WASHINGTON – Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts was sworn in Thursday to preside over the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.
Roberts, wearing his black judicial robe, was escorted into the chamber by four senators. The two Republicans were Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the chairman of the Rules Committee, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. The Democrats were Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the longest-serving senator, and Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.
“Senators I attend the Senate in conformity with your notice for the purpose of joining with you for the trial of the president of the United States,” Roberts said after arriving. “I am now prepared to take the oath.”
A summary of the day’s impeachment news: Right to your inbox! Sign up for On Politics here
The longest-serving Republican, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, administered the oath to Roberts. “God bless you,” Grassley said afterward. “Thank you,” Roberts replied.
A roll call of senators sitting at their mahogany desks was held before Roberts arrived. After he was sworn in, Roberts recited the trial oath to swear in senators, who stood at their desks and raised their right hands.
“Do you solemnly swear that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of Donald John Trump, president of the United States now pending, you will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws, so help you God?” Roberts asked.
“I do,” senators replied in unison. Senators were then called in alphabetical order by their last names to sign the oath book.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., recited unanimous agreements setting deadlines for trial documents. The House has until 5 p.m. Saturday to file its trial brief, the White House until noon Monday to file its trial brief, and the House until noon Tuesday to file its rebuttal.
“The Senate sitting as court of impeachment is adjourned until Tuesday Jan. 21 at 1 p.m.,” Roberts said in gaveling the session closed.
Trump blasts impeachment as a ‘hoax’
Trump slammed his impeachment as a hoax that distracted attention from two of the biggest trade deals in the history of the country that were reached this week. He signed a deal with China on Wednesday and the Senate gave final approval Thursday to a trade deal with Canada and Mexico.
“I think it should go very quickly,” Trump said of the impeachment trial. “This is a hoax. It’s a shame.”
Trump said he was impeached just because Democrats were trying to win the 2020 election.
“Hopefully, they’re not going to win,” he said.
Trump also defended his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who has been accused of smearing Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, before the president removed her.
“Certainly Rudy is one of the great crime fighters in the history of our country,” Trump said. “He’s a very straight shooter.”
Senators note solemnity of trial
Senators remained quiet for the arrival of Roberts and then the swearing in of senators for the trial.
“I thought, ‘This is a historic moment.’ You could have heard a pin drop,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said after the proceedings. “I think the gravity of what we’re undertaking, I think, was sinking in for all of us.”
The gravity of the moment seemed to be something that brought together both sides of the aisle.
“It was much more sobering than I even thought it would be, raising our hands, hearing the impeachment articles read and hearing the words: impeachment of the president of the United States,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said, calling it “a very somber moment for me.”
Impeachment articles read aloud
Seven House lawmakers, who are called managers and who will prosecute the case against Trump, carried the articles of impeachment to the Senate on Thursday and read the charges aloud to formally begin the third trial of a sitting president.
The House managers were recognized at 12:06 p.m. and were escorted to the well of the Senate. The lead manager, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., then read the articles aloud as senators sat at their mahogany desks.
Senators find ceremonial start to trial ‘sobering’
Feinstein said after the 15-minute session it felt “sobering” to sit on the floor as Schiff spoke.
“Until you’re in that chamber and it’s totally filled, and there’s something stark and unusual before you, it’s sort of business as usual,” she said. “And then you go in to this stark and unusual procedure. And it’s a very major endeavor.”
Many senators studiously took notes on yellow legal pads or notebooks from their desks.
“They help me remember the information that’s being presented,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. “I was a note taker in school so I like to write as I listen.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., also jotted down notes, explaining that they could come in handy later – both for her and her colleagues.
“I was just writing everything down because this is important proceeding. I’m a lawyer, former prosecutor,” Klobuchar said. “I like to write notes, and one of the things you find out when you write everything down is then everyone comes over and says, ‘What did they just say.’”
One of the managers, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said after returning to the House that it wouldn’t be a proper trial without calling witnesses. Senators aren’t expected to make a decision about calling witnesses until after the House managers and White House lawyers give their opening arguments and senators pose written questions.
“I hope the senators have open minds, but the proof is so airtight,” Nadler said. “The fact that they are seriously saying they don’t want to hear witnesses and they may not want to hear witnesses, is a sign that they are trying to conduct a cover up.”
The ceremonial start of the trial came amid heightened security throughout the Capitol. As the managers carried the articles through the Rotunda, the area beneath the central dome that is typically full of tourists on a weekday, was entirely cleared of people except for reporters and a few lawmakers who came to watch.
Security was tightened as the impeachment articles made their way from the House to the Senate for a second time. Many more Capitol Police stood guard in the corridors, some of whom did random checks of press badges for reporters.
