The phone call at centre of Trump trial
THE world will bare witness to history in the making this week as the Senate impeachment trial for US President Donald Trump gets underway.
The high profile trial is set to start on Tuesday, 1pm Washington time (Wednesday 5am AEDT) but the exact schedule won't be confirmed until senators pass the organising resolution, which is likely to happen tomorrow. Until then, it's anyone's guess how long the spectacle might last.
The case hinges on a July 25 phone call between Mr Trump and Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in which the US president asked his counterpart to do him a "favour" and investigate both a conspiracy theory concerning election interference and ties between the former vice-president Joe Biden and his son Hunter and the eastern European country.
Mr Trump is accused of withholding millions of dollars in critical funding to the Ukraine in an alleged bid to co-erce Mr Zelenskiy to act.
Last week saw a wave of developments that could affect the course of the trial, including Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas' revelation on Wednesday that Mr Trump "knew exactly what was going on" and a new government watchdog report released Thursday that concluded the White House budget office violated the law when it froze US military aid to Ukraine.
The trial opening comes after the president's brief was delivered by its due date on Monday.
Mr Trump's legal team filed a lengthy response to charges he abused his office and obstructed Congress, decrying the attempt to remove him as a "charade" and calling on senators to quickly reject it.
"The Articles of Impeachment now before the Senate are an affront to the Constitution and to our democratic institutions," the President's lawyers wrote in opening sentences of the document. "The Articles themselves - and the rigged process that brought them here - are a brazenly political act by House Democrats that must be rejected. They debase the grave power of impeachment and disdain the solemn responsibility that power entails."
Earlier, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that Mr Trump will "be impeached forever" regardless of the verdict. Mr Trump's lawyer Robert Ray countered that if they win a vindication for the president, it means "there will be an acquittal forever as well".
Here's what we know so far:
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
The House's rebuttal to the president's is due with the Senate expected to reconvene at 12.30pm on Tuesday. The Senate will sit as a court of impeachment for Mr Trump's trial, starting at 1pm that day. Republicans and Democrats are expected to battle over a resolution setting the rules for the case and shortly after opening arguments. Mr Trump plans to be at the elite economic and political forum in Davos, Switzerland, during that time.
It's possible senators will vote to go into closed-session in order to debate the issues that divide them because impeachment rules prevent them from speaking publicly during the trial.
During the trial, the 100 senators who will render the verdict - including democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders - will be required to sit in silence for up to six gruelling hours of daily proceedings - except Sundays, per Senate rules.
Senators have sworn on an oath to do "impartial justice"' as the chamber convenes to consider the two articles of impeachment approved by the House last month.
WILL ANY WITNESSES TESTIFY?
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has said he's likely to force votes on whether witnesses and extra evidence can be brought before the impeachment trial after they deal with the organising resolution.
He has called on moderate Republicans to side with the minority to achieve that.
In a press conference in New York on Sunday, Mr Schumer said he stands ready to "force votes for witnesses and documents" at the trial if the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell - who has yet to set out the exact details of how he proposes that the trial will proceed - does not call for such a vote.
"We have the right to do it, we are going to do it and we are going to do it at the beginning on Tuesday if leader McConnell doesn't call for these witnesses in his proposal," Mr Schumer said.
I have never seen the Republican Party as Strong and as Unified as it is right now. Thank you!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 19, 2020
Mr McConnell has maintained that any decision on hearing from new witnesses will be delayed until after opening arguments.
Mystery, however, abounded over the trial's ground rules with no light yet shed on how the proceedings will follow - and differ from - the precedent of President Bill Clinton's impeachment trial in 1999.
HOW LONG WILL THE TRIAL GO FOR?
The trial will run six days a week - Monday to Saturday - from 1-6pm. But it remains unclear how long the case will run. Mr Trump's supporters want the trial to be over by the time he is scheduled to front Congress and the nation with his State of the Union address on February 4, CNN reports. Bill Clinton's impeachment trial lasted for about five weeks, from January 7, 1999 through February 12, 1999.
WHO WILL BE MAKING THE CASE FOR AND AGAINST THE PRESIDENT?
Chief Justice Roberts will preside over the chamber with House impeachment managers appointed to act as prosecutors making the case against Mr Trump, and White House legal counsel Pat Cipollone leading a team of defence lawyers to make the case for his acquittal.
The impeachment managers were announced by Speaker Nancy Pelosi last week. House Intelligence Chair Representative Adam Schiff of California was named as the lead manager.
The other six will include:
- Judiciary chairman, Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York
- Chairman of the Democratic Caucus Rep Hakeem Jeffries of New York
- Representative Zoe Lofgren of California, who is on the Judiciary Committee and has also worked on three House impeachment inquiries
- Representative Val Demings of Florida who is on the Judiciary and Intelligence committees
- Representative Sylvia Garcia of Texas, a freshman who is on the Judiciary Committee
- Representative Jason Crow of Colorado, also a freshman politician who is a former lawyer
On the defense team, Mr Cipollone will be joined by lawyer Jay Sekulow, constitutional lawyer Alan Dershowitz,Ken Starr, the former independent counsel whose investigation into President Bill Clinton led to his impeachment, and Robert Ray, who was also part of Mr Clinton's impeachment prosecution team. Two other lawyers assisting the team include, Former Florida Attorney-General Pam Bondi and Mr Trump's longtime personal counsel Jane Raskin.
WHAT WILL THE PROSECUTION'S CASE BE?
In a joint statement, the seven managers said their case was "simple, the facts are indisputable, and the evidence is overwhelming".
"President Trump abused the power of his office to solicit foreign interference in our elections for his own personal political gain, thereby jeopardising our national security, the integrity of our elections, and our democracy," the statement read.
"And when the president got caught, he tried to cover it up by obstructing the House's investigation into his misconduct."
WHAT WILL THE DEFENSE'S CASE BE?
Mr Trump has maintained that his phone conversation with the Ukrainian president was "perfect" and claims that he is the victim of a witch hunt.
Mr Trump's legal team, responding to the Senate's official summons for the trial, said the president "categorically and unequivocally" denies the charges of abuse and obstruction against him.
"This is a brazen and unlawful attempt to overturn the results of the 2016 election and interfere with the 2020 election, now just months away," the president's Monday filing states.
Mr Trump's lawyers on Sunday previewed their impeachment defence with the assertion that the charges against him are invalid, adopting a position rejected by Democrats as "nonsense" as both sides sharpened their arguments for trial.
"Criminal-like conduct is required," said Alan Dershowitz, a constitutional lawyer on Mr Trump's defence team. Mr Dershowitz said he will be making the same argument to the Senate and if it prevails, there will be "no need" to pursue the witness testimony or documents that Democrats are demanding. The argument is part of a multi-pronged strategy the president's team developed ahead of its impeachment trial brief.