The contours of former President Trump’s second impeachment trial are starting to take shape, with the Senate’s longest-serving Democrat expected to preside over the trial and Democrats still weighing whether to pursue witnesses during proceedings that could take up a chunk of February.
Chief Justice John Roberts will not be presiding like he did for Trump’s first impeachment trial, according to two sources familiar with the matter. Instead, Sen. Patrick Leahy, the President pro tempore of the Senate, is expected to preside, the sources said. The Constitution says the chief justice presides when the person facing trial is the current president of the United States, but senators preside in other cases, one source said.
There are still two big looming questions over the Democrats’ impeachment case: Whether they will seek witnesses and how long the trial will take. The answers to both are still not known yet, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.
But if the House impeachment managers seek witnesses, they want prospective witnesses to be cooperative, rather than threaten to fight in court over executive privilege, a snag that hampered Democrats’ efforts to seek witnesses the first time around.
The exact time frame of the trial itself, which will begin the week of Feb. 8, is also unknown, but multiple impeachment managers have said they don’t think it will go as long as the 21 days of Trump’s trial in 2020. The expectation is still, however, that it will take up much of February and wrap up by month’s end, if not sooner.
The scheduling leading up to the trial’s arguments was resolved Friday after a week’s worth of uncertainty over when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would send the article to the Senate, thanks to a deal reached between Senate leaders.
Under the agreement, Trump’s legal team and the House managers will have two weeks to exchange pre-trial briefs after the article was transmitted to the Senate yesterday.
The House impeachment managers walked the article from the House to the Senate on Monday evening, and Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the lead impeachment manager, read the article on the floor. Today, senators will be sworn in for the trial as jurors. Then there will be a two-week period for pre-trial briefs, and the trial itself will get underway the week of Feb. 8.
The deal gives something both the Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The schedule gives Trump’s legal team time to prepare for the trial, after he only hired a lawyer, South Carolinian Butch Bowers, last week.
For Schumer and the Biden administration, the two-week break allows for more of Biden’s Cabinet to be confirmed, as all other Senate business will stop once the trial gets underway, after Republicans rejected agreeing to split the Senate’s days.