WASHINGTON • Republicans pres-sed their campaign to discredit the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry against United States President Donald Trump by introducing a Senate resolution that called the process unfair but said nothing about Mr Trump's conduct in his dealings with Ukraine.
Forty-four of the 53 Republicans in the 100-seat Senate on Thursday signed on to the resolution, which urges the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives to hold a formal vote to initiate the impeachment inquiry and give Mr Trump the ability to "confront his accusers" and call his own witnesses, said its lead sponsor, Senator Lindsey Graham.
The resolution does not say Mr Trump should not be investigated and does not address the substance of the inquiry. The US Constitution gives the House wide latitude in how to handle impeachment.
The inquiry focuses on Mr Trump's request in a July 25 telephone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate a domestic political rival, Mr Joe Biden, the former vice-president who is a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination to face Mr Trump in the 2020 election.
US election law prohibits candidates from accepting foreign help in an election.
"I'm not here to tell you that Mr Donald Trump's done nothing wrong. I'm not here to tell you anything other than that the way they're going about it is really dangerous for the country and we need to change course while we can in the House," Mr Graham told a news conference, referring to House Democrats.
Mr Trump's fellow Republicans in Congress this week ratcheted up efforts to fight the investigation after Mr Trump on Monday urged them to get tougher on the Democrats leading it.
If the House passes articles of impeachment - formal charges - the Republican-controlled Senate would then hold a trial on whether to remove Mr Trump from office.
I'm not here to tell you that Mr Donald Trump's done nothing wrong. I'm not here to tell you anything other than that the way they're going about it is really dangerous for the country and we need to change course while we can in the House.
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM, referring to House Democrats.
A two-thirds majority of the Senate would be required to remove the President. Only three US presidents before Mr Trump have faced impeachment inquiries and none was removed from office via the process.
The resolution accused House Democrats of "abandoning more than a century's worth of precedent and tradition in impeachment proceedings and denying President Trump basic fairness and due process accorded every American".
Even if passed in the Senate, the resolution would not affect the House inquiry. However, it would place Republican senators on the record on impeachment at a time when some cracks in Mr Trump's support within his own party have appeared, including pointed criticism from Senator Mitt Romney.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced his support for the resolution, saying the House "must adhere to the highest standards of fairness and due process", but did not say when he would bring it up for a vote.
Mr Graham, who on Tuesday agreed with the President's description of the impeachment probe as a "lynching", said the House process was "illegitimate". Mr Graham also lamented that the Democrats were not using the same procedures that House Republicans used two decades ago when they impeached former Democratic president Bill Clinton concerning a sexual relationship with a White House intern. The Senate declined to remove Mr Clinton from office following a trial.
As the inquiry intensifies, the White House is considering bringing on board a communications specialist to handle messaging, sources familiar with the process said.
Republicans have complained about Democrats hearing from witnesses in closed sessions and not allowing lawmakers who are not members of the three committees leading the inquiry to be present for depositions. Republican members of the committees have taken part in the proceedings throughout.
More than two dozen House Republicans barged into the high-security hearing room on Wednesday and delayed for several hours the testimony of a Pentagon official.
The authorities at the US Capitol conducted a "sweep" inside the room to check for security breaches after the protest, two sources said on Thursday. Some of the Republican lawmakers had brought cellphones into the room, where electronic devices are prohibited.
Democrats have said there will be public hearings in the coming weeks.