How Senators Say They're Preparing—Or Why They Aren't—For an Impeachment Trial

As the House begins to transition to the public phase of its impeachment inquiry, the prospect looms that senators will eventually have to act as jurors and carry out a trial to determine whether to remove President Donald Trump from office.

Among a dozen Republican and Democratic senators, the methods by which members say they're preparing for the procedures of a trial range widely. Lawmakers' preparation techniques fall into one of two general categories: either they're studying past impeachment proceedings, compiling research and speaking to experts; or they are declining to prep at all because they believe it's too early or not necessary.

Based on senators' responses compiled by Newsweek Tuesday, partisan ideology is little indication as to whether a lawmaker will prepare for the logistics of a trial. A list of how—if at all—12 lawmakers are readying themselves can be found further down in this story.

How senators are preparing for impeachment trial
(L-R) Senators Mitt Romney (R-UT), sits beside Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) during a meeting with former U.S. hostage in Yemen Danny Burch and President Donald Trump inside the Oval Office of the White House on March 6 in Washington, DC. Photo by Tom Brenner/Getty

There is no set timeline or even a guarantee that the Democratic-led House votes to impeach Trump. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has conceded that that's what he expects to occur.

"It looks to me like they're hellbent to do it, and we will end up in an impeachment trial at some point," McConnell said at a weekly press conference Tuesday. "I will say, I'm pretty sure how it's likely to end. If it were today, I don't think there's any question it would not lead to a removal.

"So, the question is, how long does the Senate want to take? How long do the presidential candidates want to be here on the floor of the Senate instead of in Iowa and New Hampshire and all of these other related issues that may be going on? It's very difficult to ascertain how long this takes."

Several outlets reported last month that during a weekly GOP luncheon in the Capitol, McConnell and his staff presented a PowerPoint presentation about how a trial might take place and answered questions from Republican senators.

And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has taken his own steps to try and prepare Democrats. He conducted conference calls last month with the caucus about the House's inquiry, according to a senior Democratic aide, and has established a "document hub" for Senate Democratic offices to access. The hub has information from past impeachment battles, message guidance, historical facts and publicly available evidence from the inquiry.

Schumer has also been in contact with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). The senior Democratic aide said that conversations regarding the timing of a Senate trial are premature since articles have yet to be drafted.

Senators who are prepping:

Lamar Alexander (R-TN): "I have read a good deal," the retiring lawmaker said. "I'm a potential juror, so I'll listen to all the arguments and the evidence and I'll make a decision."

Alexander, who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, referenced a new book, Impeachment: An American History, and an 1896 memoir by Sen. Edmund Ross, History of the Impeachment of Andrew Johnson. Ross, a senator from Kansas after the Civil War, was viewed as a controversial figure for being the deciding vote against convicting Johnson and allowing him to remain in office.

Richard Blumenthal (D-CT): "Everything and anything," Blumenthal said when asked what he was doing to prepare. "I'm reading transcripts of prior impeachments. I'm looking at rules and precedents. I'm reading books that have been written and talking to experts.

"We are in completely uncharted territory. One conclusion I have from looking at all the history and the precedents is that every impeachment trial has been different from every other, including judicial impeachments. But there are a couple of really key decisions that have to be made."

Susan Collins (R-ME): "I've started assembling a team of attorneys to help me, and that includes attorneys at the legal division of the Congressional Research Service," the moderate senator said. "I've already posed some procedural questions to them."

Collins, unlike the majority of her colleagues, was in the Senate during the Clinton impeachment trial in 1999. She was one of just two members who did not vote along party lines to convict the Democratic president.

Despite her previous experience, Collins said it's important to refresh her memory about procedural matters and indicated there's "some confusion" among her fellow senators regarding several aspects of an impeachment trial.

John Kennedy (R-LA): Kennedy said that although he did not expect the House to pass articles of impeachment until the beginning of the new year, he was in the preliminary process of studying reports by the Congressional Research Service about impeachment proceedings.

Angus King (I-ME): "I have been reading—I haven't talked to anybody, but I've got a binder of background on the process," the lawmaker said. The procedural background information is from the Congressional Research Service, King said.

The Independent senator also highlighted the confusion and unknown factors that are likely to come with such rare and historical proceedings.

"We don't really know what the process is. It's not as if there's a lot of experience." King said. "Juries are the—what's the term, the miners of the facts? There's a different word. But anyway, that's the job: What are the facts and whether the facts rise to the level of an impeachable offense, and that requires some historical analysis."

Mitt Romney (R-UT): "I have re-read the Federalist Papers, and I will be seeking legal advice from scholars and attorneys that may have perspective on matters that relate to the process," the frequent Trump critic said.

The Federalist Papers are a series of 85 essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay in New York newspapers in 1787 and 1788 under the pseudonym "Publius." They're viewed today as one of the best ways to understand the authors' original intent of the Constitution.

Rick Scott (R-FL): "I got some briefings" by a person "in my office," the first-term senator said. Scott did not specify who it was or what the briefings were about.

Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI): Approached by Newsweek, Whitehouse motioned to a folder he was carrying that was more than an inch thick with papers, which he said were two Senate reports on prior impeachment proceedings.

"We're not just jurors: we have a significant role in terms of the ability to ask our own questions, the ability for the Senate to pursue discovery, get documents, the ability for the Senate to call witnesses—aside from what the managers or the impeachment opponents would present," he said. "That gives us a much more engaged role than a traditional courtroom juror has."

Senators who are not prepping:

Lindsey Graham (R-SC): The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman said he was in talks with McConnell about the specifics of how the chamber would operate, but that he himself was not taking any specific measures to prepare.

"I'm talking to Mitch about it, how you would set the trial up," Graham said. "You'd have a resolution, like you did with Clinton to set the parameters."

Doug Jones (D-AL): "I'm not preparing," the moderate freshman said. "We don't have any charges."

Bob Menendez (D-NJ): "I have a pretty good sense of what a trial is about, having practiced law," said the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Menendez received his law degree from Rutgers University in New Jersey in 1979.

Menendez said he saw little opportunity, aside from minor procedural measures, for a Senate impeachment trial to differ from normal court proceedings that he's familiar with.

"The president will have his defense and one must deduce all of the facts and the law and make a decision on guilt or innocence. In that respect, I understand the absolute fundamentals," he elaborated. "I don't think that there will be that fundamental a difference. There may be procedure or other elements that may be different under Senate rules. When it comes time to that, we'll fully avail ourselves of the Senate rules and immerse ourselves in it."

Marco Rubio (R-FL): The Sunshine State lawmaker indicated he was not taking any specific steps to prep for a trial.

"It's a trial based on facts," Rubio said. "And then you have to make a political decision, which is a political process—it is a political process on what exactly happened and what result is in the best interest of the country."

This story was updated to include comments from Sen. Susan Collins.