Presidential Impeachment Trial Set to Begin January 21

Federal Judicial Milestones Event at the White House
President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

With formal articles of impeachment being passed by the House last December, the resolution was submitted to the Senate on January 16, where a trial will be organized to determine whether President Trump will be removed from office. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) submitted a trial process that is expected to begin on Tuesday January 21, and has stated that he expects a swift and just trial.

The official articles of impeachment accuse Trump of two high crimes: first, the abuse of power via alleged foreign interference with the US electoral process, and second, obstruction of Congress to investigate his actions. The investigation began in August of 2019 and culminated in a vote in December 2019 that passed with 229 votes, mostly along party lines, with all Republicans and 3 Democrats voting against impeachment. The current House membership has 235 Democrats and 199 Republican voters.

The resolution comes at an inconvenient time for Trump, who is expected to run for re-election in less than a year, and whose presidency has been faced with fierce opposition by the Democratic members of Congress. The trial is coinciding with the presidential nomination process that is currently being conducted by the DNC.

Senate impeachment trials are conducted differently than typical civil or criminal trials. The Supreme Court Chief Justice, John Roberts, will preside, but most likely will not insert himself into either side of the dispute. Because senators vote and are essentially the “jury,” they do not speak and only submit questions in writing. Attorneys representing the House will present their arguments to prosecute the President, and the White House will present its defense from its team of attorneys, some of which participated in the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton. Following these presentations, there may be votes about whether to call certain witnesses to testify. Once the trial is ready to conclude, the Senate will vote whether to remove Trump from office – an action that requires a supermajority, meaning out of 100 votes, there must be 67 votes to pass. In a Senate composed of 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats, and 2 independents, and with a trial that has been labeled by Republicans has a purely political move, this is an unlikely outcome.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer criticized McConnell’s submitted process, claiming that it prevented key witnesses and evidence from being admitted to the trial, also stating that it would be in the best interests of the Republican party to conclude the trial well ahead of the next election. However, there may not be much that he can do, because the Senate can pass resolutions defining the process with a simple majority. Meaning the Senate can define the rules of the trial by voting on them, and in a Republican-controlled Senate, passing those resolutions could be possible despite protests from Senate Democrats.

Still, the trial is far from an open-and-shut case. With potential swing votes at stake, an intense amount of attention around the trial, and an election less than a year away, any evidence and arguments presented during the trial will be met with enormous scrutiny. The White House has billed the trial as a “hoax” and a “witch hunt” in a letter written by President Trump to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, one of the most outspoken proponents of the impeachment measure. Still, it appears that the White House is not underestimating the potential impact of the trial, hiring a star-studded team of attorneys to represent the President. Because only three US presidents have been impeached in history, and only one other (Bill Clinton) has been impeached in the last 100 years, attorneys with actual impeachment experience are rare. The team includes Kenneth Starr, who investigated Clinton during his impeachment trial, former Harvard law professor and constitutional expert Alan Dershowitz, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, and Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow, who represented Trump during Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

Today, the team filed a 171-page memorandum declaring the accusations as a “brazenly political act,” and that “all that House Democrats have succeeded in proving is that the President did absolutely nothing wrong.”