Courtesy of The Nation
By Jeremy Perillo
The impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump is finally underway nearly a month after articles of impeachment were passed by the House of Representatives in mid-December. After several days of swearing-in ceremonies and discussion surrounding trial rules and procedures, Senators sat in their assigned desks and listened as House managers, and President Trump’s attorneys made their opening remarks on Wednesday afternoon.
For the third time in American history, the President of the United States is defending himself against articles of impeachment which could bring Trump’s term to an abrupt end. While this is highly unlikely for the 45th President, every part of the impeachment process is necessary, according to the U.S. Constitution.
Impeachment must start in the House of Representatives with a formal impeachment inquiry, where the House Judiciary Committee must investigate and determine whether the President has committed “Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors.” From there, articles of impeachment are written and put to vote on the House floor.
A certain number of Representatives, called impeachment managers, are picked to prosecute the impeachment and are responsible for delivering the evidence behind the decision to impeach. It is the responsibility of the Senate to act as a jury in whether or not the President is guilty.
With Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts serving as an “umpire” through the proceedings, Senators must follow strict guidelines on how to behave during the trial.
Some of those guidelines are: Senators are asked to be present at all times during the proceedings, they are asked not to hold a conversation or chat with any neighboring Senators while the case is being presented, and they must not bring in any phones or electronic devices. These three rules are out of ten published guidelines outlining decorum for the event, in addition to increased gallery security and press access.
Senators were seen throughout Wednesday taking down notes, passing notes to colleagues and leadership via pages, and sneaking treats throughout the several hours long trial. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky was caught hiding a crossword puzzle under papers on his desk.
These long hours will continue for Senators as opening arguments for the trial are scheduled to span over three days with each side getting twenty-four hours to make their case. Trial days are set to begin at 1 pm and end at roughly 9 pm.
Following opening arguments, Senators will have sixteen hours to submit questions through Chief Justice Roberts, to either the House impeachment managers or Trump’s defense team. Then the Senate will decide on whether to subpoena additional witnesses by mere majority vote.
Mitch McConnell has been adamant against allowing new witnesses to testify and is expected to rally his Republican caucus to block witness testimony, which would bring a quick end to the proceedings.
“It could dramatically change the separation of powers between the House and the Senate if the Senate agrees we will conduct both the investigation and the trial of an impeachment,” said McConnell to his colleagues on the floor Tuesday.
If a majority of the Senate votes against allowing new witnesses, the Senate will then move to vote on convicting or acquitting President Trump on each separate article of impeachment. If a handful of Senate Republicans break with McConnell and vote to allow witnesses, the trial could be extended for weeks as House managers and Trump’s defense team depose the witnesses behind closed doors.
It is after those witness depositions and closing arguments that the Senate will take the fateful vote on impeachment and decide whether President Trump is guilty of the charges brought against him by the House of Representatives.