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Democrats brand President Donald Trump impeachment trial 'rigged'
21 January 2020, 18:11 | Updated: 22 January 2020, 00:39
President Donald Trump's impeachment trial has begun in the Senate but quickly burst into a partisan fight, with Democrats branding it "rigged."
Democrats objected strongly to rules proposed by the Republican leader for compressed arguments and a speedy trial.
Even before Chief Justice John Roberts gavelled in the session, Democrats warned that the rules package from Mr Trump's ally, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, could force midnight sessions that would keep most Americans in the dark and create a sham proceeding.
But without comment, the Republican leader abruptly changed his proposed rules for President Donald Trump's impeachment trial, backing off the condensed two-day schedule to add a third for opening arguments after protests from senators.
He quietly submitted an amended proposal for the record, after meeting behind closed doors with senators as the trial opened.
Mr McConnell added the extra day and allowed House evidence to be included in the record.
Chief Justice John Roberts gavelled open the session, senators having taken an oath last week to do "impartial justice" as jurors.
Senators were stunned by Mr McConnell's shift, and aides offered no immediate answers.
But a spokeswoman for Republican Senator Susan Collins said that she and others had raised concerns.
The Maine senator sees the changes as significant improvements, said spokeswoman Annie Clark.
READ THE TRANSCRIPTS!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 21, 2020
Mr Trump, who has been attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, said the whole thing was a hoax, and he said he was sure it would "work out fine".
House Democrats impeached the president last month on two charges: abuse of power by withholding US military aid to Ukraine as he pressed that country to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden, and obstruction of Congress by refusing to comply with their investigation.
The Constitution gives the House the sole power to impeach a president and the Senate the final verdict by convening as the impeachment court for a trial.
Democrats had warned that the rules package from Mr Trump's ally, the Senate Republican leader, could force midnight sessions that would keep most Americans in the dark and create a sham proceeding.
"This is not a process for a fair trial, this is the process for a rigged trial", Representative Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee leading the prosecution, told reporters.
He called it a "cover-up."
"Sure it will be a fair trial when you've got 24 hours of arguments on both sides," Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa told state reporters on a conference call.
The trial is testing whether Mr Trump's actions toward Ukraine warrant removal at the same time that voters are forming their own verdict his White House.
Mr Trump himself denounced the proceedings as "a total hoax", as he does daily, and said: "I'm sure it's going to work out fine."
With Mr Trump's presidency on the line, and the nation deeply divided just weeks before the first Democratic primary contests, four senators who are also presidential candidates will be off the campaign trail, seated as jurors.
The Democrats say the prospect of middle-of-the-night proceedings, without allowing new witnesses or even the voluminous House records of the trial, will leave the public without crucial information about Mr Trump's political pressure campaign on Ukraine and the White House's obstruction of the House impeachment probe.
"The McConnell rules seem to be designed by President Trump for President Trump," said the Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer.
He vowed to call for a series of votes to amend the rules and demand evidence and documents, but it seemed unlikely Republicans would break from the party to join Democrats.
"This is a historic moment," Mr Schumer said.
"The eyes of America are watching. Republican senators must rise to the occasion."
If the senators agree to Mr McConnell's proposal for speedy trial and acquittal, Mr Schiff said: "It will not prove the president innocent, it will only prove the Senate guilty of working with the president to obstruct the truth from coming out."'