The Senate will meet on Tuesday at 1 p.m. to start the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history.
The substance of the case against U.S. President Donald Trump is well known: The President is accused of demanding Ukraine’s President tarnish Joe Biden, one of his potential rivals in this year’s election, and withholding nearly US$400-million to turn up the pressure. Last month, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives impeached him for abuse of office and obstruction of Congress.
The actual process the trial will follow is still up in the air.
Under the U.S. Constitution, the Senate serves as jury in an impeachment case, with the chief justice of the Supreme Court presiding. If two-thirds of senators vote to convict, the President is kicked out of office.
Other than that, the Constitution doesn’t spell out the rules for the trial, leaving the 100 members of the upper chamber to decide for themselves. Even the length of the proceeding is uncertain: It could be finished in less than two weeks or stretch on for months.
Here is what we know so far about how Mr. Trump’s trial will unfold and what to watch for in the coming days.
What the process will (likely) look like
Under Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s proposed rules for the trial, to be presented on Tuesday, both sides will get 24 hours each over two days to make their arguments.
This would mean four potentially gruelling 12-hour days.
First, a group of seven “trial managers” – Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives – will lay out the case against the President, based on the evidence gathered in hearings in the fall. Then, Mr. Trump’s lawyers will present their defence. Afterward, senators will submit questions for both sides through Chief Justice John Roberts, with 16 hours set aside for to deal with them.
After that, each side will get two hours to argue in favour of or against calling witnesses, followed by a vote on the matter by the Senate.
Witnesses and other evidence
The Democrats want to call witnesses who didn’t testify at the hearings in the fall. They also want to introduce evidence that has emerged since the House’s December impeachment vote.
This would likely include hearing from John Bolton, Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, and Lev Parnas, a businessman who says he was involved in efforts to dig up dirt on Mr. Biden in Ukraine. The Democrats also want to introduce as evidence a report from the Government Accountability Office, a congressional watchdog, that last week ruled the White House broke the law by freezing military aid to Ukraine.
Both previous presidential Senate trials, Andrew Johnson’s in 1868 and Bill Clinton’s in 1999, heard from witnesses and lasted about two months. In Mr. Clinton’s case, witnesses testified in videoed depositions that were played for the senators rather than appearing before the Senate in person.
The White House does not want the Democrats to call witnesses or bring in new evidence, setting up a fight over the rules. Some Republicans have threatened to have Mr. Biden testify, as well as unmask the confidential whistle-blower who alerted Congress to the Ukraine scandal, if the Democrats succeed in adding witnesses to the trial.
When will this process be decided?
With 53 seats, the Republican caucus has the power to pass Mr. McConnell’s rules – which would leave the matter of witnesses undecided until later in the trial – if it sticks together. This would then be followed by any pretrial motions, to be filed no later than Wednesday. Once those are dealt with, the trial would begin.
But Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Senate Minority Leader, has vowed to try to force a vote on the calling of witnesses at the start of the trial. Mr. Schumer would need at least four Republicans to defy Mr. McConnell and vote with the Democrats to make this happen.
Will the Republicans try to scrap the trial entirely?
In theory, the Republicans could vote to dismiss the charges against Mr. Trump without holding a trial. The President’s legal team has hinted they may bring forward a motion calling on the Senate to do exactly that. But Mr. McConnell has said there isn’t enough support in the Republican caucus to actually pass such a motion.
The stringent rules on both senators and journalists
Senators will be required to stay completely silent during the trial, and won’t be allowed to use electronic devices such as phones.
Journalists will have to pass through two security screenings: the customary one on entering the building and another to get into the gallery, and will be confined to a roped-off pen in the halls around the chamber. News cameras will be shut out of the proceedings: A senate-controlled feed will provide video of the trial.
The de facto chief prosecutor will be Adam Schiff, who oversaw impeachment hearings in the fall as chair of the House intelligence committee. He will be helped by six other Democrats: Jerry Nadler, Hakeem Jeffries, Val Demings, Zoe Lofgren, Sylvia Garcia and Jason Crow.
The President’s defence will be led by White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Jay Sekulow, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer. They will be joined by Ken Starr, the former special counsel who investigated Mr. Clinton, and Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor who regularly defends Mr. Trump on cable TV. Other members of the team include Mike Purpura, Patrick Philbin, Jane Raskin, Pam Bondi and Robert Ray.
The case against the President and his defence
The Democrats will argue it was unconstitutional for Mr. Trump to solicit foreign interference in the 2020 election; that he compromised U.S. national security by withholding the military aid, which was meant to help Ukraine fight a proxy war with the United States’ Russian adversaries; and that the President improperly stonewalled Congress by barring White House officials from co-operating with the impeachment inquiry.
Mr. Trump’s legal team contends the President had the right to ask Ukraine to investigate Mr. Biden; that Democrats have not proven Mr. Trump’s freezing of military aid to Ukraine was related to his request for investigations; and that Mr. Trump’s decision not to co-operate with Congress’s impeachment investigation was a legitimate use of executive privilege.
Will Mr. Trump be kicked out of office?
Almost inconceivable. Not a single Republican senator has indicated they will help the Democrats reach the two-thirds threshold to convict the President.