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What we know about the Senate impeachment trial so far

It appears that the House of Representatives will finally vote to transmit articles of impeachment against President Trump to the Senate Wednesday, setting up formal trial proceedings to begin Thursday. Although no decision has been announced on whether witnesses will be called, the trial is expected to last at least into early February. Lisa Desjardins reports and joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We return now to the upcoming impeachment trial of President Trump.

    Our Lisa Desjardins has some new details.

  • Question:

    So, Madam Speaker, is tomorrow the day?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    She didn't stop for cameras, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told House Democrats privately that they will vote on sending articles of impeachment to the Senate tomorrow, this after Pelosi held onto the impeachment charges for over three weeks.

    Exiting their meeting with her, Democrats insisted it was the right call.

  • Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif.:

    It is important, though, to have made a point about the fairness of this whole process.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This now sets up the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history. President Trump will face two charges: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

    Both center around President Trump's request to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky last summer to investigate the 2016 election, as well as his political opponent, Joe Biden, for possible corruption related to time his son Hunter served on a Ukrainian energy board.

    Democrats charge Trump froze vital military aid and blocked a White House meeting in attempts to get the investigation. On the other side of the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was smiling.

  • Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.:

    Our understanding is — and I think your understanding is as well — is, the House is likely to finally send the articles over to us tomorrow.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Now the Kentucky Republican is mapping out the calendar, swearing senators in for the trial this week.

  • Sen. Mitch McConnell:

    Which would set us up to begin the actual trial next Tuesday. So that's sort of the week ahead, and the early part of next week, as it looks possible as of right now, and I think that's likely to hold up.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    McConnell told reporters the most controversial question, of whether to call witnesses, will be punted until later in the trial.

    Roy Blunt of Missouri said the Senate's priority is to have a fair trial, where Democrats and the president are both heard.

  • Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.:

    But we can't just have a one-sided process that suddenly ends, but a process to where everybody gets a chance to be heard.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Senate Democrats also insist they want a fair trial.

    Dick Durbin of Illinois:

  • Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.:

    When we talk about witnesses and evidence coming before the Senate on any impeachment proceeding with President Trump, it isn't just on one side of the case. What we are suggesting is, there should be witnesses from both sides.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    President Trump left the White House tonight for a rally in Milwaukee without stopping to weigh in.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Lisa joins me now to walk us through what we can expect over the next few weeks.

    So, Lisa, we finally have some decisions on this.

  • Lisa Desjardins:


  • Judy Woodruff:

    Walk us through the next steps here.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Let's start with today and tomorrow and Wednesday — or Thursday. What's going the happen now? I'm getting days confused in my mind already.

    Let's make this clear. These are the things the House has to do first. Tomorrow, the House will vote on trial managers. Then the House will also — we are expecting them to transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate. That's what we have been waiting for since December.

    Then that will trigger what we expect Thursday, the formal opening of this impeachment trial. Judy, that's when the chief justice will be sworn in as the presiding officer. He will then in turn swear in the rest of the Senate as jurors, essentially. They take oaths to be impartial at the beginning of the trial.

    That will be a limited formal proceeding Thursday, but, technically, the opening of the trial.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So we heard Leader McConnell say that the actual trial will begin next Tuesday.

    What does that mean? What are we looking for then?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Next week, we will get into substance.

    There will first be a fight over procedure, potentially. McConnell will propose his idea for the starting procedures and timelines. That will happen on Tuesday early in the day, at the beginning of the day. After this, then, Tuesday night, we could see opening arguments begin in this trial.

    So then let's take through — take a look at what this calendar could look like overall. First, we would have opening arguments from the House probably next week; 24 hours, they have. It could be spread over four days, is the expectation.

    Then, after the House has finished opening arguments, the White House gets the chance to present their case sometime in this time frame leading into the next week. After that, we would see a couple of days of motions. Senators can ask questions in writing.

    Judy, this calendar is extraordinary for a lot of reasons. One is look at what's next, on February 3, Monday, after all of this, the Iowa caucuses.

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Lisa Desjardins:

    On February 4, the State of the Union address.

    Speaking to Republican leaders today, Judy, I asked this question. They do not think the trial will be completed by either of those two dates, the caucuses or the State of the Union address.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And it's something we're all noting today.

    So, Lisa, still debate over whether witnesses will be called. Where does all this stand right now?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I got some blunt reporting from people who are interested in the concept of witnesses today.

    And they say right now there are not enough votes for witnesses to happen. But because this whole dialogue about witnesses is being punted until after opening arguments, the chance remains that it could happen.

    But to get a little bit overly deep here, to quote a kind of wise artist, if you choose not to decide, which is what McConnell is doing, not deciding, if you choose not to decide, you're still making a choice.

    And he's made a choice that he thinks benefits him and the potential for not having witnesses. We will see. The votes are not there yet.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So now that we know what the start dates are, what exactly is this trial going to look like? It's not your typical session of the United States Senate.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    No, not at all, beginning with when they bring the articles of impeachment over.

    Let's look at how that went during 1998, the Clinton impeachment. There is Henry Hyde, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, bringing over the folder with the articles of impeachment to the Senate secretary. That's someone we are going to see more of, the Senate secretary, now a woman.

    We're not sure we're going to see this scene, because the timeline is a little bit different here. But once the articles get into the chamber, Judy, something notable people should realize, senators have to remain in their seats for all of the opening arguments, all 48 hours.

    They cannot speak, Judy. So I guess you can sort of insert joke here. There will be 100 politicians who must only listen to the evidence as presented for weeks at a time. It will be an unusual, not dramatic, but substantive is the idea, presentation for weeks.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And it will be televised.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It will be televised. That's right.

    There was a request for new cameras to be put in. And that request so far has been denied. But we will see the typical views of the Senate as we watch every day.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Limited views of who is speaking and so forth, not the…


  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Negotiations over every little piece of this right now, including security, which is another question.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa Desjardins, thank you.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    My pleasure.

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