Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on Capitol Hill January 14 2020, in Washington, DC. Picture: AFP/MANDEL NGAN
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on Capitol Hill January 14 2020, in Washington, DC. Picture: AFP/MANDEL NGAN

Washington — The trial of US President Donald Trump for abuse of power and obstruction could begin this week after House of Representatives leader Nancy Pelosi told Democrats on Tuesday that she was ready to send articles of impeachment to the Senate.

In a meeting with House Democrat legislators on Tuesday, Pelosi said a vote on forwarding the charges against Trump would be held on Wednesday, US media reported.

The House will also vote on their impeachment managers — the Democrat team that will act as prosecutors — clearing out the last obstacles to opening the historic trial of Trump.

Trump became only the third US president to be impeached on December 18 when the House voted to formally charge him with illicitly seeking help from Ukraine for his re-election campaign this year.

Trump has branded the case a “hoax” and a “witch-hunt” but the White House is girding for a trial that could present damaging evidence against the US leader on national television over two weeks or more.

Pelosi had delayed delivering the articles of impeachment to pressure the Republican-controlled Senate to agree to subpoena witnesses with direct knowledge of Trump’s pressuring Ukraine to announce a corruption probe into potential Democrat rival Joe Biden. But with Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell refusing to agree up front on the witness issue, Pelosi has decided to move ahead.

That could see the Senate open trial proceedings as early as Wednesday, with the presentation of the articles of impeachment, the swearing in of supreme court chief justice John Roberts as presiding judge, then Roberts swearing in the 100 senators to act as jurors in the case.

“It’s going to be very soon,” Democrat representative Raja Krishnamoorthi told MSNBC. “People were united, they were resolute in the notion that articles, once transmitted to the Senate, need to be heard and there needs to be a fair trial. And that means witnesses and additional documents.”

Few doubt the outcome of the trial — expecting the president to be cleared. Trump’s Republicans hold a comfortable 53-47 majority in the Senate, giving them control of the trial rules, as well as a solid wall to prevent the required two-thirds majority to convict and remove Trump.

Republican Senator John Cornyn told The Hill news website on Monday that he expects opening arguments in the trial could take place as early as Tuesday, January 21, after Monday’s federal holiday. “That’s what it feels like right now.” 

Battle over witnesses

However, the witness issue remains a point of contention.

Democrats want at least four current and former top Trump aides to appear at the trial, after the president barred them from testifying in the House impeachment investigation. They also want documents related to the charges that Trump refused to hand over to the House probe.

The witnesses and documents, Democrats believe, could deliver more concrete evidence that Trump abused his powers for personal political gain and obstructed the Congressional investigation.

“In the Clinton impeachment process, 66 witnesses were allowed to testify including three in the Senate trial, and 90,000 pages of documents were turned over,” Pelosi said via Twitter Monday. “Trump was too afraid to let any of his top aides testify & covered up every single document. The Senate must #EndTheCoverUp.”

But McConnell, backed by the Republicans’ Senate majority, says he won’t agree on the issue before the trial opens.

AFP