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The archaic machinery of a US impeachment trial is swinging into action

Since none of the assembled 99 senators* felt like spending the weekend in jail, they did as they were told and kept mum at their desks.

The archaic machinery of the US Senate has swung into action for President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial. The chamber thinks it is the world’s greatest deliberative body, so there’ll be none of the tomfoolery seen during the House impeachment process. “The weight of history, the eyes of history, you feel it, are upon you,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat.

A pall hung over the Senate on Thursday when senior House Democrats, who had paraded over from their side of the Capitol, delivered the articles of impeachment. Then, senators — who rarely gather at their desks all at once — stood as John Roberts, the chief justice, arrived to administer their oath to do “impartial justice, according to the Constitution and laws. So help me God.”

They had already been admonished to “keep silence, on pain of imprisonment” by the Senate sergeant-at-arms.

When the trial begins in earnest next week, this ordinarily backslapping, garrulous bunch will be constrained by strict rules: Six days a week, for up to eight hours a day, they must sit at their desks and watch the trial unfold. Phones, other electronic devices, magazines and newspapers are forbidden. So is speaking to seatmates. This is especially inconvenient for Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, three top-tier presidential candidates who’d rather be rallying support in Iowa, where voting begins in less than three weeks.

After polarized hearings, Trump’s panicky tweet storms, late-breaking evidence, hours of TV punditry and a fight over what constitutes a fair process, Thursday was a reality check in Washington. It’s really happening: A President is going on trial for only the third time in US history.

*One senator, Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe, was absent over a family medical issue. He’ll be sworn in Tuesday.

What’s new in impeachment

Every day seems to bring a new development that adds to the case against Trump, fueling Democratic demands for fresh witnesses and evidence at his Senate trial — though Republicans insist it’s all a partisan Democratic invention. Here’s what’s happening:

— In a CNN interview, Lev Parnas, an indicted associate of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, implicated Trump in the scheme to pressure Ukraine for dirt on Joe Biden. (Trump says he doesn’t know Parnas, despite photos showing the two together.)

— The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office concluded that the White House had broken the law by withholding millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine.

— Ukraine is mounting an investigation after all — not into Biden, as Trump hoped, but into whether the maligned former US ambassador to Ukraine was illegally surveilled.

“You’re a liberal hack.”

If you’re a member of Congress, your living nightmare is CNN’s Manu Raju, who prowls the corridors of power and basement passages of the US Capitol asking questions that politicians hope to dodge.

The pressure of the impeachment trial and a tough reelection race in November boiled over Thursday for Senator Martha McSally. The Arizona Republican — selected to fill the late John McCain’s seat — lashed out when Raju asked whether the Senate trial should admit new evidence.

‘I just want to say hi, Bernie’

When the Democratic debate concluded earlier this week, Senators Warren and Sanders appeared to have a tense moment, with Warren refusing to shake hands and Sanders turning away. Now we know what they were saying:

Warren: “I think you called me a liar on national TV.”

Sanders: “What?”

Warren: “I think you called me a liar on national TV.”

Sanders: “You know, let’s not do it right now. If you want to have that discussion, we’ll have that discussion.”

Warren: “Anytime.”

Sanders: “You called me a liar. You told me — all right, let’s not do it now.”

Tom Steyer, trying politely to interject: “I don’t want to get in the middle. I just want to say hi Bernie.”

‘money from god-knows where.’

In response to a question about the power held by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused his company of being “accomplices for misleading the American people with money from god-knows where,” CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan reports.

“They didn’t even check on the money from Russia in the last election and everyone thought they should,” Pelosi said, likely a reference to the Russian troll group that spent thousands of dollars on Facebook ads targeting Americans in the run-up to the 2016 US presidential election.

“All they want are their tax cuts and no antitrust action against them,” she also said, adding that she believes Facebook “schmoozed” the Trump administration.

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