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Senators Vow Impartial Justice in Trial01/17 06:23

   The U.S. Senate opened the impeachment trial  of President Donald Trump with 
quiet ceremony Thursday -- senators standing at their desks to swear an oath of 
"impartial justice" as jurors, House prosecutors formally reciting the charges 
and Chief Justice John Roberts presiding.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. Senate opened the impeachment trial  of 
President Donald Trump with quiet ceremony Thursday --- senators standing at 
their desks to swear an oath of "impartial justice" as jurors, House 
prosecutors formally reciting the charges and Chief Justice John Roberts 
presiding.

   The trial, only the third such undertaking in American history, is unfolding 
at the start of the election year, a time of deep political division in the 
nation. Four of the senators sitting in judgment on Trump are running for the 
Democratic Party's nomination to challenge him in the fall.

   "Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye!" intoned the Senate's sergeant at arms, calling 
the proceedings to order just past noon.

   Senators filled the chamber, an unusual sight in itself, sitting silently 
under strict rules that prohibit talking or cellphones, for a trial that will 
test not only Trump's presidency but also the nation's three branches of power 
and its system of checks and balances.

   The Constitution mandates the chief justice serve as the presiding officer, 
and Roberts made the short trip across the street from the Supreme Court to the 
Capitol. He has long insisted judges are not politicians and is expected to 
serve as a referee  for the proceedings. Senators rose quickly when he appeared 
in his plain black robe.

   "Will all senators now stand, and remain standing, and raise their right 
hand," Roberts said.

   "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 senators responded they would, and then they lined up to sign an oath 
book.

   Trump faces two charges after the House voted to impeach him last month. 
One, that he abused his presidential power by pressuring Ukraine to investigate 
Democratic rival Joe Biden, using military aid to the country as leverage. 
Trump is also charged with obstructing Congress' ensuing probe.

   The president insists he did nothing wrong, and he dismissed the trial anew 
on Thursday at the White House: "It's totally partisan. It's a hoax."

   Eventual acquittal is expected in the Republican-controlled Senate. However, 
new revelations are mounting about Trump's actions toward Ukraine.

   The Government Accountability Office said Thursday that the White House 
violated federal law  in withholding the security assistance to Ukraine, which 
shares a border with hostile Russia.

   At the same time, an indicted associate of Trump's personal lawyer Rudy 
Giuliani, Lev Parnas, has turned over to prosecutors new documents  linking the 
president to the shadow foreign policy being run by Giuliani.

   The developments applied fresh pressure to senators to call more witnesses 
for the trial, a main source of contention that is still to be resolved. The 
White House has instructed officials not to comply with subpoenas from Congress 
requesting witnesses or other information.

   "What is the president hiding? What is he afraid of?'' asked Senate 
Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.

   "The gravity of these charges is self-evident," he said. "The House of 
Representatives has accused the president of trying to shake down a foreign 
leader for personal gain."

   House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the new information from Parnas demands an 
investigation, which she doesn't expect from Trump's attorney general. "This is 
an example of all of the president's henchmen, and I hope that the senators do 
not become part of the president's henchmen."

   Before the swearing-in, House Democrats prosecuting the case stood before 
the Senate and Rep. Adam Schiff of the Intelligence Committee formally read the 
articles of impeachment.

   Seven lawmakers, led by Schiff and Rep. Jerrold Nadler of the Judiciary 
Committee, made the solemn walk across the Capitol for a second day. 

   All eyes were on Schiff as he stood at a lectern in the well of the chamber, 
a space usually reserved for senators. 

   "House Resolution 755 Impeaching Donald John Trump, president of the United 
States, for high crimes and misdemeanors," he began, reading the nine pages.

   The other House prosecutors stood in a row to his side.

   Senators said later that when Roberts appeared the solemnity of the occasion 
took hold. Security was tight at the Capitol.

   "I thought this is a historic moment, and you could have heard a pin drop," 
said Republican John Cornyn of Texas. "And so I think the gravity of what are 
undertaking I think was sinking in for all of us."

   Republican House Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took a far different view 
of the charges and proceedings.

   He opened the chamber decrying Pelosi's decision to hand out "souvenir pens" 
on Wednesday after she signed the resolution to transmit the charges to the 
Senate. 

   "This final display neatly distilled the House's entire partisan process 
into one perfect visual," McConnell said. "It was a transparently partisan 
process from beginning to end." 

   GOP Sen. James Inhofe was absent, home in Oklahoma  for a family medical 
issue, but plans to take the oath when he returns as the full trial begins next 
week, his office said.

   The Senate will issue a formal summons to the White House to appear, with 
the president's legal team expected to respond by Saturday. Opening arguments 
will begin on Tuesday.

   The president suggested recently that he would be open to a quick vote to 
simply dismiss the charges, but sufficient Republican support is lacking for 
that.

   Instead, the president's team expects a trial lasting no more than two 
weeks, according to senior administration officials. That would be far shorter 
than the trial of President Bill Clinton, in 1999, or the first one, of 
President Andrew Johnson, in 1868. Both were acquitted.

   It would take a super-majority of senators, 67 of the 100, to convict the 
president. Republicans control the chamber, 53-47, but it takes just 51 votes 
during the trial to approve rules, call witnesses or dismiss the charges.

   A group of four Republican senators is working to ensure there will be votes 
on the possibility of witnesses, though it's not at all certain a majority will 
prevail for new testimony. 

   Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska 
and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee are among those involved. 

   "I tend to believe having additional information would be helpful," Collins 
said in a statement. "It is likely that I would support a motion to call 
witnesses."

   Romney said he wants to hear from John Bolton, the former national security 
adviser at the White House, who others have said raised alarms about the 
alternative foreign policy toward Ukraine being run by Giuliani.

   The House managers are a diverse group with legal, law enforcement and 
military experience, including Hakeem Jeffries of New York, Sylvia Garcia of 
Texas, Val Demings of Florida, Jason Crow of Colorado and Zoe Lofgren of 
California.

   Two are freshmen --- Crow a former Army Ranger who served in Iraq and 
Afghanistan, Garcia a former judge in Houston. Demings is the former police 
chief of Orlando, and Jeffries is a lawyer and member of party leadership. 
Lofgren has the rare credential of having worked on a congressional staff 
during President Richard Nixon's impeachment --- he resigned before the full 
House voted on the charges --- and then being an elected lawmaker during 
Clinton's. 

   ___

   Associated Press writers Zeke Miller, Alan Fram, Matthew Daly, Andrew 
Taylor, Mary Clare Jalonick, Laurie Kellman, and Padmananda Rama contributed to 
this report.


(KR)

 
 
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