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Donald Trump impeachment trial: Final Senate vote close after witness row resolved

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Donald Trump impeachment trial: Final Senate vote close after witness row resolved
Copyright  Senate Television via AP
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***Breaking news: Donald Trump is acquitted in the Senate impeachment vote. For the latest news and reaction click here.***

The US Senate is meeting in a rare weekend session on Saturday for closing arguments in Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial. The evenly divided chamber is due to vote on whether the former president will be held accountable for inciting the January 6 insurrection in Washington.

After a period of confusion as lawmakers voted to consider hearing witnesses, the Senate reached a deal to skip their testimony. It concerned evidence suggesting that the former president had shown his indifference to the violence by rejecting a plea to call off the mob during its assault on the Capitol.

The compromise agreement averts a prolonged trial and paved the way for closing arguments from both sides on Saturday.

Democrats argue Trump incited the riot and then refused to stop it, putting Vice President Mike Pence in danger. However, acquittal is likely in the evenly divided Senate as a two-thirds majority is required to convict.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell will vote to acquit Donald Trump in the former president's impeachment trial, AP reports, quoting two sources familiar with his thinking granted.

Confusion over move to call new witness

The Democrats' move to call another witness was a step that could have significantly extended the proceedings, delaying a vote on whether the former president incited the deadly insurrection, when his supporters overwhelmed police and stormed the Capitol.

The last-minute fight over witnesses followed Friday night revelations from a Republican House lawmaker about a heated phone call on the day of the riot between Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy that Democrats say establishes Trump's indifference to the violence.

At issue were comments from Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington state, one of 10 Republicans to vote for Trump's impeachment in the House.

She said in a statement late Friday that Trump rebuffed a plea from McCarthy to call off the rioters. Democrats consider it key corroborating evidence that confirms the president's "willful dereliction of duty and desertion of duty as commander in chief."

For a while proceedings came to an abrupt halt, with senators seemingly confused about the next steps.

But leaders agreed on an arrangement that would move the trial back toward a final vote, without live witnesses.

Lead House impeachment manager Jamie Raskin read Herrera Beutler's statement on the Senate floor and had it admitted into the trial's evidence.

Trump 'lit the match' on riot

With closing arguments underway, Rep. Jamie Raskin, the lead Democratic prosecutor, said the evidence before the Senate was overwhelming that the president incited the mob. "None of this would have happened without the president," he said.

"President Trump must be convicted for the safety and security of our democracy and our people," Raskin argued.

House impeachment manager David Cicilline made his closing arguments also urging senators to convict Trump and arguing that Trump incited the mob to attack the Capitol on January 6.

But Republicans argued that Trump's language was normal political rhetoric, and while they condemned the violence they argued there was no direct evidence that he had incited it.

The ex-president’s attorney Michael van der Veen urged senators to acquit Trump, saying it was "time to bring this unconstitutional political theatre to an end".

Lawyers for Donald Trump say charges of insurrection incitement against the former president are a "monstrous lie".

On Friday, they urged Senators to acquit Trump, claiming the real goal of Democrats was "vengeance" and the "cancelling" of the right-wing populist movement surrounding him.

"No thinking person could seriously believe that the president's January 6 speech on the Ellipse was in any way an incitement to violence or insurrection. The suggestion is patently absurd on its face," Michael van der Veen told the hearing.

"The Senate should promptly and decisively vote to reject it."

The defence team took less than four hours of the 16 allocated to make their case that Trump had not done anything to incite the actions of the supporters who rioted on Capitol Hill on January 6.

After defence submissions, Senators were given four hours to ask questions of both sides, but observers say Republicans are likely to stand by the former president and bring in a verdict of not guilty.

Democratic impeachment managers rested their case Thursday after two days of often emotional presentations anchored by shocking video footage of a January 6 invasion of Congress by Trump's supporters.

They said the Capitol invaders believed they were acting on "the president's orders” and reflected his violent rhetoric when they set out to storm the building and stop the joint session that was certifying Democrat Joe Biden's election.