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Trump to shun impeachment hearing

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The White House has said United States (U.S.) President Donald Trump and his lawyers will not attend an impeachment hearing on Wednesday, citing a lack of “fairness”.

The hearing by the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee marks the next stage of the probe, with legal experts giving testimony that could lead to a vote of impeachment. It is alleged the President pressured Ukraine to conduct two investigations for his own political gain.

Trump has denied any wrongdoing. After weeks of closed-door witness interviews and public hearings, the process will now focus on possible charges of misconduct, which could lead to an impeachment vote in the House and trial in the Republican-led Senate.

The Democratic-led inquiry centres on a phone call in July between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Trump has dismissed the process as a “witch hunt”. Last Wednesday, Jerrold Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, invited Trump to attend this week’s hearing, “directly or through a counsel”, saying it would be an opportunity to discuss the historical and constitutional basis for impeachment.

But in a letter to the committee, White House counsel Pat Cipollone accused the committee of a “complete lack of due process and fundamental fairness”, saying the invitation would fail to give the White House adequate time to prepare and did not give information about the witnesses.

Reports suggested witnesses were “apparently all academics” and would include “no fact witnesses”, Cipollone said.

A fact witness testifies their personal knowledge of events while an expert witness assists the judge by offering an opinion. Cipollone also said the committee had called three witnesses but allowed Republicans to call just one, and lambasted Nadler’s claim that the process was “consistent” with historical impeachment inquiries, arguing that President Bill Clinton had a fairer hearing in 1998.

In order for Trump to be represented in further hearings, the president’s counsel said, Nadler would need to ensure “that due process rights are protected” and that the process was “fair and just”.

The letter also accused Democrats of scheduling the hearing “no doubt purposefully” to conflict with Trump’s visit this week to London for a NATO Summit. He is due to return to Washington after the judiciary committee hearing. Cipollone’s letter did not say whether Trump would attend a second hearing, which does not yet have a date, but added that a response would be given by Friday.

Democrats said Trump dangled two bargaining chips – $400 million (£309 million) of military aid to Ukraine that had already been allocated by Congress, and a White House meeting with Ukraine’s new leader. They think this political pressure on a vulnerable U.S. ally amounts to an abuse of power.

The first investigation Trump wanted from Ukraine was into one of his main Democratic challengers, Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter. Hunter joined the board of a Ukrainian company when Joe Biden was U.S. vice president.

The second Trump demand was that Ukraine tries to corroborate a conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the last U.S. presidential election.

This theory has been widely debunked, and the U.S. intelligence agencies are unanimous in saying Moscow was behind the hacking of Democratic Party emails in 2016.

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