Impeachment trial will kick off with battle over witnesses

By Marianne LeVine

The impeachment trial of President Donald Trump is now underway. And it's going to move fast.

Just an hour after senators were sworn in, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he will likely force votes on witnesses on Tuesday — setting up a contentious fight when the Senate returns from the three-day weekend. Senate Democrats have called for subpoenaing four witnesses, including former Trump national security adviser John Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.

"We expect that we will have votes on these witnesses on Tuesday but can't be sure until we see the resolution that McConnell has put together," said Schumer on Thursday, who lambasted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for not sharing the text of the trial procedures with Democrats.

"It's amazing that at this moment we still haven't seen it," he said.

But their calls for agreeing to hear witnesses at the outset of the trial have been rebuffed by McConnell. The GOP majority's trial blueprint kicks the question of whether to hear witnesses until after House managers and the president's defense present their case.

The Senate trial officially began Thursday, when the seven Democratic House managers who will argue the case for removing Trump from office presented the articles of impeachment to the Senate.

"The Senate will receive the managers of the House of Representatives to exhibit the articles of impeachment against Donald John Trump, president of the United States,” said McConnell Thursday at the start to the proceeding to formally begin the trial.

The managers, appointed on Wednesday by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, entered the Senate chamber with solemn expressions, accompanied by the Senate Sergeant at Arms. After entering the Senate chamber, the Sergeant at Arms presented the impeachment managers. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the lead impeachment manager, then read aloud the articles of impeachment.

"President Trump used the powers of the presidency in a manner that compromised the national security of the United States and undermined the integrity of the United States democratic process," Schiff read.

The House impeached Trump on Dec. 18 on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress for pressuring Ukraine to investigate his political rivals and for blocking the House from further investigating the scandal. Trump's Senate trial is the third presidential impeachment trial in American history.

Senators mostly sat stone-faced as Schiff read the charges, though several occasionally scribbled on their fresh notebooks in front of them. Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), who led the charge to impeach Trump, sat aside Senate staff, soaking the moment in. Senators did not speak to each other or look at their phones, an immediate deviation from usual Senate conduct.

Senators will not be allowed to bring their cell phones into the Senate chamber while the trial is underway and by 2 p.m. there was almost no trace of their electronic devices.

Chief Justice John Roberts arrived in the Senate Thursday afternoon and entered the chamber, escorted by Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). Roberts, wearing a black robe, was sworn in by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the Senate’s president pro tempore. He proceeded to administer the oath to “do impartial justice” to the senators in the chamber. The senators then, in groups of four, signed the oath book, overseen by Julie Adams, Secretary of the Senate.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who had a family emergency, was the only senator missing from the trial. He will need to be sworn in Tuesday.

In addition to Schiff, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has selected as managers House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.) and Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas) to present the House case.

Despite Thursday's ceremonial proceedings, the impeachment trial will not begin in earnest until Tuesday, with the contentious vote on the rules package to govern the trial. Twenty years ago, Leahy successfully pitched Senate leadership on an all-senators meeting to avoid a partisan set of Senate rules. He asked Schumer and McConnell to consider doing the same this time, to no avail so far.

“I’ve suggested it. I’ll leave it up to them,” he said on Thursday.

While the Senate is gone, the House and president's defense team will file their briefs. The House has until Saturday and the president's brief is due Monday. The House will file a second brief Tuesday.

The mood on the Hill was somber, as members prepared for the trial.

"The feeling on the Senate floor, the mood on the floor is much different," said Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill. ). "I sensed it last night when the articles arrived and even again today. Certainly more security but also a sense of seriousness."

Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said Thursday morning he was feeling "a little fatigue" and "stayed up late last night trying to get ready ... trying to go through the transcript of the Clinton impeachment proceedings."

Despite the seriousness of the occasion, Senate and House leadership were not above partisan sparring Thursday morning. Prior to the arrival of the House managers, McConnell mocked Pelosi for handing out commemorative pens to House managers after signing the articles of impeachment.

Handing out commemorative pens is a common occurrence after official signings.

“The speaker distributed souvenir pens to her own colleagues, emblazoned with her own golden signature, that literally came in on silver platters,” the Kentucky Republican said on the Senate floor. “Nothing says seriousness and sobriety like handing out souvenirs as though this were a happy bill signing instead of the gravest process in our Constitution.”

McConnell also reiterated his criticism that the House rushed through the impeachment process and said it’s now time for the Senate to “honor our founding purpose.”

Schumer shot back at McConnell for criticizing House Democrats and argued the GOP leader was the one trying to ram the trial through the Senate.

“He complains about processes, pens and signing ceremonies, but still does not address the charges against the president and why we shouldn’t have witnesses and documents,” Schumer said. “We’re waiting. Rise to the occasion.”

“I hope that the senators do not become part of the president’s henchmen,” Pelosi warned Thursday. “Any further evidence should not be avoided and now the ball is in the court of the Senate.”

Burgess Everett, Heather Caygle, and Kyle Cheney contributed to this report.