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How impeachment hearings in the Senate will work

January 21, 2020, 3:24 PM UTC

The U.S. Senate, which includes four presidential candidates among its body of 100 lawmakers, will begin the impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump on Tuesday afternoon. They are expected to move swiftly and in the direction of Trump’s full acquittal under the careful watch of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. 

McConnell released a four-page memo late Monday evening that laid out the way he expected the hearings to advance. Those proposed rules will be debated and voted on in the Senate this afternoon but should pass the united Republican-majority legislative body with little fanfare, despite loud protests by Democratic leadership.

The rules give the president’s attorneys and House impeachment managers just 24 hours over two days each to argue their sides. That means the majority of the trial could be over in just four days, well ahead of President Trump’s February 4th State of the Union Address to Congress.

The rules also mean that the trial will likely extend into the early hours of the morning, taking place in grueling, marathon sessions.

During President Bill Clinton’s impeachment hearings, managers and attorneys were also given 24 hours to make their opening arguments, but those hours weren’t constricted to two calendar days.

“McConnell’s resolution stipulates that key facts be delivered in the wee hours of the night simply because he doesn’t want the American people to hear them,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in a statement on Monday evening.

Opening arguments could begin as early as Wednesday at 1 p.m. E.T. 

After arguments are heard, senators will have a 16-hour period in which they can submit questions to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the hearings. After that, the Senate will vote up or down on whether to allow any witness subpoenas.

Republicans will likely block the measure, but if they’re unable to do so, each side will be allowed to make motions for each new witness or evidence subpoena, which will also be subject to a vote. 

That means Republicans will have to approve of every witness or piece of evidence Democrats wish to submit.

McConnell, who in the past said he would stick to the Clinton impeachment rules, also included another hurdle not seen in 1999. The Senate will not automatically include House evidence in its trial record. That will have to also be admitted by vote. 

On Tuesday, Schumer told MSNBC that the no witnesses or documents clause was offensive to the “basic American sense of fairness,” and that it all but guaranteed a lopsided trial.  

“Everything in these rules is rigged…They are so afraid, so afraid of the facts coming out that they want things to be presented at two, three in the morning. Give me a break,” he said.

Schumer said that the Democratic strategy relied heavily on the 2020 elections, and that his party would use Republicans going on the record to deny the entry of any evidence into the hearing against them, but that for now their hands were relatively tied in a “rigged game.”

President Trump will be represented in the trial by White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, personal lawyer and conservative radio talk show host Jay Sekulow, former O.J. Simpson lawyer and Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz, former President Bill Clinton investigator Ken Starr, former federal prosecutor and frequent Fox News guest Robert Ray, former attorney general of Florida Pam Bondi, former federal attorney Jane Raskin, and longtime personal lawyer Eric D. Herschmann. 

The group is not expected to deny any allegations that the President put pressure on Ukrainian officials to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden in exchange for critical aid, but will instead argue that the articles of impeachment presented by the House don’t allege that Trump actually broke the law. 

The House will send seven Democrats, known as managers, to argue their case in Senate.

They include Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), and Representatives Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Val Demings (D-Fla.), Jason Crow (D-Colo.), and Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas). All of the Democrats are lawyers with the exception of Demings, who was previously the police chief of Florida. 

Democrats are expected to rely heavily on a new report out by the Government Accountability Office, an independent watchdog agency, which found that Trump broke the law by withholding $400 million in aid to Ukraine “for a policy reason” this summer. 

“Faithful execution of the law does not permit the president to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law,” the GAO wrote Thursday. “The withholding was not a programmatic delay.”

Meanwhile, a CNN poll out Monday found that the majority of Americans, 51%, would like to see the President impeached and removed from office. A slight minority, 45%, said they would like the President to remain in office. The numbers show that American voters are invested and involved in the impeachment process, with just 4% having no concrete opinion ahead of the Senate trials.   

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