Washington – The Senate impeachment trial of US President Donald Trump is likely to begin in seven days with key players sworn in later this week, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday.
McConnell, a Republican senator from Kentucky, said he expected the House of Representatives to send the articles of impeachment against Trump to the upper chamber on Wednesday.
“We believe that if that happens — in all likelihood — we’ll go through preliminary steps here this week which could well include the chief justice coming over and swearing in members of the Senate and some other kinds of housekeeping measures,” McConnell told reporters.
“We hope to achieve that by consent which would set us up to begin the actual trial next Tuesday.”
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts is to preside over the trial, with Trump facing charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
McConnell’s remarks came shortly after Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House speaker, said Democrats would transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate on Wednesday.
“Tomorrow, we will transmit those articles & name impeachment managers. The Senate must choose between the Constitution & a cover-up,” Pelosi said in a tweeted statement.
“The American people deserve the truth, and the Constitution demands a trial… The president and the senators will be held accountable,” she added.
Trump will become only the third president in US history to go on trial, risking his removal from office.
Trump’s conviction is highly unlikely, given Republicans’ 53-47 control of the Senate, and the high two-thirds vote threshold required to find him guilty.
But both parties were girding for a tense two weeks or more of hearings that could lay bare the US leader’s alleged wrongdoing to the American public on live television.
– Tense trial –
Pelosi attacked suggestions by Trump and some of his supporters that the Senate, as soon as the trial opens, vote to dismiss the charges. That would only require a majority vote.
She accused McConnell of supporting the dismissal effort and called for him to agree to Democrat demands to subpoena witnesses and documents.
McConnell “has signed on to a dismissal resolution. A dismissal is a cover-up,” Pelosi charged.
McConnell, however, pushed back against suggestions that he would try and prevent the trial from going ahead.
“There’s little or no sentiment for a motion to dismiss. We have an obligation to listen the arguments,” he said.
Trump was impeached on December 18 when the House voted to formally charge him with abusing his power by illicitly seeking help from Ukraine for his reelection campaign.
He is accused of holding up aid to Ukraine to pressure Kiev to investigate former vice president Joe Biden, the frontrunner in the race for the Democratic party’s 2020 presidential nomination.
Trump is also charged with obstruction for holding back witnesses and documents from the House impeachment investigation in defiance of Congressional subpoenas.
Trump “pressured a foreign government to target an American citizen for political gain, and at the same time withheld without justification $391 million in military aid to a vulnerable Ukraine as part of a geopolitical shakedown scheme,” Democratic caucus chair Hakeem Jeffries said.
“That is why Donald Trump has been impeached, because he abused his power. In America no one is above the law, not even the president.”
– ‘Witch hunt’ –
Trump has branded the case a “hoax” and a “witch hunt” but the White House is girding for a trial that could present damaging evidence against the US leader on national television.
Pelosi had delayed delivering the articles of impeachment to pressure the Senate to agree to subpoena witnesses with direct knowledge of Trump’s Ukraine actions, including his chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security advisor John Bolton.
But with McConnell refusing to agree up front on the witness issue, Pelosi decided to move ahead.
The trial will begin with the swearing in of Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts as presiding judge.
Then Roberts will swear in the 100 senators to act as jurors in the case.
Unlike jurors, however, the senators will also have the power to decide for themselves the rules of the trial.
It is expected to last at least two weeks, depending on how the witness issue is ultimately decided.
In 1999, the Senate trial that followed president Bill Clinton’s impeachment over the Lewinsky affair lasted five weeks. He was acquitted.
That trial included ten days of testimony from witnesses.