New e-mail deepens divide over Trump impeachment

US Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer on Monday outlined the kinds of documents he would like to have introduced as evidence in the upcoming impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

WASHINGTON • The White House on Sunday signalled comfort with plans by Senate Republicans to avoid new witnesses in US President Donald Trump's impeachment trial, while a top Democrat seized on a newly released e-mail on the withholding of US aid to Ukraine to press his case for testimony.

The Democratic-led House of Representatives approved two impeachment charges against Mr Trump last Wednesday over his pressuring of Ukraine to investigate a political rival. There is little chance he will be convicted and removed from office through a trial in a Senate controlled by fellow Republicans.

Democrats are pushing to call top Trump aides to testify, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants the Senate to consider the case without hearing from new witnesses.

The Senate's top Democrat, Mr Chuck Schumer, told reporters in New York that an e-mail made public last Saturday about military assistance to Kiev underscored the need for witnesses.

The e-mail, obtained by the Centre for Public Integrity through a court order in a Freedom of Information Act case, showed senior White House budget official Michael Duffey directing the Pentagon to withhold the aid just 91 minutes after Mr Trump ended a July 25 phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

In testimony to Congress last month, however, US envoy to the European Union Gordon Sondland said he was first informed on July 18 that the White House was withholding security aid to Ukraine.

The aid and the Trump-Zelensky call are at the heart of the impeachment case put together by Democrats, and Mr Duffey is one of the four witnesses Mr Schumer has proposed calling.

Said Mr Schumer: "If there was ever an argument that we need Mr Duffey to come and testify, this is that information."

While Mr Trump had indicated an interest in calling separate witnesses in his defence, he has also said he would go along with whatever decision Mr McConnell and other Senate Republican leaders make.

In remarks on Sunday talk shows, Mr Marc Short, chief of staff to Vice-President Mike Pence, indicated the White House was on board with Mr McConnell's goal of a speedy trial.

"The American people are tired of this sham," said Mr Short on NBC's Meet the Press.

"To the extent that there's a prolonged trial, we're not anxious about that," he said. "Our administration is anxious to get back to working for the American people... We've had a lot of witnesses already."

Lawmakers left Washington for a holiday break last Friday at loggerheads over how to proceed.

To ramp up pressure on Mr McConnell to permit new testimony, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi - the top Democrat in Congress - has postponed sending the impeachment charges to the Senate.

Republicans have suggested Democrats want witnesses because the case they have assembled is so weak, while Democrats portray Republicans as scared about what new testimony might reveal.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 24, 2019, with the headline 'New e-mail deepens divide over Trump impeachment'. Subscribe