Nation & World: McConnell seeks to push impeachment trial to February

photo by: Associated Press

On the first full day of the new Democratic majority in the Senate, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the top Republican, walks to the chamber for the start of business as the minority leader, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is proposing to push back the start of Donald Trump’s impeachment trial to February to give the former president time to prepare and review his case.

House Democrats who voted to impeach Trump last week for inciting the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot have signaled they want to move quickly to trial as President Joe Biden begins his term, saying a full reckoning is necessary before the country — and the Congress — can move on.

But McConnell in a statement Thursday evening suggested a more expansive timeline that would see the House transmit the article of impeachment next week, on Jan. 28, launching the trial’s first phase. After that, the Senate would give the president’s defense team and House prosecutors two weeks to file briefs. Arguments in the trial would likely begin in mid-February.

“Senate Republicans are strongly united behind the principle that the institution of the Senate, the office of the presidency, and former President Trump himself all deserve a full and fair process that respects his rights and the serious factual, legal, and constitutional questions at stake,” especially given the unprecedented speed of the House process, McConnell said.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., is reviewing the plan and will discuss it with McConnell, a spokesperson said. The two leaders are also negotiating how the new 50-50 Senate will work and how they will balance other priorities.

A trial delay could appeal to some Democrats, as it would give the Senate more time to confirm Biden’s Cabinet nominees and debate a new round of coronavirus relief. Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, a key ally of the president’s, told CNN that Democrats would consider a delay “if we are making progress on confirming the very talented, seasoned and diverse team that President Joe Biden has nominated.”

The ultimate power over timing rests with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who can trigger the start of the trial at any point by sending to the Senate the charge of incitement of an insurrection. The California Democrat has not yet said when she will do that.

“It will be soon. I don’t think it will be long, but we must do it,” Pelosi said Thursday. She said Trump doesn’t deserve a “get-out-of-jail card” just because he has left office and Biden and others are calling for national unity.

Facing his second impeachment trial in two years, Trump began to assemble his defense team by hiring attorney Butch Bowers to represent him, according to an adviser. Bowers previously served as counsel to former South Carolina Govs. Nikki Haley and Mark Sanford.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina helped Trump find Bowers after members of his past legal teams indicated they did not plan to join the new effort. Trump is at a disadvantage compared to his first trial, in which he had the full resources of the White House counsel’s office to defend him.

Pelosi’s nine impeachment managers, who will be prosecuting the House case, have been regularly meeting to discuss strategy. Pelosi said she would talk to them “in the next few days” about when the Senate might be ready for a trial.

Shortly before the Jan. 6 insurrection, Trump told thousands of his supporters at a rally near the White House to “fight like hell” against the election results that Congress was certifying. A mob marched down to the Capitol and rushed in, interrupting the count. Five people, including a Capitol Police officer, died in the mayhem, and the House impeached Trump a week later, with 10 Republicans joining all Democrats in support.

Pelosi said it would be “harmful to unity” to forget that “people died here on Jan. 6, the attempt to undermine our election, to undermine our democracy, to dishonor our Constitution.”

Trump was acquitted by the Republican-led Senate at his first impeachment trial. The White House legal team, aided by Trump’s personal lawyers, aggressively fought the House charges that he had encouraged the president of Ukraine to investigate Biden in exchange for military aid. This time around, Pelosi noted, the House is not seeking to convict the president over private conversations but for a very public insurrection that they themselves experienced and that played out on live television.

“This year, the whole world bore witness to the president’s incitement,” Pelosi said.

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said it was still too early to know how long a trial would take or if Democrats would want to call witnesses. But he said, “You don’t need to tell us what was going on with the mob scene we were rushing down the staircase to escape.”

McConnell, who said this week that Trump “provoked” his supporters before the riot, has not said how he will vote. He told his GOP colleagues that it will be a vote of conscience.

Democrats would need the support of at least 17 Republicans to convict Trump, a high bar. While a handful of Senate Republicans have indicated they are open to conviction, most have said they believe a trial will be divisive and questioned the legality of trying a president after he has left office.

Graham said that if he were Trump’s lawyer, he would focus on that argument and on the merits of the case — and whether it was “incitement” under the law.

“I guess the public record is your television screen,” Graham said. “So, I don’t see why this would take a long time.”


BRIEFLY


Biden proposes 5-year extension of nuke treaty with Russia

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden has proposed to Russia a five-year extension of a nuclear arms treaty that is otherwise set to expire in February, the White House said Thursday.

Biden proposed the extension even as he asked the intelligence community to look closely into Russia’s cyberattacks, its alleged interference in the 2020 election and other actions, press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.

