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After an opening salvo of back-and-forth arguments from President Trump’s attorneys and Democrats’ impeachment managers on Monday, Senate impeachment trial proceedings are set to begin at 1 p.m. ET on Tuesday with the expectation they will stretch well into a wild night on Capitol Hill — even as key procedural questions, including the timeline for debate and whether additional witnesses will testify, remain undecided and hotly contentious.
In a surprise move Monday night, a detachment of high-profile House Republicans announced that they would formally join the president’s legal team, including Reps. Doug Collins, Mike Johnson, Jim Jordan, Debbie Lesko, Mark Meadows, John Ratcliffe, Elise Stefanik and Lee Zeldin. The last-minute show of force underscored the fluid nature of the Senate trial, which is also set to feature full-throated arguments against impeachment from constitutional scholar Alan Dershowitz and Bill Clinton independent counsel Ken Starr.
“We are not planning for them to present statements on the Senate floor,” a senior administration official told Fox News, referring to the latest additions to Trump’s defense team, headed up by White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and Trump’s personal attorney Jay Sekulow. “The group will continue to give critical guidance on the case because of their strong familiarity with the facts and evidence.”
Sekulow told Fox News’ “Hannity” on Monday night that Trump’s legal team was “champing at the bit and ready to go.” He maintained that executive privilege, a longstanding constitutional principle protecting executive branch deliberations from disclosure, by itself defeated the “obstruction of Congress” article of impeachment, while Democrats had only hearsay and insubstantial evidence to support their “abuse of power” charge.
Democrats, meanwhile, have seethed openly ever since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., failed in her gambit to force Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s hand before the House would turn over the articles of impeachment to the Senate. Pelosi had sought a commitment allowing Democrats to call witnesses prior to arguments in the trial — but, with just hours to go until the proceedings commenced, McConnell, R-Ky., dashed those hopes.
McConnell specifically revealed Monday that he wanted a condensed, two-day calendar for each side to give opening statements, at 12 hours per day. After the four days of opening arguments, senators would be allowed up to 16 hours for written questions to the prosecution and defense, followed by four hours of debate. Only then would there be votes on calling other witnesses, likely next week. At the end of deliberations, the Senate would then vote on each impeachment article.
Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney said in a statement Monday night that McConnell’s resolution, overall, “aligns closely with the rules package approved 100-0 during the Clinton trial. If attempts are made to vote on witnesses prior to opening arguments, I would oppose those efforts.” Romney was among a small number of Republican senators who said they wanted to consider witness testimony and documents that weren’t part of the House impeachment investigation.
Democrats, however, were incensed. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called McConnell’s rules package a “national disgrace,” adding, “it’s clear Sen. McConnell is hell-bent on making it much more difficult to get witnesses and documents and intent on rushing the trial through.”
Even before McConnell’s announcement, congressional Democrats apparently were off-balance: “The House managers have absolutely no idea what the structure of the trial two days before the trial begins,” one source with House Democrats working on the impeachment trial complained to Fox News late Sunday.
“It is completely unfathomable,” fumed another source with the Democrats. “Is Sen. McConnell going to have 12-hour trial days which run until 2 or 3 in the morning?”
McConnell is expected to kick off the afternoon’s proceedings by introducing his proposed resolution for the parameters for the trial, which he has said will pass with at least 53 votes. Senators will not be directly speaking out in the debate over McConnell’s resolution, which is slated to last for approximately two hours — only members of Trump’s defense team, and the seven Democrats serving as House impeachment managers, are expected to participate.
Schumer likely will then present his counter-proposals to McConnell’s motion, followed by another two hours of debate among the managers and Trump’s counsel. Potential proposals include requests to subpoena specific witnesses — including, perhaps, Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas or former National Security Adviser John Bolton — or to adjust debate time.
Then, at approximately 6 p.m. ET or even later, Fox News is told to expect a closed Senate session of indeterminate length after the debates. When the Senate returns to open session, lawmakers — including two leading Democratic presidential contenders, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders — likely will vote in turn on any amendments to McConnell’s proposal, then McConnell’s proposal itself.
McConnell’s proposal also was said to include a so-called “kill switch,” allowing Trump’s team to move to dismiss the articles of impeachment in the Senate quickly.