The Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court John Roberts was sworn in as the presiding officer and senators swore to do “impartial justice,” as the Senate opened the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history.
The United States Senate formally opened the impeachment trial of President Trump on Thursday, January 16th as the Senators accepted the promise to deliver “impartial justice” and installed Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. as the presiding officer.
The steps marked the official start of the trial, only the third such proceeding against a president in U.S. history. At least two-thirds of the senators would have to vote to convict Mr. Trump to remove him from office.
In a somber ceremony that has happened only twice before in the nation’s history, Chief Justice Roberts vowed to conduct Trump’s impeachment trial “according to the Constitution and the laws.” He then administered the same, 222-year-old oath of impartiality and adherence to the Constitution to the senators, setting in motion the final step in a bitter and divisive effort by the president’s adversaries to remove him from office.
Even as the antiquated ritual unfolded, with senators signing their names one by one in an oath book near the marble Senate rostrum, new evidence was trickling out about Mr. Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine that is at the heart of the charges against him.
House managers, who will act as prosecutors during the trial, arrived at the ornate doors of the Senate at noon. They walked in two-by-two, led by Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D., Calif.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D., N.Y.). Freshman Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D., Texas) trailed as the seventh. A Democratic aide said the order was chosen according to seniority.
All managers carried large blue folders containing their own copy of the articles of impeachment passed by the House last month and the resolution passed on Jan 15th authorizing them as managers. They were followed by Texas Democratic Rep. Al Green, who has been a longtime voice in calling for Mr. Trump’s removal from office. He wasn’t an official part of the procession.
Silence fell and phones disappeared as the House sergeant at arms warned senators to keep quiet “on pain of imprisonment.” Then Mr. Schiff, the lead manager, began reading the articles aloud from a podium in the well of the Senate. “Resolved, that Donald John Trump, president of the United States, is impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors,” he said.
“President Trump,” Mr. Schiff said, “warrants impeachment and trial, removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States.”
The charges detailed the case against the president: that Mr. Trump pressured Ukraine for investigations into his political rivals, withholding $391 million in military aid as leverage, and that he obstructed Congress by blocking the inquiry into his conduct.
Meanwhile, a trove of newly released texts, voice mail messages, calendar entries and other records handed over by Lev Parnas, an associate of the president’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, offered new details about the scheme. And the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan federal watchdog, found that Mr. Trump’s decision to withhold nearly $400 million in military aid from Ukraine was an illegal breach of a law that limits a president’s power to block the spending of money allocated by Congress.
Two hours before the oath-taking on the Senate floor, seven House members made a solemn march to the chamber to read aloud the charges against Mr. Trump. His words echoing from the well of the Senate, Representative Adam B. Schiff of California accused the president of abusing the power of his office and obstructing Congress by trying to cover up his actions.
The evidence provided by Mr. Parnas adds significant new detail to the public record about how the pressure campaign played out. On Wednesday, Mr. Parnas told The New York Times that he believed Mr. Trump knew about the efforts to dig up dirt on his political rivals.
Just hours before the formal start of the trial, the Government Accountability Office said the decision by the White House Office of Management and Budget to withhold the aid violated the Impoundment Control Act, concluding that “faithful execution of the law does not permit the president to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law.” Mr. Trump directed the freeze on the Ukraine aid, and administration officials testified during the course of the impeachment inquiry that they had repeatedly warned that doing so could violate the law, but their concerns were not heeded.
And the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan congressional watchdog, said Thursday that the Trump administration violated the law when it withheld Ukraine security aid that Congress has appropriated.
That evidence is likely to be incorporated into the House Democratic case against the President, which they will begin presenting next Tuesday when the substance of the trial gets underway. Democrats charge that Trump withheld the security aid and a White House meeting from Ukraine while pushing for an investigation into the Bidens.
The trial began this week after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi withheld the formal sending of the articles for four weeks while Democrats pushed for Republicans to agree to calling witnesses and obtaining new documents for the trial.
Pelosi said at her weekly press conference Thursday that Senate Republicans are “afraid of the truth,” when asked what her response is to Senate Republicans who say they shouldn’t have to consider new evidence like the Parnas material because it wasn’t included in the House investigation.
The outcome of the trial is all but determined, as the two-thirds vote required to remove the President would need 20 Republican senators to break ranks. But that doesn’t mean the trial itself won’t have twists and turns — and potentially some surprises — as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell navigates the demands of his Senate conference, pressures from Democrats and the whims of Trump and his Twitter account.