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Trump impeachment: Democrats make plea to 'common sense,' Republicans say let voters decide

Closing arguments in U.S. President Donald Trump's impeachment trial unfolded Monday as much for history as any effort to sway votes, one final chance to influence public opinion and set the record ahead of his expected acquittal in the Republican-led Senate.

President's wrongdoing doesn't rise to level of impeachment, some Republicans say

U.S. President Donald Trump could be acquitted in the Senate this week. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Closing arguments in U.S. President Donald Trump's impeachment trial unfolded Monday as much for history as any effort to sway votes, one final chance to influence public opinion and set the record ahead of his expected acquittal in the Republican-led Senate.

The House Democratic prosecutors drew on history, the Founding Fathers and common sense to urge senators — and Americans — to see that Trump's actions are not isolated but part of a pattern of behaviour that, left unchecked, will allow him to "cheat"' in the 2020 election.

Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff implored those few Republicans who have acknowledged Trump's wrongdoing to prevent a "runaway presidency" and stand up to say "enough."

"For a man like Donald J. Trump, they gave you a remedy and meant for you to use it. They gave you an oath, and they meant for you to observe it," Schiff said. "We have proven Donald Trump guilty. Now do impartial justice and convict him."

The president's defence countered the Democrats have been out to impeach Trump since the start of his presidency, nothing short of an effort to undo the 2016 election and to try to shape the next one, as early primary voting begins Monday in Iowa.

'Era of impeachment'

"Leave it to the voters to choose," said White House counsel Pat Cipollone.

He called for an end to the partisan "era of impeachment."

All that's left, as the Senate prepares to acquit Trump on charges that he abused power and obstructed Congress, is for Americans to decide now, and in the November election, as the third presidential impeachment trial in the nation's history begins to close.

Most senators acknowledge the House Democratic managers have essentially proven their case, that Trump abused power and obstructed Congress, by leveraging U.S. military aid to push Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden to thwart the 2020 election.

But key Republicans have decided the president's actions toward Ukraine do not rise to the level of impeachable offence that warrant the dramatic political upheaval of conviction and removal from office. His acquittal in Wednesday's vote is all but assured.

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska called the president's actions "shameful and wrong," but in a powerful speech late Monday she also derided the highly partisan process. "I cannot vote to convict," she said.

One centrist Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin, said he was heavily weighing the vote ahead. He suggested censure — a formal statement of disapproval — may be a bipartisan alternative.

Censure has been used only once in U.S, history — against Andrew Jackson in 1834. But his censure was expunged three years later.

Sen. Joe Manchin has suggested censuring Trump may be a better option than removal from office. (Susan Walsh/The Associated Press)

Republican senators Lamar Alexander, Marco Rubio and Rob Portman are among those who acknowledged the inappropriateness of Trump's actions, but said they would not vote to hear more testimony or to convict.

"What message does that send? " asked Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a House prosecutor. He warned senators that for Trump, the "past is prologue." He urged the Senate to realize its failure to convict will "allow the president's misconduct to stand."

'That's what guilty people do'

Florida congresswoman Val Demings, a former police chief, argued that the president is not behaving like someone who is innocent. She warned he will try to "cheat" again ahead of 2020.

"Innocent people don't try to hide every document and witness, especially those that would clear them," she told the senators. "That's what guilty people do."

Ahead of his own lawyers' closing arguments, the president himself registered his views on Twitter where he decried the whole thing, as he often does, as a "hoax."

Trump attorney Jay Sekulow showed political clips of Democrats calling for impeachment — highlighting primarily lawmakers of colour, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a top Republican foil — to argue this was the "first totally partisan presidential impeachment in our nation's history, and it should be our last."

Personal lawyer to President Donald Trump, Jay Sekulow, centre, used a montage of Democrats calling for impeachment to back his claim that the process has been 'totally partisan.' (Alex Brandon/The Associated Press)

One key Trump lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, who was forced to walk back a sweeping defence of presidential power in last week's arguments, did not appear.

Trump wanted acquittal secured before he arrives at the Capitol for the State of the Union address Tuesday, but that will not happen.

Senators carrying the power of their votes to the history books wanted additional time to make their own arguments, in public speeches from the floor of the Senate. Those began Monday afternoon and were expected to continue until Wednesday's vote.

No witnesses, no Bolton

The trial unfolded over nearly two weeks and reached a decisive moment last Friday when senators voted against calling witnesses and documents. Key Republicans said they had heard enough. It becomes the first impeachment trial in the nation's more than 200-year history without any witnesses.

Even new revelations from John Bolton, the former national security adviser at the White House, whose forthcoming book discloses his firsthand account of Trump ordering the investigations, did not impress upon senators the need for more testimony.

Bolton said he would appear, if he received a subpoena, but GOP senators said the House should have issued the summons and the Senate did not want to prolong the proceedings.

Prosecutors relied on a 28,000-page report compiled over three months of proceedings in the Democratic-controlled House, including the public and private testimony from 17 witnesses, many current and former ambassadors and national security officials with close proximity to the Ukraine dealings.

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