Former US President Donald Trump (file photo). Photograph:( AFP )
Trump, who left office on January 20, is the first US president to be impeached twice and the first to face trial after leaving office. If convicted, the Senate could then vote to bar him from running for office again
The US Senate voted Saturday to allow the calling of witnesses in Donald Trump's impeachment trial, throwing a wrench into Republican hopes to wrap up proceedings with a swift acquittal of the former president.
The development came after news that Trump told a top congressional Republican during the deadly assault by his supporters last month that the mob was "more upset" about his election defeat than lawmakers.
Five Republicans joined all 50 Democrats to vote to allow witnesses after Democratic impeachment managers signalled their intent to subpoena to testify about the then-president's phone call with a House leader during the US Capitol insurrection.
A lengthier trial could stymie efforts by Democratic President Joe Biden to move past the controversies surrounding his predecessor and push forward his own legislative agenda on COVID-19 relief and economic revival.
Herrera Beutler, one of 10 in her party who voted last month in the House of Representatives to impeach Trump, recounted in a statement late Friday the details of a call between Trump and the top House Republican, Kevin McCarthy.
"'Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are,'" Beutler quoted Trump as saying. She said Trump initially denied his supporters were involved in the attack, claiming the mob were members of the left-leaning Antifa movement, a false claim that McCarthy rejected.
The call for witnesses triggered moments of chaos on the Senate floor, with leaders hitting the pause button on the trial so they can figure out the next steps in the process.
Trump, who left office on January 20, is the first US president to be impeached twice and the first to face trial after leaving office. If convicted, the Senate could then vote to bar him from running for office again.
In arguments this week, Democratic members of the House of Representatives showed videos and shared tweets they said made clear Trump had set the stage for the violence by falsely claiming the election results were fraudulent and egging on his supporters with his rhetoric long before Jan. 6.
They said he summoned the mob to Washington, gave the crowd its marching orders and did nothing to stop the violence as it played out on television. His one request to act peacefully did not absolve him, they said.
"You rob the bank, and on the way out the door you yell, 'Respect private property!' That's not a defence to robbing the bank," said Democratic Representative Jamie Raskin.
The Democrats are unlikely to gain a conviction, as few Republican senators have come out against Trump, who remains popular among Republican voters.
Trump's team played a roughly 10-minute video showing prominent Democrats using the word "fight" in political speeches.
"You didn't do anything wrong," Trump lawyer David Schoen said, addressing Democrats. "It's a word people use, but please stop the hypocrisy."
Trump's defence team also portrayed the impeachment trial as little more than the result of a political witch hunt by Democrats who had been trying to get Trump for four years.
Senators sought to confirm whether Trump knew Vice President Mike Pence, who was presiding over the certification, was endangered by the Capitol attack when he sent a Twitter message criticizing him.
Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville said he had told Trump over the phone that Pence had already been evacuated from the Senate for his safety.
The Democratic-controlled House impeached Trump on January 13. Conviction in the 100-member Senate requires a two-thirds majority, which means at least 17 Republicans would have to defy the former president.
"I'm anxious to see what my Republican friends do," Biden told reporters at the White House on Friday.
Van der Veen said there was a double standard at the heart of the prosecution's case, arguing that some Democrats had "encouraged and endorsed" violence that erupted at some anti-racism protests across the United States last summer without facing any legal consequences.
"They have clearly demonstrated that their opposition to mobs and their view of using the National Guard depends upon their political views," said van der Veen, a last-minute addition to the defence team who sued Trump in August in a separate case about mail voting.
On Tuesday, the Senate voted largely along party lines that the impeachment trial was constitutional even though Trump's term ended on January 20. Six Republican senators sided with Democrats.
If Trump is acquitted, the Senate could decide to censure him or even vote to bar him from holding public office again. Asked on Thursday about pursuing the latter option, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that decision would have to wait until the end of the trial.
Senator John Thune, the No. 2 Republican in the chamber, indicated that a censure motion could be in the cards.
"I've seen a couple of resolutions at least that I think could attract some support," Thune told reporters. He added that he did not think an effort to bar Trump from holding office again under the 14th Amendment would go anywhere.
Neither side has so far announced an intention to call witnesses, leaving senators on track for final arguments and a vote as soon as Saturday.
Trump is the first US president to be impeached twice and the first to face trial after leaving office. His first impeachment trial, which stemmed from his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden, ended in an acquittal a year ago in what was then a Republican-controlled Senate.