The impeachment trial of President Trump is beginning Tuesday in earnest. The 100 members of the US Senate, sworn to “do impartial justice," will consider whether to convict Trump and remove him from office, or acquit him of the impeachment charges passed by the Democratic-controlled House.
The House voted last week to transmit two articles of impeachment to the Senate, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi named the House managers who will act as prosecutors during the Sentate trial. The process is now in the Republican-dominated Senate’s control.
Some crucial details about the trial, including whether new witnesses or evidence will be introduced, are yet to be determined. But here’s everything we know about the trial so far.
What exactly is happening?
It is up to the Senate to weigh the evidence related to the articles of impeachment and decide whether to convict and remove Trump from office, or acquit him of the House’s charges. Both the House managers and lawyers defending the president will present evidence and arguments. Senators will act as jurors who decide the president’s fate. As in civil and criminal trials, the process is overseen by a judge: In this case, John Roberts, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, will preside.
The House has formally accused Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The House says Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine and a coveted White House meeting as he pressured the country’s new president to announce an investigation into former vice president Joe Biden, and an investigation into a debunked theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 US elections. Trump also stonewalled when the House tried to investigate, the House has charged.
Who are the important players?
On the prosecution side, Pelosi named seven House members to serve as impeachment managers, including two figures who should be familiar to anyone following the impeachment proceedings: Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler. The five others are Representatives Hakeem Jeffries of New York, Sylvia Garcia of Texas, Val Demings of Florida, Jason Crow of Colorado and Zoe Lofgren of California. Pelosi emphasized that all have experience in law enforcement or criminal justice.
Trump has named former commercial lawyer Pat Cipollone to lead his defense team. Cipollone has been serving as White House counsel since the departure of Don McGahn in October 2018. One of Trump’s personal lawyers, Jay Sekulow, will also serve on the team. Celebrity lawyers Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr are also on the team.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, a George W. Bush appointee, will preside over the proceedings. Though judges hold powerful positions in traditional trials, in the case of the impeachment trial, Roberts’ role is likely to be much more limited, according to an NPR analysis. The Senate, with a majority vote, can overrule Roberts’ rulings on things like the admission of witnesses and evidence, making his role more of a ceremonial one.
When will it begin?
Trump has expressed a desire to see the Senate dismiss the impeachment charges without ever holding a trial, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has reportedly indicated that’s not on the table. The Senate made some procedural moves beginning last week (including some as mundane as how to arrange the furniture), but the trial is expected to begin in earnest Tuesday as the sides begin presenting their arguments.
How long will it take?
It’s unclear. During the impeachment trial of President Clinton, 37 days elapsed between the beginning of the trial (Jan. 7, 1999) and the date of Clinton’s acquittal (Feb. 12, 1999). The speed of Trump’s trial will depend in part on whether the Senate allows witnesses to be called in for questioning, something that occurred during the Clinton trial, but that McConnell has resisted.
According to a rules package proposed by McConnell, each side will have 24 hours to make their opening arguments. That will be followed by sixteen hours for Senators to question each side’s legal team. After that, debate will begin on whether to call additional witnesses.
According to McConnell, the trial is expected to run six days a week, with Senators taking only Sundays off. All Senators are expected to attend, forcing several Democrats off the campaign trail, including Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Amy Klobuchar.
What are the possible outcomes?
Two-thirds of the Senate must vote in favor of conviction in order for Trump to be removed from office, and since Republicans control the Senate, that’s considered highly unlikely. No American president has ever been removed from office through impeachment: Both Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were impeached by the House but acquitted in the Senate. Richard Nixon resigned before the House voted to impeach him in the Watergate scandal.
If Trump is not convicted, it means he’ll follow the fate of Johnson and Clinton: His presidency will always carry the stain of impeachment, but he won’t be forced from office. The ultimate ruling on his presidency will come from the people, who will decide his fate in the November election.
Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.