President Donald Trump’s defence team wrapped up its opening arguments on Tuesday as pressure mounted for the Senate to call former White House National Security Advisor John Bolton as a witness in the president’s impeachment trial in the United States.
“This should end now, as quickly as possible,” White House counsel Pat Cipollone declared, capping a defence presentation that painted Trump as a victim and took dismissive swipes at Bolton, the potential witness who has scrambled Republican hopes for a swift end to the trial.
A day after the defence team largely brushed past Bolton, lawyer Jay Sekulow addressed the controversy head-on by dismissing his manuscript – said to contradict a key defence argument about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine – as “inadmissible”. The argument was meant to pre-empt calls from Democrats for witnesses including Bolton, who writes in a forthcoming book that Trump told him he wanted to withhold military aid from Ukraine until it helped with investigations into Democratic rival Joe Biden.
Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives on December 18 for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
House Democrats, whose managers gave nearly 24 hours of opening arguments last week, accuse Trump of abusing his power in office by orchestrating a pressure campaign to get Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading Democratic political rival, as well as launch a probe into a debunked conspiracy theory about the 2016 presidential elections.
Trump refused to participate in the House impeachment investigation.
Adam Schiff, who served as the lead Democratic prosecutor in arguing the case against Trump, said the question remained as to whether the trial would be fair or unfair, with Republicans refusing so far to allow any witness testimony or new evidence.
“A fair trial involves witnesses and it involves documents,” Schiff told reporters.
With opening arguments now over, here’s a look at what to expect next:
Questions and answers
The next phase of the trial involves questions from the 100 senators, who act as jurors, to the lawyers representing Trump and the seven House Democratic managers who have served as prosecutors.
Under the rules resolution approved along party lines at the start of the trial, senators will have 16 hours over two days to ask hand-written questions of both sides.
US Supreme Court Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the trial, will read the questions out loud. The questions will alternate between Democrats and Republicans.
A vote on witnesses?
At the conclusion of the question period, the House Democratic impeachment team and Trump’s lawyers will have four hours, equally divided, to make what could amount to closing arguments. The Senate will then move to the question of whether to call witnesses, culminating in crucial votes.
A vote on whether witnesses can be subpoenaed could happen as early as Friday.
Trial rules provide a two-step process on whether to subpoena witnesses and documents, with one vote on whether to consider doing so and, if approved, subsequent votes to actually call witnesses or demand documents.
Some Democrats have argued the process could allow Republicans to first vote “yes” on whether to proceed and then vote “no” on actually allowing witnesses or documents in order to avoid alienating conservative or more moderate voters.
While scoffing at Bolton’s manuscript, Trump and the Republicans have strongly resisted summoning the former White House adviser to testify in person about what he saw and heard as Trump’s top national security adviser.