How Will the Trump Impeachment Trial Unfold?

Senators will convene on Tuesday for what is widely expected to be a bruising partisan battle over the rules governing the impeachment trial.

How Will the Trump Impeachment Trial Unfold?

The Democrats want to bring in witnesses and documents that weren’t part of the House proceedings, and the Republicans are seeking a speedy process and acquittal.

All eyes are on Capitol Hill where the first day of Donald Trump’s impeachment trial is scheduled to get underway at 1 p.m. ET.

House Democrats impeached Trump last month on two charges: abuse of power by holding back congressionally-mandated military aid to Ukraine after Trump asked Ukraine’s President Zelensky to investigate 2020 Democratic hopeful Joe Biden for corruption, and refusing to cooperate with the Democrat-led investigation.

The Democrats passed two articles of impeachment in the Senate, and the trial, which formally opened last Thursday with the swearing-in of 100 senators,  will resume today with what is expected to be a heated debate over ground rules.

Here’s a brief guide to what will happen today.


What will be the rules?

First, the sides must agree on the rules that will govern the trial. Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell is expected to offer the initial parameters, which will modify those used in Bill Clinton’s 1999 trial.

He wants both Trump’s legal team and House ‘managers’ – acting as prosecutors – to have just two days each to present their opening arguments, followed by questions from senators. This indicates the Republican’s desire to make the timeline of the trial as compressed as possible, in line with their repeated pledges.

The Democrats want to call four additional witnesses – former and incumbent White House officials – who defied House subpoenas in the fall and get more documents they say could provide evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Donald Trump in the Ukraine affair.

The Republicans have previously floated the idea of having Joe Bien and his son Hunter, who are also at the centre of the scandal, testify in the Senate.

Then the senators will vote on the rules for the trial; although the senators are barred from speaking on the floor during the trial, it will likely take them hours to consider the rules resolution.

A simple majority vote of 51 senators is required to pass a resolution. With the Republicans holding a 53-47 majority, the vote is widely expected to favour a speedy trial, although a small group of just four Republicans could still turn the tables.

The opening arguments for are expected to start Wednesday.


Who are the key figures?

Chief Justice John Roberts will be presiding over the trial. Unlike his position in the Supreme Court, Roberts will have a limited role in the process, mainly ceremonial. According to Senate rules, Roberts, as the presiding officer, may rule on key issues about evidence, but his decisions can immediately be reversed by a simple majority vote.

Roberts will still direct the proceedings by calling the Senate to order (did he take any lessons from John Bercow?) and decide when to adjourn, as well as read aloud written questions senators submit to him.

“I would anticipate the chief justice would not actually make any rulings,” McConnell said. “He would simply submit a motion to the body and we would vote.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has selected seven House Democrats as impeachment managers who will argue the case to impeach Trump to the jury (i.e. the senators).

These are Adam Schiff, chairman of the Intelligence Committee; Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the Judiciary; Hakeem Jeffries, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus; Zoe Lofgren, who worked on both impeachment cases against Clinton and Nixon; Val Demings, the former police chief of Orlando; and two freshmen representatives, Sylvia Garcia and Jason Crow.


Trump’s legal team notably includes no House Republicans. Defending Trump in the Senate will be Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel in Bill Clinton's impeachment; Robert Ray, his successor as the head of the Office of Independent Counsel; White House Counsel Pat Cipollone; deputy White House Counsel Patrick Philbin; deputy White House Counsel Mike Purpura and former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. Other members of Trump’s team are his long-time personal attorney Jay Sekulow; Trump’s personal counsel Jane Raskin who represented him in the Mueller investigation, celebrity lawyer Alan Dershowitz; and attorneys Robert Ray and Eric Herschmann.