Guide to the Trump Impeachment Trial in the Senate

January 20, 2020 Updated: January 22, 2020
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The impeachment trial of President Donald Trump will start on Jan. 21, as all 100 U.S. senators gather in Washington to vote on initial trial guidelines.

Senators will hear from Trump’s legal team and House impeachment managers as soon as Jan. 21, before submitting written questions to both sides. According to the Republican majority, the matter of whether to call witnesses will be decided after both sides present their cases and the questions are answered.

Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives on Dec. 18, 2019, without a single Republican vote. The two articles of impeachment charge him with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

The Judge

Chief Justice John Roberts, who will preside over the trial, was sworn in on Jan. 16.

Roberts, 64, was nominated to the Supreme Court in 2005 by President George W. Bush. He was directly confirmed to be chief justice following the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

Unlike other trials, if Roberts does make a ruling, 51 senators can vote to overrule him.

Epoch Times Photo
Presiding officer Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts swears in members of the Senate for the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 16, 2020, in this image from video. (Senate Television via AP)
Epoch Times Photo
Presiding officer Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts swears in members of the Senate for the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 16, 2020, in this image from video. (Senate Television via AP)

The Jury

The Senate will hear the arguments for and against removing Trump from office. It holds enormous power during the proceedings, having the ability to dismiss the charges or acquit Trump with a simple majority vote, or to convict the president, removing him from office, with a 67-vote supermajority.

Senators are expected to be in attendance at all times during the proceedings and aren’t allowed to have phones or other electronics during the trial. They also aren’t allowed to speak during the proceedings.

Since the Republicans hold a 53–47 majority (including two independents who caucus with the Democrats) in the chamber, it’s widely considered unlikely that Trump will be convicted.

Witnesses

More than a dozen witnesses testified during the House impeachment inquiry. A majority vote is required to call witnesses during the Senate trial.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said the matter of witnesses won’t be included in the vote on initial trial guidelines, citing Senate rules set out in President Bill Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial.

If witnesses are called, Democrats are seeking the testimony of four witnesses, including former national security adviser John Bolton and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. Republicans have said they want to hear from former Vice President and current presidential hopeful Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.

The senators themselves, in their roles as jurors, will have the opportunity to submit questions in writing. Under the rules, senators may even be called as witnesses in the trial.

Prosecutors and the Defense

Seven representatives were chosen to present the House’s case against Trump, including House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).

Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler
House managers, led by Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff (2nd R) and Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Jerry Nadler (R) walk to the Senate on Jan. 16, 2020, to deliver the Articles of Impeachment against President Donald Trump, at the Capitol in Washington. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

In a normal courtroom proceeding, prosecutors aren’t aligned with a political party. In this case, all seven House impeachment managers are Democrats.

Trump’s team includes Harvard Law School professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz, White House counsel Pat Cipollone, and former independent counsel Ken Starr.

pat cipollone
White House counsel Pat Cipollone exits the U.S. Capitol after meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in Washington on Dec. 12, 2019. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, former federal prosecutor Robert Ray, and Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow are also on the team.

The Arguments

Democrats say Trump abused his office by asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to “look into” possible corruption by the Bidens, noting that Joe Biden is a Democratic presidential contender. They’ve sought to connect a hold placed on congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine to the request, arguing that Trump was using it to pressure Ukraine.

“The president withheld hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid to an ally at war with Russia, withheld a White House meeting that the president of Ukraine desperately sought to establish with his country and with his adversary the support of the United States, in order to coerce Ukraine into helping him cheat in the next election,” Schiff said on Jan. 19 during an appearance on ABC’s “This Week.”

Democrats also say Trump blocked Congress from investigating the allegations against him by declining to allow some current and former advisers to testify to the House.

Trump’s team says he can’t be removed for abuse of power, saying the prosecution needs “proof of an actual crime.”

“Abuse of power alone, and history has shown this, similar to also obstruction of Congress, those types of articles of impeachment have been tried on for size before, but they have not fared well,” Ray said on Jan. 19 in an appearance on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures.”

Trump, who will be in Davos, Switzerland, for the 2020 World Economic Forum during part of the trial, has repeatedly said he didn’t do anything wrong and that House Democrats are playing politics.

“They didn’t want John Bolton and others in the House. They were in too much of a rush. Now they want them all in the Senate. Not supposed to be that way!” he said on Twitter on Jan. 20.

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber