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The Senate impeachment trial is about to kick into high gear. Here’s what we know

The Senate impeachment trial is set to begin in earnest Tuesday when Republicans and Democrats are expected to debate a resolution setting the rules for the trial before starting opening arguments.

Loaded rhetoric from the White House and Democrats this weekend promises a bitterly partisan trial. And we’ll have more on that in a moment.

First, here’s what we know and what we don’t about the Senate trial from CNN’s Ted Barrett and Ali Zaslav:

The nuts and bolts

  • The trial will start Tuesday at 1 p.m. ET, after which it will run six days a week, Monday through Saturday, starting at 1 p.m. ET, and ending usually between 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. ET, according to the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
  • The Senate will come into session at noon ET on each trial day, and there will be time for leadership remarks and possibly some legislative action before 12:30 p.m. ET, when preparations will be made for the trial to get underway.
  • If the Senate follow the model from President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial — as McConnell has said he wants to do — each side would have not more than 24 hours to do opening arguments. After that there would be up to 16 hours for senators to ask questions, which would be submitted in writing.

Will there be witnesses?

  • Fifty-one senators have to vote for witnesses, so if all 47 Democrats are unified, only four Republicans would need to support it to pass. It’s still an open question if Democrats can wrangle four Republicans to break ranks.
  • Democrats don’t want to wait that long to resolve the witness issue and plan to force early debate and votes on the question by pressing for amendments to the organizing resolution.
  • Most Republicans say they won’t even consider calling witnesses until after the opening arguments so this effort by Democrats could very well fail, although it will draw attention to their push for new testimony.

How long will the trial go?

  • Entirely unknown right now, especially with Republicans considering condensing the schedule.
  • As a reference, Bill Clinton’s trial lasted for about five weeks, from January 7, 1999, through February 12, 1999.

How will evidence be handled?

  • All the evidence sent over by the House of Representatives from the impeachment inquiry will be considered at the trial.
  • For any new evidence that surfaces to be admitted and presented during the trial, 51 senators would have to vote to approve it. But if any senator or President Donald Trump’s legal team objects — Chief Justice John Roberts could either rule on it or punt it back to have senators vote to decide. Senators could also overrule the chief justice.

Who is in the spotlight?

  • House impeachment managers will act as prosecutors making the case against Trump, and White House legal counsel Pat Cipollone will lead a team of lawyers that the President selected to defend him and make the case for his acquittal, with Roberts presiding over the chamber.

Schumer: ‘We will force votes’ on witnesses and documents

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Sunday night he is prepared to “force votes for witnesses and documents” in the Senate impeachment trial if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell does not call for it in his proposal.

“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,” Schumer said at a press conference in New York.

“We’re allowed to amend it, and ask for them. I am allowed to amend it — and then if they say well let’s wait and hear the arguments we’ll want a vote after they hear the arguments as well and we will do everything we can to force votes again.”

White House and Dems signal contentious trial

In case there was any doubt, both Trump’s legal team and House Democrats made clear this weekend just how forceful each side will make their case throughout the Senate trial.

In their formal response to the Senate summons of the President, Trump’s legal team assails the articles of impeachment as “constitutionally invalid” and says they are an attack on Americans.

“President Trump categorically and unequivocally denies each and every allegation in both articles of impeachment,” the document reads.

Meanwhile, House Democrats released their argument for why Trump should be removed from office by the Senate in the impeachment trial, calling on the Senate to “eliminate the threat that the President poses to America’s national security.”

“President Trump’s conduct is the Framers’ worst nightmare,” the managers wrote in the brief.

The House managers made their case directly to the senators who will act as jurors in the impeachment trial.

“History will judge each Senator’s willingness to rise above partisan differences, view the facts honestly, and defend the Constitution,” the managers wrote. “The outcome of these proceedings will determine whether generations to come will enjoy a safe and secure democracy in which the President is not a king, and in which no one, particularly the President, is above the law.”

The Latest

Witness watch — Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski said Saturday that she wants to hear House Democrats’ case against Trump and from the President’s lawyers before she decides whether she’ll support having additional witnesses at his upcoming trial.

Trump’s timeline — Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham on Sunday said the President hopes to have the Senate impeachment trial “behind him” before he delivers the State of the Union address on February 4.

Dershowitz’s plan — Alan Dershowitz, a recent addition to Trump’s legal team, said Sunday that he plans to revive an 1868 argument used during former President Andrew Johnson’s impeachment trial when he is arguing on behalf of Trump on the Senate floor.

Trump ‘distracted’ by impeachment trial

Trump has appeared “distracted” by the impeachment trial that gets underway Tuesday, according to a source close to the White House who speaks to the President regularly.

“Why are they doing this to me,” the source quoted Trump as saying repeatedly, telling people around him this weekend at Mar-a-Lago that he “can’t understand why he is impeached.”

  • Trump has been telling associates and allies around him that he wanted a “high profile” legal team that can perform on television, the source said. It’s simply who Trump is, the source continued, adding Trump loves having people who are on television working for him.

This, in part, may explain why Kenneth Starr and Dershowitz were added to the legal team representing the President.

Trump’s latest impeachment falsehoods

Trump made 81 false claims last week — a tie for the fifth-highest total in the 27 weeks we have counted at CNN — including new impeachment falsehoods.

Some notable examples from CNN’s Daniel Dale and Tara Subramaniam:

The articles of impeachment

“They’re making things up. This is the craziest thing anyone’s ever seen, and the two articles that they put in, as you know, they’re not crimes, they’re not — they’re not even allowed to be put in. It’s a disgrace.” — January 10 interview with Fox News’ Laura Ingraham

Facts First: The two articles of impeachment against Trump, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, are indeed “allowed.” While the Constitution says presidents can be impeached for “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors,” the “high crimes and misdemeanors” do not have to be criminal offenses. The Constitution leaves it up to Congress to determine what qualifies.

John Bolton and Ukraine

Question: “Will you be okay if John Bolton testifies? He indicated yesterday that he would if he is subpoenaed.”

Trump: “Well, that’s going to be up to the lawyers. It will be up the Senate. And we’ll see how they feel. He would know nothing about what we’re talking about, because if you know, the Ukrainian government came out with a very strong statement — no pressure, no anything.” — January 7 exchange with reporters at a meeting with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis

Facts First: Trump was vague, but it is obviously false that Bolton “would know nothing” about the dealings with Ukraine that led to Trump’s impeachment. According to witness testimony in the House impeachment inquiry, Bolton, who served as Trump’s national security adviser until September, was present in relevant meetings — with Trump, with other administration officials and with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — and had additional relevant conversations with key players on Trump’s Ukraine team.

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