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Senate to begin impeachment preparations Thursday, start trial next week

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had held off sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate for nearly a month.
(Saul Loeb / AFP-Getty Images)

The House plans to release articles of impeachment against President Trump on Wednesday, allowing the Senate to begin trial preparations the next day and ending the nearly monthlong standoff between the two chambers.

Pretrial proceedings for the third impeachment trial in American history would begin Thursday after the articles are ceremoniously transferred across the Capitol and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. is sworn in to oversee the trial. A vote on the controversial rules and procedures governing the proceedings would be expected on Tuesday before arguments get underway.

The president’s fate is all but certain. Democrats are nowhere near the 67 votes they would need to remove him from office. Still, lawmakers of both parties have been anxious to begin the trial, which is expected to last at least two weeks and to consume much of Washington’s attention.

And even amid what appears destined to be a highly partisan affair, some uncertainty remains, highlighted by the disclosure Tuesday of new evidence related to the activities of Trump loyalists in Ukraine, including Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani, and his indicted associate, Lev Parnas. Democrats immediately said the new information, which was not uncovered during the House impeachment inquiry, must be now examined during the Senate trial.

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Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) had been holding the articles in the House in hopes of getting more favorable trial terms for Democrats, keeping even her closest lieutenants in the dark on when the impasse would end.

House Democrats came to the decision to move the articles Tuesday in a closed-door meeting in the basement of the Capitol, according to Democratic sources. But Pelosi (D-San Francisco) had indicated Friday that she was ready to end the showdown.

“The American people deserve the truth, and the Constitution demands a trial,” Pelosi said in a statement.

The House will also have to vote Wednesday to approve the names of the House lawmakers who will serve as managers in the Senate trial. They will essentially act as prosecutors to present the case to senators. Those individuals were not named Tuesday but are widely expected to include Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), who conducted much of the investigation as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s plan to conduct pretrial proceedings this week and begin the trial next week will rely on the consent of all 100 senators. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he hasn’t seen McConnell’s resolution setting up the rules and wouldn’t commit to supporting his timetable, although Democrats have indicated that they won’t hold up the trial unnecessarily.

But the parties are at odds over whether the trial will include subpoenas for witnesses and documents that the Trump administration blocked the House from obtaining. Democrats say both are necessary for a fair trial and they want an assurance from the start that witnesses and documents will be included. McConnell and Senate Republicans say they will hear arguments from both the House Democratic managers and Trump’s lawyers before determining whether more material is needed.

Last week, McConnell announced that he has enough Republican votes to adopt such trial rules without Democratic support. He framed this as the same precedent as the one used in President Clinton’s impeachment trial, in which senators ultimately voted to hear from witnesses. “We’re going to vote on that at the appropriate time,” McConnell said. “We’ll just have to wait and see what the feeling of the Senate is” after arguments are heard.

But the Clinton precedent had the support of both parties and all 100 senators. Democrats say Republicans are hoping to punt the decision on witnesses with no plan to actually vote to hear from them.

Republicans appear universally aligned on McConnell’s plan, but the real question the Senate will have to tackle is whether there are enough Republicans votes to demand witnesses at the conclusion of the opening arguments. A handful of Republican senators — including Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine — say they are supportive or open to the idea of witnesses at that time.

As the impeachment of President Trump proceeds, we break down what the process entails.

Assuming all 47 Democrats support a motion to call witnesses, they would have to four Republicans in order to be successful.

Republicans warn that if Democrats get to subpoena witnesses — at the top of their list is former national security advisor John Bolton and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney — then Republicans get to call them too. At the top of the GOP list would be Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, who was on the board of the Ukraine energy company Burisma.

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Though Ukraine officials say there is no evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens, Trump last year pressed Ukraine’s president to launch investigations into his possible Democratic presidential rival in 2020. At the same time Trump withheld much-needed aid from Ukraine. The House impeached Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

On Tuesday, House Democrats said they will add additional evidence to the articles of impeachment that they didn’t have before the House vote. They have phone records and other materials from Parnas, who had been helping Giuliani dig up dirt on Trump’s political enemies in Ukraine. One of the documents released was a handwritten note that Parnas had jotted down on stationary from the Ritz-Carlton in Vienna.

“get Zalensky to Annonce that the Biden case will Be Investigated,” a misspelled reference to urging Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden.

There was also a letter that Giuliani sent Zelensky on May 10 asking for a meeting on an undisclosed topic. At the time of the letter, Giuliani was planning a trip to Ukraine to push for investigations that would benefit Trump. Giuliani wrote that he was reaching out with Trump’s “knowledge and consent.”

The presidents says the Senate should simply dismiss the impeachment case, an extraordinary suggestion as the House prepares to transmit charges.

Last week, Pelosi said she would not forward the impeachment articles until McConnell released the rules for the trial. But she faced pressure from several Senate Democrats, who argued publicly that there was no further leverage to be had by holding the articles. They indicated that they’d rather get on with the trial.

Pelosi’s allies framed the delay as a win, saying that the time in limbo allowed the public to see that Senate Republicans are tilting the rules of the impeachment trial to benefit the president.

Other factors could be at play as well. The trial has been delayed long enough that it is quite likely Trump will still not have a Senate vote on his fate before he delivers the State of the Union on Feb. 4. Trump, like President Clinton in 1999, would be forced to make the annual address to the Congress under the din of an impeachment without resolution of the Senate trial.

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Republicans have also speculated that Pelosi held the articles to hurt Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the Iowa caucuses. He, along with the other senators running for president in 2020 — Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Michael Bennet of Colorado — will be stuck in Washington for a six-days-a-week trial instead of campaigning for the nation’s first presidential caucuses, to be held Feb. 3 in Iowa. Other candidates, including Biden, will have the state to themselves.

“Sen. Sanders actually has a chance to win, but not now that Nancy Pelosi has held these documents,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield).

A spokesman for Pelosi said “impeachment has nothing to do with politics or the presidential race.”

Times staff writers Sarah D. Wire and Chris Megerian contributed to this report.


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