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How the White House and Congress are preparing for Senate impeachment trial

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to transmit the two articles of impeachment against President Trump to the Senate within days. She had held out for weeks as Democrats pressed Senate Republicans to call witnesses -- but leaders of both parties said Monday they are sticking to their positions. Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor join Judy Woodruff to discuss what to expect next.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Tonight, it is still up in the air exactly when the start date will be for the third impeachment trial ever of an American president.

    But, right now, all signs point to this week, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi signaling that the articles of impeachment against President Trump will be transmitted to the Senate soon.

    So what will the road ahead look like?

    Our own Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor are here to walk us through all of that.

    Hello to both of you. So much to follow once again.

    So, Lisa, give us the broad outline of what you're looking for this week? What are we expecting?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It starts tomorrow bright and early, when Speaker Pelosi meets with her Democratic Caucus at the Capitol after they have returned to Washington.

    That is when we expect her to say what her plan is and when she wants to move things. Her caucus supports her, and Pelosi will probably already know that they support her. Then we will get a formal announcement.

    Judy, it breaks down to a few procedural things that must happen. They must walk over the articles of impeachment after passing the names of managers in the House itself. And then the Senate can formally begin the trial.

    It does look like all of that can happen this week, probably not the substance of the trial. But I think within the next three days, we could certainly see the chief justice of the Supreme Court, as he is called to do, open up this trial and read the oaths to the senators. We may not know for a few days exactly when opening statements could begin, probably next week.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Literally walking it over.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Literally walking it over from one side of the Capitol to the other.

    You will see the House managers all in a row walk to the Senate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And to Yamiche now.

    What do we know about what the White House would like to happen? How do they want the Senate — when do they want it to begin? How do they want it to begin?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, the president and the White House want this to begin as soon as possible, because they want it to end as soon as possible.

    And they have been pushing for this Senate trial to be held on terms that are favorable for the president.

    I want to walk you through what the president's been saying. And he's been communicating on his favorite medium to communicate with people. And that is on Twitter.

    Here's the first tweet from this weekend. He wrote: "Many believe that the Senate giving credence to a trial based on" — and here's a very long descriptor — "no evidence, no crime, read the transcripts, no pressure, impeachment hoax" — it's a mouthful — "rather than outright dismissal, it gives the partisan Democratic witch-hunt credibility that it otherwise does not have. I agree."

    Judy, that is translation for he wants all the charges to be dismissed against him. And he means that he doesn't want a trial to be held at all.

    He also went after Nancy Pelosi, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, who he, of course, has been targeting in the past.

    Here's what he tweeted about them: "Why did nervous Nancy allow corrupt politician shifty Schiff to lie before Congress? He must be a witness. And so should she."

    Now, that means that the president is saying that, one, I want the charges to be dismissed. But if we're going to have witnesses, we should have leaders in the Democratic Party do that.

    Of course, Republicans have also been pushing for people like Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, to come before Congress. Democrats have been pushing back against that.

    The bottom line here is that the White House feels as though the president is being treated unfairly and that they want a trial that essentially says, look here, are all the things that the Democrats are doing wrong, let's talk about that, let's put that on display.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Lisa, when it comes to making these decisions, how does that get done?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Imagine, a question about decision-making at the Capitol.

    The Senate actually has pages and pages of rules about impeachment. Some have been in place for over 100 years. Some have been in place since 1986.

    So, what we expect to happen is, after senators are sworn in formally as the jury for this trial, then they will take a vote on the starting procedure. This is this is what Mitch McConnell has been talking about.

    They will just set up opening arguments. And they won't go any farther, Judy. Then, after opening arguments, again, which we expect next week at this point, after opening arguments, the Senate will then decide what to do next.

    Fifty-one senators can agree on anything to take — to do next, including calling of witnesses. We could see round after round of votes. Some would fail, votes on Hunter Biden or not, votes on whether members of the staff at the White House should come.

    Anything that gets 51 votes could happen, including calling of witnesses. There is one other exception. There are some like Senator Collins of Maine who are trying to work out a deal, so they can avoid this sort of partisan show or partisan fight, that maybe the Republicans and Democrats would agree on some witnesses, not others.

    Right now, that feels like a long shot. And I think we won't know about witnesses until after opening statements.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Trying to preserve some order to this, but we will see.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right, keep it sort of high-minded.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Yamiche, the White House doesn't want this to happen, but how are they actually preparing to deal with it?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, the president and White House aides have been working throughout — really throughout the week and throughout the weekend to prepare for the Senate impeachment trial.

    They have been calling senators. They have been also beefing up the president's legal team. What's clear right now is that the White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, is going to be the lead lawyer on the president's impeachment team and his defense, but he's also now going to be bringing on Jay Sekulow.

    He is the personal attorney for the president. He's going to now be joining the legal staff. And there are a lot of other names floating around of people that the president might want, including former Congressman Trey Gowdy, possibly famous lawyer Alan Dershowitz.

    These are people that the president thinks might defend him in a way that he feels as though will show people that he's being treated unfairly.

    What's very clear to me is that the president is very concerned about his legacy, very concerned about the fact that he's now been impeached, and, as a result, he wants to put on a very vigorous defense.

    I should say, Judy, I just got off the phone with the White House aide who's working directly on the impeachment strategy. And that person told me that the White House feels as though it was ready before Christmas to have this Senate trial, that they feel as though that they're good that there's more time to prepare for this, because they didn't think that they were going to have this much time to prepare a defense for the president.

    So that means that the White House is feeling good about the defense that they're about to put on for the president.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we will see, because it sounds like it's getting started in just a few days.

    Yamiche Alcindor, Lisa Desjardins, thank you.

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