Trump Impeachment Trial: What Happened on Day One in the Senate

January 22, 2020 Updated: January 22, 2020
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Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and 100 senators gathered in the Senate chambers in Washington on Tuesday for the start of the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump.

Trump’s team of lawyers, led by White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and the president’s person lawyer, Jay Sekulow, argued in support of a resolution introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that outlined initial trial guidelines.

House impeachment managers, including House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), testified in support of amendments proposed by Senate Democrats, including one that would have guaranteed witnesses would be called, and others that would subpoena specific witnesses, including former national security adviser John Bolton and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.

Republicans have a 53-47 majority in the Senate. GOP members shot down all eleven proposed amendments, with only one—the last one—getting any votes from across the aisle. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) broke with her party to support the amendment, which still failed 48-52.

The Senate approved McConnell’s resolution in a party-line vote in the early hours of Wednesday. That means opening arguments from Trump’s team and House Democrats will start Wednesday afternoon after the trial resumes at 1 p.m.

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This artist sketch depicts White House counsel Pat Cipollone speaking in the Senate chamber during the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, at the Capitol in Washington on Jan. 21, 2020. (Dana Verkouteren via AP)

Trump was impeached on Dec. 18, 2019, by the House of Representatives in a sharply partisan vote that saw no Republicans vote to impeach the president but four Democrats break from their party to vote “present” or “no” to at least one article of impeachment.

The two articles charged the president with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

House Democrats held the articles for about three weeks before submitting them to the Senate. After senators and Roberts were sworn in on Jan. 16, the trial started on Jan. 21. It’s the third presidential impeachment trial in the history of the country. No president has ever been removed from office through impeachment.

Convicting Trump, or removing him from office, would require a supermajority vote on one of the articles of impeachment. Acquitting him, or dismissing the articles, requires a simple majority.

An acquittal is widely expected.

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Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) arrives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 22, 2020. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Fight Over Witnesses

The first day was consumed with an ongoing fight over witnesses: whether to call them, when they should be subpoenaed if subpoenas are issued, and who should be called if any are called.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has repeatedly dismissed House Democrats’ impeachment case against Trump, calling it “weak” and “rushed.” He’s argued that the House is attempting to foist its responsibility onto the Senate in terms of calling witnesses and hearing additional testimony.

More than a dozen witnesses testified during the House impeachment inquiry but many lacked firsthand knowledge of the events outlined in the articles of impeachment, including four constitutional law professors. Other witnesses included U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, National Security Council official Alexander Vindman, and former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

A number of former or current White House officials refused to testify, including Mulvaney and Charles Kupperman, a former aide to Bolton. The House subpoenaed Kupperman but a judge declined to rule on a lawsuit the ex-aide filed after the House dropped the subpoena.

House Democrats declined to call witnesses requested by House Republicans, including former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden and the person who filed a complaint against Trump over the July 2019 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

McConnell’s resolution means the trial will start without addressing the matter of witnesses.

“I’m confident that the organizing resolution will allow us to do our due diligence, bring this process to a close in a timely manner, and get back to doing the work that the people of South Dakota sent me here to do,” Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.). said in a statement.

“I voted for the resolution because the rules are fair to both sides,” added Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.). “Consistent with the precedent established by the Senate during the Clinton impeachment trial, I believe that Senators should hear the arguments from both sides and have the opportunity to ask questions before determining whether additional evidence is needed.”

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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) holds a press conference about the Senate impeachment trial of Republican President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 22, 2020, ahead of opening arguments. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

The Rest of the Week

The resolution gives House managers and attorneys for the president up to 24 hours each to make opening arguments. After both sides complete giving their presentations, senators will get a chance to submit written questions to either side. The period in which answers can be given will last up to 16 hours.

The Senate will then debate and vote on whether to subpoena additional witnesses or documents.

Senate Democrats and House impeachment managers criticized the GOP’s refusal to immediately vote on witnesses, arguing that those close to Trump could provide information pertinent to the case.

“If there is one thing we learned from a series of votes on the Senate floor it is that Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans don’t want a fair trial that considers all the evidence,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said at a press conference on Wednesday morning.

“Yesterday we put the spotlight on the number one issue of having a fair trial, witnesses and documents, just the spotlight alone. I predict that as a result, that spotlight will continue to focus on witnesses and documents and the pressure will continue to build on Republican senators.”

Schumer said Senate Democrats would keep pressing for amendments.

“The motions will be made. Right now we have the arguments by House managers, then the arguments by the president’s lawyers, then there will be a question period,” he said.

“We will certainly try to find ways—whether it is the House managers who want to do it themselves or us—to get direct vote on each witness and document, once again, after the arguments are made.”

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House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) walks along the Ohio Clock Corridor following the first day of President Donald Trump’s Senate Impeachment Trial in Washington on Jan. 22, 2020. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

The Defense and Prosecution

Along with Cipollone and Sekulow, Trump’s team includes Harvard Law School professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz, former independent counsel Kenneth Starr, former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, and former federal prosecutor Robert Ray.

Trump also announced this week that eight House Republicans would assist in the defense effort. They are Reps. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Mike Johnson (R-La.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.), Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.).

Schiff is leading the team attempting to convince senators to convict Trump.

Joining him and Nadler are Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Val Demings (D-Fla.), Jason Crow (D-Colo.), and Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas).

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In this image from video, presiding officer Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts speaks during the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, on Jan. 21, 2020. (Senate Television via AP)

Jury and Judge

Roberts, the head judge of the nation’s highest court, will preside over the trial.

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.

In a rare rebuke issued early Wednesday, Roberts admonished both the House managers and Trump’s lawyers after an intense back-and-forth.

The hundred senators, meanwhile, are acting like a jury in the partisan trial.

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 can only drink milk or water and also aren’t allowed to speak during the proceedings.

Four Democratic presidential contenders are among those gathered in Washington: Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber