US President Donald Trump smiles prior to a plenary session of the World Economic Forum in Davos.
US President Donald Trump smiles prior to a plenary session of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Cover-up claims as impeachment starts

Democrats have accused Senate Republicans of a "cover up" as a brawl erupts about the rules of US President Donald Trump's impeachment trial.

Hearings in Washington started just after 1pm local time (5am AEDT), with both sides engaging in fierce debate before an expected vote on whether to accept Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's proposal for a speedy trial.

The possibility of a swift vote to dismiss the charges after several days of opening statements and questions still remains, which would potentially mean no witnesses or evidence would be heard.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Picture: AP
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Picture: AP

 

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff. Picture: AP
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff. Picture: AP

There are also claims Senator McConnell is trying to run the trial into the "dead of night" by commencing 12-hour hearings at 1pm each day, local time.

"It's clear Senator McConnell is hell-bent on making it much more difficult to get witnesses and documents and intent on rushing the trial through," Senator Chuck Schumer said.

He described the proposed rules a "national disgrace".

Congressman Adam Schiff, who led the House hearings that preceded the Senate trial said: "This is the process for a rigged trial. This is the process if you do not want the American people to see the evidence".

Meanwhile, Mr Trump again called the impeachment trial a "hoax" after landing in Davos for the annual World Economic Forum.

"It's been going on for years," he said, before touting America's "spectacular" economic turnaround under his leadership.

TRUMP'S LAWYERS SLAM 'FLIMSY' CASE

Mr Trump's impeachment lawyers slammed the case against him as "flimsy" and a "dangerous perversion to the Constitution" in an outline of the defence they will offer this week.

The trial, only the third of a US president and the first since Bill Clinton was tried over lying under oath about his extramarital relationships with an aide in 1998, could run as short as a week or longer than a month.

Mr Trump was impeached in December by the Democrat-held House for abuse of power and obstruction of justice, accused of using his position to pressure the Ukraine government to investigate his political rival.

 

Senators are expected to vote soon on rules, which could include an early vote to dismiss. There could be weeks of evidence and testimony from witnesses ranging from Trump administration figures including former National Security Advisor John Bolton to the family of leading 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

 

Mr Biden was Barack Obama's vice president and led the US relationship with Ukraine at the same time his son, Hunter Biden, held a highly paid seat on the board of an energy company there despite having no apparent qualifications for the role.

There has been no evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens.

 

 

Leading Democrat candidate Joe Biden (right) – dubbed ‘Sleepy Joe’ by Mr Trump – with son Hunter. Picture: Getty
Leading Democrat candidate Joe Biden (right) – dubbed ‘Sleepy Joe’ by Mr Trump – with son Hunter. Picture: Getty

Mr Trump has released a phone transcript of a July 2019 call with Ukarine's newly installed leader, President Volodymyr Zelensky, which he describes as "perfect" and above board.

However, Democrats have used the same call, and more than a month of testimony to House hearings which preceding their impeachment vote, to argue that he was pressuring Ukraine to investigate the Bidens in return for hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid and a sought after White House meeting.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Picture: Getty
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Picture: Getty

Mr Trump's high powered legal team, which includes lawyers who represented OJ Simpson and a key prosecutor from the Clinton impeachment, on Monday argued that he did "absolutely nothing wrong".

They released a 110-page filing in response to a weekend brief filed by the seven Democratic prosecution managers, who will act similarly to prosecutors in the hearings.

Mr Trump's lawyers said the articles of impeachment, or charges against the president, don't amount to impeachable offences because they are not the "high crimes and misdemeanours" laid out in the Constitution.

Mr Trump’s legal team includes lawyers who represented OJ Simpson. Picture: Supplied
Mr Trump’s legal team includes lawyers who represented OJ Simpson. Picture: Supplied

"House Democrats were determined from the outset to find some way - any way - to corrupt the extraordinary power of impeachment for use as a political tool to overturn the result of the 2016 election and to interfere in the 2020 election," the Trump-team filing said.

"All of that is a dangerous perversion of the Constitution that the Senate should swiftly and roundly condemn."

President Donald Trump walks down the stairs of Air Force One upon arrival at Andrews Air Force Base. Picture: AP
President Donald Trump walks down the stairs of Air Force One upon arrival at Andrews Air Force Base. Picture: AP

"House Democrats were determined from the outset to find some way - any way - to corrupt the extraordinary power of impeachment for use as a political tool to overturn the result of the 2016 election and to interfere in the 2020 election," the Trump-team filing said."All of that is a dangerous perversion of the Constitution that the Senate should swiftly and roundly condemn."

The televised trial is expected to draw millions of viewers in the US, where the question of impeachment has further split a nation already divided by the upcoming election which will decide if Mr Trump wins a second term.

 

 

 

A photograph showing former White House intern Monica Lewinsky (left) working in a White House office as President Bill Clinton looks on. Picture: Supplied
A photograph showing former White House intern Monica Lewinsky (left) working in a White House office as President Bill Clinton looks on. Picture: Supplied

It comes less than two weeks before Democrats cast their first influential primary votes on who will lead them in November polls, with four candidates including Mr Biden forced to suspend their Iowa campaigning for the duration of the trial while they sit as jurors.

The trial will run six days a week, for up to 12 hours a day from 1pm.

Mr Trump is only the third president to face an impeachment trial.

Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson were also impeached, but both were acquitted in their Senate trials.

Such an outcome is almost inevitable for Mr Trump, with at least 20 Republicans needed to cross the Senate floor to convict the president and remove him through a majority guilty verdict.