Trump’s impeachment trial opens

Updated January 17, 2020

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US President Donald Trump speaks during an event in the Oval Office announcing guidance on constitutional prayer in public schools on January 16 in Washington, DC. — AFP
US President Donald Trump speaks during an event in the Oval Office announcing guidance on constitutional prayer in public schools on January 16 in Washington, DC. — AFP

WASHINGTON: As the Senate formally opened the impeachment trial on whether to remove Donald Trump from office, a nonpartisan congressional watchdog on Thursday dealt the Republican president a blow by concluding that the White House violated the law by withholding security aid approved for Ukraine by US lawmakers.

Democrat Adam Schiff, who heads a team of seven House of Represen­tatives members who will serve as prosecutors, appeared on the Senate floor to read the two charges passed by the House on Dec 18, accusing Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress arising from his dealings with Ukraine.

The trial’s opening formalities were to continue later in the day, with US Chief Justice John Roberts set to be sworn in to preside over the proceedings and then swear in all 100 senators to serve as jurors. Opening statements in the trial, only the third in US history, are expected on Tuesday.

The abuse of power cited by the House included Trump’s withholding of $391 million in security aid for Ukraine, a move Democrats have said was aimed at pressuring Kiev into investigating political rival Joe Biden, the president’s possible opponent in the Nov 3 US election.

“Faithful execution of the law does not permit the president to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law,” the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded, referring to the fact that Congress had already voted to appropriate the funds.

An arm of Congress, the GAO is viewed as a top auditing agency for the federal government that advises lawmakers and various government entities on how taxpayer dollars are spent.

While the agency’s assessment was a setback to Trump, it was unclear how or even if it would figure in his trial in the Republican-led Senate given that key issues such as whether witnesses will appear or new evidence will be considered remain up in the air.

Published in Dawn, January 17th, 2020