Republican Senator Mitch McConnell says he has not ruled out allowing witnesses to testify in the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump.
Congressional lawmakers are wrangling over Senate trial rules, with Democrats demanding witnesses be called so what they term a fair trial can take place.
Mr Trump was formally impeached by the House last week for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
The Senate trial is expected to begin next month, after the holiday break.
The president is accused of pressuring the Ukrainian president to start an investigation into his political rival, Democratic presidential front runner, Joe Biden.
Mr Trump is accused of doing this by withholding military aid and making a White House visit contingent on co-operation.
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Democrats have so far refused to handover the articles of impeachment voted through in the House – the charges – to the Senate.
They want assurances from Mr McConnell that their chosen witnesses – at least four current and former White House aides with knowledge of the Ukraine affair – will be allowed to testify.
“We haven’t ruled out witnesses,” Mr McConnell told Fox News on Monday.
He accused Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of holding “an absurd position” and said she is “apparently trying to tell us how to run the trial”.
“You know, I’m not anxious to have this trial, so if she wants to hold onto the papers, go right ahead.”
“Look, we’re at an impasse. We can’t do anything until the speaker sends the papers over, so everyone enjoy the holidays,” the Kentucky Republican added.
Mr Trump is the third president in US history to be impeached. But he is unlikely to be removed from office, as his Republican party has a majority in the Senate, where a trial will be held as stipulated in the US Constitution.
Democrats renewed their demand for witnesses over the weekend after an email emerged suggesting the White House sought to freeze aid to Ukraine just 91 minutes after Mr Trump spoke to President Volodymyr Zelensky by phone in July. That call is at the centre of the allegations against Mr Trump – charges he denies.
Top Senator Democrat Chuck Schumer said the email was an “explosive” reminder of the need for senate witnesses to testify.
Mr Schumer said he and his Republican counterpart remain at an impasse after holding a “cordial” meeting on Thursday to discuss trial rules.
During a press conference in his home state of New York on Sunday, Mr Schumer said Republicans “have come up with no good reason why there shouldn’t be witnesses, why there shouldn’t be documents”.
He added: “We don’t know what the witnesses will say. We don’t know how the documents will read. They might exonerate President Trump or they might further incriminate him. But the truth should come out on something as important as an impeachment.”
Democrats argue that Republicans will not act as impartial jurors during the impeachment trial, after Mr McConnell pledged last week to work with “total co-ordination” with the White House.
On Monday, Maryland Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen wrote to the Government Accountability Office asking about the legality of Mr Trump’s decision to withhold congressionally approved aid to Ukraine.
Mr Van Hollen said in his letter that Mr Trump violated the Impound Control Act because he had a “corrupt purpose” when he withheld the aid, and did not notify Congress of the delay as required by the law.
Alabama Democrat Doug Jones, who narrowly won election in the majority Republican state in 2017, told ABC News on Sunday that the allegations against Mr Trump were “serious” but he will keep an open mind in the trial.
“I’m trying to see if the dots get connected. If that is the case, then I think it’s a serious matter. I think it’s an impeachable matter,” he said. “But if these dots aren’t connected and there are other explanations that I think are consistent with innocence, I will go that way too.
“What I really want to see, though, is to fill in the gaps,” he said. “There are gaps.”
Republicans ‘open to hearing Senate impeachment witnesses’
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