Impeachment Trial Opens As Democrats Rail Against GOP Rules: 'This Is the Process for a Rigged Trial'

Democrats on Tuesday lambasted their GOP counterparts for supporting impeachment trial rules that seek a speedy acquittal for President Donald Trump, yet depart from assurances made by Republicans that the procedures would mirror those of former President Bill Clinton's trial.

Rules outlined in a draft resolution by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) Monday originally showed the proceedings will slightly differ from the Clinton trial. They were later altered in Democrats' favor, though the timeline remained compressed so that the arguments could conclude in just days.

"The McConnell rules seem to be designed by President Trump, for President Trump, simply executed by Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters, flanked by other Democratic leaders. "It almost seems the resolution was written in the White House, not in the Senate."

Schumer reiterated his intent to offer a "series of amendments" that would, among other things, force subpoenas for documents and witnesses that Democrats have demanded. It's unclear how many amendments he will propose.

However, they are not expected to pass the GOP-controlled chamber, as even moderate Senate Republicans, such as Susan Collins of Maine, have said they support voting on witnesses only after impeachment managers and Trump's defense team have presented their cases. McConnell vowed to defeat the amendments by tabling them, which would only require a simply majority vote.

"This is not a process for a fair trial. This is the process for a rigged trial. This is the process if you do not want the American people to see the evidence," said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the Intelligence Committee, flanked by his six fellow impeachment managers. "This is a process you use if you want to work hand-in-hand with the president, allow the president to continue to obstruct the Congress and deny the truth to the American people."

Democrats equated McConnell's proposed rules resolution, which will be debated and voted upon Tuesday afternoon, to a "cover-up."

"To be debating whether you should have the evidence admitted, to be debating whether you should allow witnesses is to be debating whether you should have a cover-up," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Judiciary Committee chairman. "By definition, there is no other way to look at it."

The trial is expected to begin Tuesday afternoon after a flurry of activity over the weekend. Here's what you may have missed.

democrats accuse republicans rigged impeachment trial
House impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) speaks to reporters during a brief media availability before the start of the impeachment trial at the U.S. Capitol on January 21 in Washington, D.C. Also pictured, L-R, other House impeachment managers Rep. Zoe Lofgren, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO). Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty

Democrats, White House issue first arguments in briefs

The long Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday weekend brought a preview of what's to come in the coming days as the House impeachment managers and the White House defense team laid out their arguments in lengthy briefs for why Trump should or should not be removed from office.

Democrats highlighted the new evidence they've collected against the president since the House impeached him last month for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. That evidence includes a government watchdog report stating the administration violated the law by withholding foreign aid to Ukraine without informing Congress and new emails obtained by Just Security showing the concern among Pentagon officials over the legality of unilateral delaying such aid.

"The Senate should convict and remove President Trump to avoid serious and long-term damage to our democratic values and the Nation's security," the managers wrote. "If the Senate permits President Trump to remain in office, he and future leaders would be emboldened to welcome, and even enlist, foreign interference in elections for years to come."

The White House, meanwhile, centered its rebuttal to impeachment on the procedures of the "rigged" House impeachment inquiry and Senate trial rather than the substance of the allegations that the president withhold foreign assistance while pressuring a foreign country to conduct probes that would benefit him politically.

The two articles are "an affront to the Constitution and to our democratic institutions," Trump's legal team wrote which is consisted of White House counsel Pat Cipollone, former Clinton special prosecutors Kenneth Starr and Robert Ray, and retired Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz. "The Articles themselves—and the rigged process that brought them here—are a brazenly political act by House Democrats that must be rejected."

The White House further argued that because of the way the articles are constructed, and that Democrats' case lacks the evidence to support the wrongdoing allegations levied against him, a conviction by the Senate would be "unconstitutional."

What's next? Expect rules drama and an expedited trial

democrats accuse republicans rigged Senate impeachment trial
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (R) (D-NY) speaks at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol where he discussed the impeachment trial rules proposed by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on January 21 in Washington, DC. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty

Senate Democrats and Republicans will have their (separate) weekly party lunches in the early afternoon, followed by a debate over the resolution that McConnell will officially introduce on the floor regarding the trial proceedings.

Each side will have one hour to debate. Schumer will then offer the amendments outlined above that will seek to "fix...many flaws," including by subpoenaing White House documents and several current and former administration officials, including acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton.

These amendments will also be subject for debate. None are expected to pass, given the political makeup of the chamber and Republicans' pattern of falling in line with McConnell's proposals. McConnell said in a Senate floor speech that he would move to table any and all such amendments, a move that would not allow for a vote to occur if just a simple majority of senators back him.

An earlier version of the rules resolution would not have automatically admitted into the official record evidence collected by the House and would have required a vote. It was changed so that it will now admit the evidence into the record.

The Senate is expected to pass McConnell's resolution, at which point Trump's legal team could make a motion to dismiss the articles. If this occurs, it will likely fail, as moderate Republicans—and even leadership members—have said they don't support such a move.

On Wednesday at 1 p.m., arguments are expected to begin. The impeachment managers will have 24 hours to make their case, which will take place over the course of three days. The earlier version of the rules resolution said only two days would be afforded, but the final version was amended to allow for three days. The White House legal team will then have the same amount of time stretched over the same number of days.

This change, along with admitting House evidence into the record, came after Collins "and others raised concerns" about the short number of long days, according to the lawmaker's office.

"Her position has been that the trial should follow the Clinton model as much as possible," said Collins spokesperson Annie Clark. "She thinks these changes are a significant improvement."

Democrats chalked up this trial format, which allows the president a faster acquittal, as an attempt by Republicans to deflect Americans' attention away from the television screens by having the proceedings run into the early morning hours.

"The proceedings could conceivably go well into the night when, apparently, Senator McConnell hopes the American people will not be watching," Schiff said.

This story was updated with new developments about the details of the rules resolution put forth by McConnell after the text of the document was updated by McConnell's office. It was also updated with information from Sen. Collins' office.