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Congress irons out final details on the eve of Trump’s historic impeachment trial

Congress and the American people are preparing for the Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, which is set to begin on Tuesday. It's a historic first for the nation, as a president has never been impeached twice. Yamiche Alcindor and Lisa Desjardins join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Today Congress is preparing for the Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, which begins tomorrow.

    It's a historic first for the nation, as a president has never been impeached twice.

    Our Yamiche Alcindor and Lisa Desjardins joins me now.

    Hello to both of you on this Monday night.

    Lisa, to you first. We are just less than a day away, but they are still hammering out the details of how this is going to work. Tell us what you know at this point.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Remarkably, Judy, we just got the final details for this trial in the last couple of hours. This will be a shorter impeachment trial, it looks like, at least, than the first one for former President Trump.

    Let's go through how this is going to work. First of all, tomorrow, the first day of the trial, that day is being set aside for arguments over the constitutionality of this trial. There will be up to four hours of arguments. And then the Senate will vote on whether this is constitutional to try a former president.

    You may recall the Senate has taken a similar vote. They will do it again tomorrow. That is expected to pass. Then, Wednesday, for the rest of the week will the arguments of the trial itself, presentations by both sides, up to 16 hours per side, so four days total.

    Now, there is a note here. The trial will not meet on Saturday. They will recognize the Jewish Sabbath, as per the request of one of former President Trump's attorneys, who is an Orthodox Jew. Instead, the trial will resume on Sunday.

    Now, talking about this, we expect these to be the main days of the arguments, those four days up until Sunday, after that, closing arguments for about four hours, again, fewer than in the past trial. And senators will then have four hours to ask questions, again, also much less than last time.

    An open question that is not yet revolved is, will there be witnesses? This Senate resolution that is governing the trial allows for witnesses, if House managers or Trump's attorneys ask for them and if the Senate votes to allow it.

    So, we may not have an answer to that question soon. I'm told that House managers have not yet decided if they want witnesses or not.

    One very last note. I'm told senators will be allowed to space out throughout the chamber into the galleries. And there will be a special room. They will use one of the cloak rooms, sort of, or one of the Senate's lobbies and have a television in there for senators to watch off the floor, so they can space out.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All this in the era of COVID.

    And, Lisa, what is known as this point about how the prosecutors plan to make their case?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Just a few things here Judy.

    They really believe they want to say that President Trump himself was personally responsible for this riot, and they are going to use videos from social media to prove their case. I don't have more details on that, but I expect that to come from people who participated in the riot, perhaps as well as people who covered it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now over to you, Yamiche.

    You have been in touch with former President Trump's people. What do we know about how his lawyers, his attorneys plan to present his defense?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Former President Trump's lawyers plan to defend him vigorously. And they are really going to be going with two-track — a two-track approach.

    The first is focused on the process, the jurisdiction, the due process. The second part is going to be focused on the speech, on political rhetoric, on the First Amendment.

    On the first part, there was a 78-page brief released today from his lawyers. Part of that really is a window into what they are going to be saying during this trial.

    And I want to read from — you some of — part of it.

  • It says:

    "The Senate is being asked to do something patently ridiculous, try a private citizen in a process that is designed to remove him from an office that he no longer holds."

    That's the president's lawyers saying there that he's no longer president of the United States, and thus he should not be in an impeachment trial. Of course, Democrats say there is still the issue of whether or not he should be banned from holding office.

    The second part of the president's lawyers' defense is again one coming to political rhetoric.

    And for that, they write: "The president did not direct anyone to commit lawless actions. The claim that he could be responsible if a small group of criminals misunderstood him, it's simply absurd."

    They're saying here that the president's words were to walk peacefully to the Capitol. Of course, Democrats are saying in fact that the president said fight like hell, and, as a result, that really incited thousands of people to go to the Capitol and do that.

    One other thing, we should be watching for video of this. There's — from my understanding, the president's lawyers are going to be using video of Democrats saying fiery things at political rallies to make their point.

    Also, this is in direct contrast to what the president's own supporters are saying when they're being tried in court. They're saying: The president told us to go to the Capitol in their different states. And this is the president's lawyers saying, that's just simply not the case.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Yamiche, what can we expect to hear from the people who are arguably at the center of this, President Trump himself, President — and President Biden?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, we're going to hear a lot from President Trump's lawyers. And we're going to hear very little, from my understanding, from former President Trump, as well as for current President Joe Biden.

    I want to walk you through who his attorneys are. The first is Bruce Castor. He served two terms as an elected district attorney in Montgomery County just outside of Philadelphia. He's most famous for his 2005 decision not to prosecute Bill Cosby when he was facing allegations of sexual assault from a Temple University employee.

    There's also David Schoen. He is another attorney. He represented Roger Stone, who is a Trump associate. He also consulted with this convicted sex offender, Jeffrey Epstein, during the final days before his death. He also had some — he's had some very controversial clients, including accused mobsters, including successfully defending the Ku Klux Klan, as well as others.

    And what you see here is really two men that are going to be taking to the stage really defending the president full-throatedly.

    The other thing to note is that the president isn't going to be testifying himself. I talked to his attorney — or his former attorney Alan Dershowitz. And he told me that no attorney would want President Trump to be testifying. He said it would be a perjury trap. So, this is really President Trump letting his lawyer doing all the talking.

    And the White House says President Biden will not be watching much of the impeachment trial. Instead, he will be focused, they say, on getting his COVID relief bill passed.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we are going to be covering it very closely. And the two of you are going to be right at the center of our coverage.

    Yamiche Alcindor, Lisa Desjardins, thank you both.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Thank you.

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