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As Trump impeachment trial kicks off, Democrats call for Republicans to allow witnesses

Democrats called on Senate leaders to allow witnesses at the impeachment trial of U.S. President Donald Trump, saying that a failure to do so would be “dramatic break with precedent,” on Thursday (January 16).

“It would mean the first impeachment trial of a president in history with no witnesses, the first impeachment trial of anybody that went to completion in the Senate’s 200 and some odd year history without witnesses,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (Demcrat – New York) said.

The Senate impeachment trial on whether to remove Trump from office formally began on Thursday even as a congressional watchdog found that the White House broke the law by withholding security aid for Ukraine approved by Congress.

The assessment from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office was a setback for Trump, even though it was unclear if it would figure in his trial in the Republican-led Senate given that key issues such as whether witnesses will appear or new evidence will be considered remain up in the air.

Democrat Adam Schiff, who heads a team of seven House of Representatives members who will serve as prosecutors, appeared on the Senate floor to read the two charges passed by the House on Dec. 18 accusing Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress arising from his dealings with Ukraine.

Chief Justice John Roberts, wearing his black judicial robe, was led onto the Senate floor by four senior lawmakers. He took an oath to preside over the trial and then swore in the assembled senators, instructing them to raise their right hand, asking, “Do you solemnly swear that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of Donald John Trump, president of the United States, now pending you will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws, so help you God?” 

The 99 senators present signed their assent one by one. One senator – Republican Jim Inhofe – was in his home state of Oklahoma to be with a family member facing a medical issue, according to his office, but was due to sign later in the day.

Opening statements in the trial were due to start on Tuesday (January 21). The Senate is expected to acquit Trump, as none of its 53 Republicans has voiced support for removing him, a step that requires a two-thirds majority. Trump has denied wrongdoing and has called the impeachment process a sham. 

(Production: Deborah Gembara)

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