The US Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, has unveiled proposals aimed at rushing through Donald Trump’s impeachment trial as quickly as possible, with no guarantee that witnesses or new evidence will be allowed.
As Washington prepared for the impeachment proceedings to start, McConnell released his four-page resolution late on Monday outlining a condensed, two-day timetable for the each side to give opening statements. The rules will be debated and voted on when senators convene for the trial on Tuesday.
Under McConnell’s plan, the opening arguments from the House prosecutors would be limited to 24 hours over two days, meaning that senators could face two 12-hour days to start the trial proceedings. Trump’s legal team was given the same time to present its case.
Senators would then be allowed up to 16 hours for questions to the prosecution and defence, followed by four hours of debate. Only then will there be votes on calling other witnesses.
The rules also allow for a Senate vote on bypassing hearing the House case altogether, although many believe such a vote is unlikely.
Democrats, who demanded votes on witnesses to be held straight away, branded McConnell’s proposals a “national disgrace”.
McConnell has been angling for a speedy trial toward acquittal of the charges against the president, and the closely-held rules package arrived late on Monday after Trump’s legal team asserted that he did nothing wrong, urging the Senate to swiftly reject what they called the flimsy and rigged impeachment case against him.
With Republicans holding the Senate majority, McConnell’s proposal is likely to be approved by senators in the president’s party.
The Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, called the GOP leader’s proposals a national disgrace.
“It’s clear Senator McConnell is hell-bent on making it much more difficult to get witnesses and documents and intent on rushing the trial through,” Schumer said. He vowed to propose votes to try to amend the package.
In the event that senators agree to call witnesses, the rules propose that any witness must be deposed, in which they give sworn, out-of-court testimony, and the Senate would then decide which ones, if any, would testify in public.
At the end of deliberations, the Senate would vote on each impeachment article.
The White House welcomed the proposal for a speedy trial.
“We are gratified that the draft resolution protects the president’s rights to a fair trial, and look forward to presenting a vigorous defense on the facts and the process as quickly as possible, and seeking an acquittal as swiftly as possible,” said White House legislative affairs director, Eric Ueland.
“All of this is a dangerous perversion of the constitution that the Senate should swiftly and roundly condemn,” the lawyers wrote. The articles should be rejected and the president should immediately be acquitted.
In their filing on Monday, House prosecutors issued fresh demands for a fair trial in the Senate: “Trump asserts that his impeachment is a partisan hoax. He is wrong,” the prosecutors wrote.
The House Democrats led by Adam Schiff, chair of the intelligence committee, said the president could not have it both ways – rejecting the facts of the House case but also stonewalling congressional subpoenas for witnesses and testimony. “Senators must honour their own oaths by holding a fair trial with all relevant evidence,” they wrote.
The White House document released on Monday said the two articles of impeachment brought against the president abuse of power and obstruction of Congress do not amount to impeachable offences. It asserted that the impeachment inquiry, centered on Trump’s request that Ukraine’s president open an investigation into Democratic rival Joe Biden, was never about finding the truth.
The impeachment case accuses Trump of abusing power by withholding military aid from Ukraine at the same time that he was seeking an investigation into Biden, and of obstructing Congress by instructing administration officials not to appear for testimony or provide documents, defying congressional subpoenas.