Chief Justice John Roberts swore in senators Thursday to officially begin the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.
But, the trial starts in earnest Tuesday afternoon when Republicans and Democrats are expected to battle over a resolution setting the rules for the trial and shortly after start opening arguments.
It’s possible senators will vote to go into closed-session in order to debate the issues that divide them because impeachment rules prevent them from speaking publicly during the trial.
Here’s what we know:
When will the trial get started?
The trial will start Tuesday, January 21, at 1 p.m. ET, after which it will run six days a week, Monday through Saturday, starting at 1 p.m. ET and ending usually between 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. ET, according to the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
But the first session of the trial on Tuesday when they deal with the organizing resolution, may go past 6 p.m., according to aides in each party.
What will the schedule look like each day?
The Senate will come into session at noon ET on each trial day, and there will be time for leadership remarks and possibly some legislative action before 12:30 p.m. ET, when preparations will be made for the trial to get underway.
We won’t know exactly what the schedule will be for the trial until senators pass the organizing resolution, which could happen Tuesday. But if they follow the model from President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial — as McConnell has said he wants to do — each side would have not more than 24 hours to do opening arguments. After that there would be up to 16 hours for senators to ask questions, which would be submitted in writing.
If they are doing five hours a day, opening arguments would take about 10 days and questions would take about three. But the two sides don’t have to use their full 24 hours, which could cut days from the opening arguments.
However, Senate Republican leaders are mulling limiting the number of days given to both the House managers and White House defense team to present their opening arguments, according to four sources familiar with the matter. Their plan would give each side two 12-hour sessions to make their arguments.
The sources cautioned that things remain fluid and it’s possible the idea will end up on the cutting room floor as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell attempts to balance the desire by some in his conference to undertake a fulsome trial and others who want a speedy process toward acquittal for Trump. They also noted that it’s entirely possible one or both sides would choose to yield back some of their time during the presentations.
Only after the opening arguments and questions are completed does McConnell want the Senate to debate the questions of compelling witnesses and documents.
Will we see witnesses?
Democrats don’t want to wait that long to resolve the witness issue and plan to force early debate and votes on the question by pressing for amendments to the organizing resolution. Most Republicans, including key swing votes like Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, say they won’t even consider calling witnesses until after the opening arguments so this effort by Democrats appears poised to fail, although it will draw attention to their push for new testimony.
Fifty-one senators have to vote for witnesses, so if all 47 Democrats are unified, only four Republicans would need to support it to pass. It’s still an open question if those three Republicans vote to hear witnesses, if they can also wrangle a fourth as well.
Will the entire trial be open to the public?
The Senate may go into closed session at certain times because impeachment trial rules prevent senators from speaking. During the Clinton trial, some of this was done in the Old Senate Chamber down the hall from the Senate chamber but this time they plan to stay on the Senate floor. We have no idea how long these closed sessions could last. But it’s possible to happen next Tuesday and then again after the opening arguments and questions.
In fact, the reason Senate authorities are planning to put metal detectors where the press enter the chamber — something that has rankled the Capitol press corps — is because they want to ensure no devices are left in the chamber that could record those closed sessions, according to a Republican aide.
How long will the trial go?
Entirely unknown right now, especially with Republicans considering condensing the schedule. Some of Trump’s supporters are hoping the trial will be done by the time he is scheduled to address the Congress and the nation with his State of the Union address on February 4.
Bill Clinton’s trial lasted for about five weeks, from January 7, 1999 through February 12, 1999.
How will evidence be handled?
All the evidence sent over by the House of Representatives from the impeachment inquiry will be considered at the trial.
For any new evidence that surfaces to be admitted and presented during the trial, 51 senators would have to vote to approve it. But if any senator or Trump’s legal team objects — Chief Justice John Roberts could either rule on it or punt it back to have senators vote to decide. Senators could also overrule the chief justice.
Most Senate Democrats appear to be unified on wanting to include any new pertinent evidence or materials about the President’s dealings in Ukraine that emerge after the start of the trial. On the other side, many Senate Republicans have said they don’t want to consider new evidence and blame the House for not conducting a complete investigation before impeaching Trump.
Who will make the case to convict or acquit the President?
House impeachment managers will act as prosecutors making the case against Trump, and White House legal counsel Pat Cipollone will lead a team of lawyers that the President selected to defend him and make the case for his acquittal, with Chief Justice Roberts presiding over the chamber.
The impeachment managers were announced by Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday and includes House Intelligence Chair Rep. Adam Schiff of California as the lead manager, and the six will be:
- Judiciary chairman, Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York
- Chairman of the Democratic Caucus Rep Hakeem Jeffries of New York
- Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, who is on the Judiciary Committee and has also worked on three House impeachment inquiries
- Rep. Val Demings of Florida who is on the Judiciary and Intelligence committees
- Rep. Sylvia Garcia of Texas, a freshman who is on the Judiciary Committee
- Rep. Jason Crow of Colorado, also a freshman lawmaker who is a former lawyer
On the other side, Trump’s defense team, led by Cipollone, will make the case for his acquittal. Cipollone will be joined by lawyer Jay Sekulow, and according to people familiar, Trump will add to his defense team, constitutional lawyer Alan Dershowitz, Bill Clinton special prosecutor Ken Starr and Robert Ray, who was also part of Clinton’s impeachment prosecution team. Two other lawyers assisting the team include, Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and Trump’s longtime personal counsel Jane Raskin.
Will the Senate still conduct any legislative business?
It’s possible some legislation business could be conducted between noon and 12:30 p.m. ET each day they are in session.
The only measure that’s out there that appears ready to get a vote is Sen. Tim Kaine’s War Powers Resolution. It is a privileged motion, so Kaine can force a vote on it. It’s expected to legislatively “ripen” next week so a vote is possible, but not set.