Russia has said for some time that it would welcome an extension of the New START treaty, which limits the number of U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear weapons. The Trump administration made a late bid to extend the treaty, but its conditions were rejected by Russia.

U.S. allies, particularly in Europe, are sure to applaud Biden’s proposal, which also provides an early signal of his intent to pursue arms control.


Facebook’s oversight board to rule on Trump suspension

OAKLAND, CALIF. (AP) — Facebook is passing the buck for its indefinite suspension of former president Donald Trump to a quasi-independent oversight board, setting up a major test of the recently established panel.

The social media giant said Thursday that it believes it made the right decision to suspend Trump after he incited his supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol in a deadly assault on Jan. 6. But it said it’s referring the matter to the oversight board for what it called an “independent judgment” on upholding the decision.

Facebook’s panel is intended to rule on thorny content issues, such as when posts constitute hate speech — or if the decision to ban a world leader was the right one. It is empowered to make binding rulings — that is, ones that can’t be overturned by CEO Mark Zuckerberg — on whether posts or ads violate the company’s rules. Any other findings will be considered “guidance” by Facebook. The board does not set Facebook policies or decide if the company is doing enough to enforce them in the first place.

Its 20 members, which will eventually grow to 40, include a former prime minister of Denmark, the former editor-in-chief of the Guardian newspaper, along with legal scholars, human rights experts and journalists such as Tawakkol Karmanm, a Nobel Laureate and journalist from Yemen, and Julie Owono, a digital rights advocate.


At least 32 dead after suicide bombings rock central Baghdad

BAGHDAD (AP) — Twin suicide bombings ripped through a busy market in the Iraqi capital on Thursday, killing at least 32 people and wounding dozens, officials said in what was the first massive bombing in years, harkening back to darker days of rampant militant attacks.

The rare suicide bombing hit the Bab al-Sharqi commercial area in central Baghdad amid heightened political tensions over planned early elections and a severe economic crisis. Blood was splattered on the pavement of the busy market amid piles of clothes and shoes as survivors took stock of the disarray in the aftermath.

By sundown, crowds reappeared at the site of the deadly attack, carrying the coffins of the deceased in a show of defiance. Many questioned the timing of the attack, which occurred a day after President Joe Biden was sworn into office. The U.S.-led coalition recently ceased combat activities and is gradually drawing down its troop presence in Iraq, sparking fears of an IS resurgence.


FDA approves 1st long-acting HIV drug combo, monthly shots

U.S. regulators have approved the first long-acting drug combo for HIV, monthly shots that can replace the daily pills now used to control infection with the AIDS virus.

Thursday’s approval of the two-shot combo called Cabenuva is expected to make it easier for people to stay on track with their HIV medicines and to do so with more privacy. It’s a huge change from not long ago, when patients had to take multiple pills several times a day, carefully timed around meals.


Judge: Amazon won’t have to restore Parler web service

Amazon won’t be forced to immediately restore web service to Parler after a federal judge ruled Thursday against a plea to reinstate the fast-growing social media app, which is favored by followers of former President Donald Trump.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein in Seattle said she wasn’t dismissing Parler’s “substantive underlying claims” against Amazon, but said it had fallen short in demonstrating the need for an injunction forcing it back online.

Amazon kicked Parler off its web-hosting service on Jan. 11. In court filings, it said the suspension was a “last resort” to block Parler from harboring violent plans to disrupt the presidential transition.


Virus scuttles Glastonbury Festival for 2nd straight year

LONDON (AP) — Britain’s Glastonbury music festival has fallen victim to the coronavirus pandemic for the second year in a row.

Organizers Michael Eavis and Emily Eavis said Thursday that “In spite of our efforts to move heaven & earth, it has become clear that we simply will not be able to make the Festival happen this year.”

The festival has been held almost annually since 1970, drawing up to 150,000 people to the Eavis’ Worthy Farm in southwest England.


Biden halts border wall after Trump’s final surge

SAN DIEGO (AP) — In the days before Joe Biden became president, construction crews worked quickly to finish Donald Trump’s wall at an iconic cross-border park overlooking the Pacific Ocean, which then-first lady Pat Nixon inaugurated in 1971 as a symbol of international friendship.

Biden on Wednesday ordered a “pause” on all wall construction within a week, one of 17 executive orders issued on his first day in office, including six dealing with immigration.

The order leaves billions of dollars of work unfinished — but still under contract — after Trump worked feverishly last year to build more than 450 miles, a goal he said he achieved eight days before leaving office.

As of Jan. 15, the government spent $6.1 billion of the $10.8 billion in work it signed contracts to have done, according to a Senate Democratic aide with knowledge of the contracts who spoke on condition of anonymity because details have not been made public. The full amount under contract would have extended Trump’s wall to 664 miles.

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