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Republicans reject witnesses in Trump impeachment trial

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Senate leader uses majority to curb Democrats' attempts to amend procedures

WASHINGTON: Republicans and Democrats battled over summoning high-level White House witnesses on Tuesday in a marathon first day of arguments in President Donald Trump's trial for abuse of power.

The two sides squared off in fiery exchanges that circled around the procedures for the trial and gave the Democrats an opportunity to spell out their arguments for Mr Trump's guilt on national TV.

Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell mobilised his side's 53-47 majority in the body to slap down Democratic attempts to amend the trial procedures he reportedly crafted with the White House and designed to protect Mr Trump.

After 13 hours, Mr McConnell managed to push back every Democratic effort, ensuring Republicans had control over a trial they hope will be wrapped up by the end of the month.

The President, meanwhile, monitored the challenge to his three-year-old presidency from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The case is "just a hoax", he told reporters. "It's the witch hunt that's been going on for years and frankly it's disgraceful."

Mr McConnell's rules set out a schedule of six days of arguments, three days by the House impeachment managers and three days by Mr Trump's defence team, to be followed by a day of questions from the 100 senators, who sit as jury in the trial.

Democrats were angered by Mr McConnell's refusal to call witnesses and subpoena documents before the trial's arguments phase is over.

They want to hear from current and former top Trump aides, including acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton.

They sought a last-ditch move to give the presiding judge, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, the last word on calling witnesses. That was rejected in a stark party-line vote.

"They don't want a fair trial," said Mr Adam Schiff, the leader of the House impeachment managers. "They don't want you to hear these witnesses... They don't want a neutral justice to weigh in."

But Mr Schiff's team took advantage of the opportunity to seek amendments to occupy the cameras for most of the hearing and lay out their case against the US leader. They used graphics and played videos of US diplomats testifying last year to demonstrate that Mr Trump oversaw the months-long scheme to pressure Ukraine to help him politically damage potential election opponent Joe Biden and the Democrats.

They also played a video of Mr Trump saying last December that he would "love to have" witnesses like Mr Mulvaney appear.

"I want them to testify, but I want them to testify in the Senate," Mr Trump said at the time.

His lawyers, led by Mr Pat Cipollone and Mr Jay Sekulow, appeared to struggle to rebut the Democrat attack, arguing mostly that the House investigation had been unfair to the President.


Mr Cipollone accused the Democrats of "phoney political investigations" against Mr Trump ahead of his November re-election fight.

There remained little doubt about the outcome of the trial, given the Republican Senate majority and Mr Trump's command of party loyalty.

The key question was whether Democrats could convince Republicans to support their call for witnesses next week to prolong the trial.

Democratic Senator Chris Coons was doubtful.

"McConnell continues his iron grip on the Republican majority," Mr Coons said. "The Republican majority is still going to try to tear through this case in 10 days." - AFP