to sift through the political rubble just nine months before a national election that has the entire House, more than a third of the Senate and the presidency itself on the ballot.

    According to polls, the nation's political disposition is much as it was before the impeachment process began. The US is sharply divided along partisan lines. The president's approval ratings hover in the low to mid-40s, roughly where they've been the entirety of his term in office. His re-election chances are dicey but far from slim.

    The decision not to seek witnesses - which polls show Americans overwhelming wanted - may be forgotten before long. After all, Democrats and Republicans had very different views about what "witnesses" means. The former wanted to hear from Trump administration officials like John Bolton and Mick Mulvaney, who they think could corroborate the charges against the president. The latter sought to call Joe Biden's son Hunter, head impeachment manager Adam Schiff and the whistleblower - and will be just as happy to see the whole matter put to rest.

    Impeachment didn't change the existing political disposition in the US; instead, it was subsumed by it.

    Polls don't tell the whole story, however, and there are other signs that the impeachment proceedings have made an impact.

    A Republican base energised
    At a rally in Des Moines, Iowa, on Thursday night, a basketball arena packed with supporters watched Trump once again rail against what he called the impeachment "hoax". He said that past impeachments proceedings - of Andrew Johnson in 1863, Richard Nixon in 1973 and Bill Clinton in 1999 - were "dark periods" in US history, but his presidency was a "happy" one.

    The cheering crowd seemed to agree.

    "I think he gets re-elected because of what Democrats are doing," said Tracy Root of Des Moines, who came to the rally with his son, Tony. "They couldn't beat him at the polls, so they've got to impeach him."

    Sara Johnson, who drove four hours from Minnesota to attend the rally, said she had watched every minute of the trial and found Democratic efforts to convict the president "amusing".

    If anything, she added, Trump was better off because Americans are seeing "how corrupt the system is".

     

    Media captionRepublicans don't want witnesses called in Trump's Senate trial. Here's why.
    The political strategy for the White House at this point is clear - to paint impeachment as just another example of a Washington establishment that has been out to get the president - and, by connection, those who support him - from the beginning.

    "They're not after me, they're after you," Trump wrote in a December tweet. "I'm just in the way."

    If Trump's campaign blueprint is to rally the base to support him in November - "the largest grass-roots campaign in US history", in the words of Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale - the accusation by House Democrats and subsequent exoneration by Senate Republicans could be music to Republican ears.

    A Democratic base reflective
    In the months leading up to the start of the House's impeachment investigation, a big question for Democrats was whether continued resistance to the move by the chamber's leadership - including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff - risked dispiriting their base voters who wanted to take the fight to the president.

    In the end those restive Democrats got the impeachment they wanted - a black mark on his presidency - if not the result they hoped for.

    Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren was one of the first major Democratic presidential candidates to call for Trump's impeachment, and at an organising event for her supporters in Des Moines on Friday night, many were already looking ahead to November.

    "The election is going to divide our nation again, but hopefully being truth-seekers will help Democrats come out on top," said Rachel Smith, a teacher from Urbandale, Iowa. "Other people who are more moderate and their decisions were not necessarily made up, this might swing them toward the Democrats."

    Who will take on Trump in 2020?
    Find out who is still in the running and what they stand for
    Her husband, Justin, said that despite the outcome, he was glad the House had decided to impeach - and that a full airing of the president's alleged misdeeds was worth the effort.

    "It was necessary to send a message that a line had been crossed," he said, adding that he wasn't in favour of impeachment until Trump's Ukrainian efforts came into public view.

    At least for now, they agreed, they and their fellow Democrats will have to be satisfied with this outcome.

    Biden damaged?
    There is no evidence indicating that Biden engaged in any kind of misconduct in Ukraine, but in politics such technicalities don't always matter. True or not, if hurts, it hurts.

    An during the opening arguments for the president's defence team, former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi did her best to make it hurt.

    In her remarks, she sounded more like a prosecutor - laying out what she saw as the case against Hunter Biden and, by connection, his father, former Vice-President Joe Biden.

    She said the Ukrainian energy company Burisma gave a board position to the Biden son in to attempt to influence US policy. She questioned whether Joe Biden did anything as point-man for the Obama administration's Ukraine policy that may have helped protect his son from investigation. That suspicion alone, she continued, should justify the president's decision to ask the Ukrainian government to look into the Bidens.

    "All we are saying is that there was a basis to talk about this, to raise this issue, and that is enough," she said.

    The impeachment investigation itself - and Biden's ties to it - may also be enough to adversely affect Biden's presidential campaign, even if Trump's attempt to get Ukraine to launch an investigation ultimately failed.

    After Bondi's presentation, Iowa Republican Senator Jodi Ernst was practically giddy as she suggested to reporters that Biden's presidential ambitions may have taken a hit.

    "I'm really interested to see how this discussion today informs and influences the Iowa caucus voters, those Democratic caucus-goers," she said. "Will they be supporting Vice-President Biden at this point? Not certain about that."

    Biden has tried to turn Republican interest in damaging his political prospects into a strength, tweeting last week that Ernst and Trump are "scared to death I'll be the nominee".

    An October poll, however, showed that 40% of Democrats and majorities of Republicans and independents think Hunter Biden's Ukraine dealings are a valid campaign issue.

    In a Democratic nomination contest that is close, as will be the general election in the fall, even a shadow doubt could tilt the scales.

     

     
     
    Last modified on Saturday, 01 February 2020 15:35

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