WASHINGTONPresident Trumps legal team clashed with Democrats over their allegations of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, with senators ultimately approving rules early Wednesday morning for the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history. Before the session started on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) altered his own proposed rules, issued a day earlier, after Democrats and a key centrist Republican objected to his plan to squeeze 24 hours of opening arguments by the prosecution and defense into two days each. Instead, each side is now scheduled to get three days, and Mr. McConnell also said evidence gathered in the House impeachment probe over the fall would be automatically entered into the Senate record, reversing his earlier stance.The resolution, which passed on a 53-47 party-line vote after roughly a dozen hours of debate, sets up a structure that is fair, evenhanded and tracks closely with past precedents that were established unanimously, Mr. McConnell said. Democrats favored the rule changes but also unsuccessfully proposed amendments for subpoenas to be issued for witnesses and documents blocked by the White House related to Mr. Trumps dealings with Ukraine.
Mr. Trump was out of the country, touting the U.S.s jobs and trade record in a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in which he didnt mention impeachment. In an interview, the Republican president repeated his longstanding criticism of his impeachment, saying: I did absolutely nothing wrong. Its a total hoax.
During Tuesdays debate, conducted in the Senate chamber and presided over by Chief Justice
John Roberts,
Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the chambers Democratic leader, proposed that subpoenas be issued for White House, State Department, Pentagon and Office of Management and Budget documents related to Mr. Trumps dealings with Ukraine. The Trump administration has withheld those documents and blocked several witnesses from appearing, and while Mr. McConnells rules call for a later vote on whether to call new witnesses and documents, Democrats said they wanted guarantees.
Mr. Schumer also proposed that subpoenas be issued to acting White House chief of staff
Mick Mulvaney,
former national security adviser
John Bolton
and other officials.
Mr. Schumer cited Mr. McConnells change to the rules as a hopeful sign. Republican senators felt the heat and went to McConnell and said, We got to change it. It shows that they can make other changes and that we can get documents and witnesses, he said.
The amendments by Mr. Schumer were defeated on party-line votes. Democrats need to draw four GOP votes in the Republican-controlled Senate to pass any amendments, and it would take two-thirds of the Senate to convict Mr. Trump.
The Senate was to vote on final passage of Mr. McConnells rules resolution after hours of debate between the Democratic House members known as impeachment managers, acting as the prosecution, and Mr. Trumps defense team.
The Senate trial kicked off officially last week, nearly a month after the House voted to impeach Mr. Trump. The first article of impeachment accuses Mr. Trump of abusing his power by pressing Ukraine to announce two investigations, including one into former Vice President
Joe Biden,
as the president withheld nearly $400 million in aid to help Kyiv combat Russian aggression. The second article accuses Mr. Trump of impeding Congresss investigation by preventing witnesses from testifying and defying subpoenas for documentary evidence.
Beginning as soon as Wednesday, each side will make opening arguments for their case, a process that could take up to six days, beginning at 1 p.m. each day. A question-and-answer period comes next, followed by a pivotal vote on whether the Senate wants to request fresh testimony or new evidence.
The prosecutors or the defense could also make motions, including to dismiss the case. Mr. Trump has at times indicated that he wants Republicans to try to dismiss the case, a tactic that Mr. McConnell has warned would fail and that would expose some Republicans in competitive seats to a tough vote. On Tuesday night, White House legislative liaison Eric Ueland declined to rule out the possibility of seeking to dismiss the case.
Tuesdays action centered on Democrats demands for new documents and witnesses, and the Trump teams charge that Democrats were overreaching with their demands.
In his remarks on the Senate floor, White House counsel
Pat Cipollone
accused Democrats of mischaracterizing a pivotal July phone call that showed Mr. Trump pressuring Ukraines president to announce politically helpful investigations.
*Includes two independents that caucus with the Democrats
They made false allegations about a telephone call, Mr. Cipollone said. He said that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D., Calif.) was out of line for accusing the president of obstruction of Congress without waiting for courts to rule on the legitimacy of subpoenas for documents and executive-branch testimony that the White House attempted to withhold.
Its an act of patriotism to defend the constitutional rights of the president, Mr. Cipollone said. If they could do it to the president, they could do it to any of you and do it to any American citizen, and thats wrong.
Mr. Schiff, who is serving as the lead House manager for the trial, said that Mr. Trumps legal team never made any specific claim of executive privilege, alleging that the president was determined to obstruct Congress no matter what we did.
Senators sat silently but sometimes exchanged glances and notes.
Sen. Susan Collins,
a Republican from Maine who pushed Mr. McConnell to change his rule proposal, communicated with GOP leadership during the session.
Mr. McConnells rule changes followed some public and private negotiations. Ms. Collins, who is up for re-election this year, said the trials format should be as similar as possible to the rules for President Clintons impeachment trial in 1999, which Mr. McConnell had long cited as a model for his own plans.
Mr. Ueland said the White House was supportive of the late changes to the Republican resolution on the trial rules.
Several Republicans have said they remain open to calling witnesses later in the trial, but by late Tuesday none had broken ranks to change the trial rules.
Ms. Collins said she would vote against any amendments to the rules at the outset of the trial. But once opening arguments and questions are completed, she said, It is likely that I would support a motion to subpoena witnesses at that point in the trial just as I did in 1999.
Mr. McConnell had said he had unanimous support within his 53-member conference for his proposed trial rules and that any opposition would have been an embarrassmentand could possibly have blocked the rules from taking effect, if four Republicans sided with Democrats to vote against the Senates trial rules.
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The impeachment trial of President Trump opened in the U.S. Senate as Chief Justice John Roberts and senators were sworn in. Photo: Associated Press
—Natalie Andrews, Andrew Duehren and Andrew Restuccia contributed to this article.
Write to Siobhan Hughes at siobhan.hughes@wsj.com
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