Trump trial: GOP, Democrats fight over witness procedures

Ground rules:Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaking during the impeachment trial, in this video grab.AP

Ground rules:Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaking during the impeachment trial, in this video grab.AP  

Amendments proposed by Democrats were not approved

Day 1 of U.S. President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial at the Senate stretched across some thirteen acrimonious hours and extended into the early hours of Wednesday, as Democrats pushed for a change to GOP-proposed trial rules and Republicans mostly stood together to resist changes.

None of the 11 amendments proposed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer were approved by the Republican controlled Senate, although Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had to yield some ground on the timetable for opening arguments.

Mr. McConnell had initially allocated 24 hours over two days each for the prosecution and defence — a scheduling that would mean most Americans would miss parts of the broadcast which would extend well into the night.

But with the risk of defections from moderate Republicans and a combative Democratic side, Mr. McConnell made last minute modifications to his “organizing resolution”.

First, each of the two sides would have 24 hours over three (not two) days to present their opening arguments. Second, evidence from the House inquiry into the President would also no longer need to be voted on again before admitted in the Senate.

Last minute change

Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, considered a moderate Republican and facing re-election later this year, was reportedly one of the those who pushed for the last minute modification. Ms. Collins also voted with Democrats on one of the 11 resolutions (which failed, as four Republicans would need to vote with all 47 Democrats for a resolution to pass).

Republicans did not move on the question of subpoenaing new witnesses and documents (Democrats had sought an early agreement on these), pushing that question down the road for after opening arguments.

Democrat requests for documents and witnesses, including Acting White House Chief of Staff and former National Security Adviser John Bolton did not go through.

Call for civility

As a long day was drawing to a close, Chief Justice John Roberts, who is the trial’s presiding officer, intervened minutes before 1 am to admonish both sides, suggesting that they had used “language not conducive to civil discourse.”

His intervention came after an acrimonious round of remarks from Jerrold Nadler, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee and one of the House Managers, and White House Counsel and Trump defence team attorney Pat Cipollone.

“I think it is appropriate at this point for me to admonish both the House Managers and the President’s counsel in equal terms to remember that they are addressing the world’s greatest deliberative body,” Justice Roberts said, recalling a case when objections were raised over the use of ‘pettifogging’ [worrying about minor details] in the 1905 Senate trial of a district judge.

“I don’t think we need to aspire to that higher standard but I do think those addressing the Senate should remember where they are,” he said.

Given Day 1 minimally altered Mr. McConnell’s intended trial timetable, it is possible the entire trial (and, as things stand, the likely acquittal) of Mr. Trump will be concluded before February 4 when he is scheduled to deliver the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress.

Recommended for you