Click ‘play’ above to hear more about the seven impeachment House managers.
Pelosi: Trump administration ‘broke law’
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., cited a government watchdog report Thursday for finding that the Trump administration’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) violated federal law by withholding congressionally approved military aid for Ukraine.
“The OMB, the White House, the administration – I’m saying this – broke the law,” Pelosi said.
Trump withheld $391 million from Ukraine, while urging that country to investigate his political rival, which became a central element of the articles of impeachment against the president. The Government Accountability Office report found that because the money was suspended for a policy reason rather than a programmatic reason, that it wasn’t allowed under the Impoundment Control Act.
Trump has said he was justified in fighting corruption in Ukraine.
“This reinforces again the need for documents and eyewitnesses in the Senate,” Pelosi said.
Other evidence that emerged Wednesday included Lev Parnas, a Ukraine-born associate of Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who said the president knew what they were doing to pressure Ukraine into investigating former vice president Joe Biden.
But White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said Trump had done nothing wrong and that Parnas is seeking to reduce his prison time while under indictment for campaign-finance violations unrelated to Ukraine.
Pelosi was asked at her weekly news conference whether Parnas should be called as a witness at the Senate trial and whether he would be credible. Pelosi said she would rely on lawmakers prosecuting the case in the Senate to decide whether to call Parnas as a witness. Pelosi said Parnas could be credible if he testifies about Trump’s behavior.
“There seems to be documentation that would validate what Mr. Parnas is saying,” Pelosi said. “But that all has to be subjected to scrutiny.”
McConnell mocks House ceremony
Hours before the managers arrived, McConnell criticized the signing ceremony that Pelosi held Wednesday before sending the articles to the Senate. He noted the numerous pens emblazoned with Pelosi’s name in gold ink that she used to sign the document and then and handed out as souvenirs.
“The pens literally came in on silver platters. Golden pens on silver platters. A souvenir to celebrate the moment,” McConnell said. “As though this were a happy bill signing instead of the gravest process in our Constitution.”
He mocked the event for revealing the impeachment as a partisan effort, with Democrats posing for pictures afterward.
“It was transparently partisan performance from beginning to end,” McConnell said.
What is the trial about?
A two-thirds majority of the Senate would be required to convict and remove Trump, which is unlikely in the chamber where Republicans outnumber Democrats 53 to 47.
The articles accuse Trump of pressuring Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate his political rival Biden, while withholding a valuable White House meeting and $391 million in military aid.
Trump and his Republican defenders said he has the authority to conduct foreign policy and was justified in seeking to fight corruption in Ukraine. Republicans noted that Zelensky never announced an investigation, but that Trump met with him and released the aid anyway.
“They have a hoax going on over there. Let’s take care of it,” Trump told congressional Republicans who attended a White House ceremony Wednesday announcing a China trade agreement.
Grisham said “this sham, illegitimate impeachment” reveals Pelosi is more focused on politics than on the American people.
“President Trump has done nothing wrong,” Grisham said. “He looks forward to having the due process rights in the Senate that Speaker Pelosi and House Democrats denied to him and expects to be fully exonerated.”
The House voted Wednesday to send the articles to the Senate. Pelosi had been criticized for delaying the move after the House approved the articles Dec. 18. But she said the delay opened the door to more evidence, such as documents from Parnas, the indicted associate of Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and the offer of testimony from former national security adviser John Bolton.
Pelosi called the impeachment patriotic, rather than political, personal or partisan.
“This is as serious as it gets for any of us,” Pelosi said. “Only the vote to declare war would be something more serious than this.”
But McConnell said House Democrats have “taken a dangerous road” by weaponizing impeachment because they wanted to remove Trump. McConnell said any future president could be threatened by impeachment for policy differences with Congress.
“Going about it in this subjective, unfair and rushed way is corrosive to our institutions. It hurts national unity,” McConnell said. “And it virtually guarantees that future houses of either party will feel free to impeach any future president they do not like.”
The House managers – seven lawmakers chosen by Pelosi – will serve in a role similar to prosecutors in the trial by presenting the evidence against Trump. The lead manager is Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who is joined by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y.; and Reps. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y.; Val Demings, D-Fla.; Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif.; Jason Crow, D-Colo.; and Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas.
All of the managers are lawyers except for Demings, who was Orlando’s police chief. Jeffries, the Democratic Caucus chairman, is the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House. Crow is the only manager who doesn’t serve on one of the committees that investigated Trump, but he is a former Army Ranger who was a lawyer in private practice.
“I think this is a diverse group,” said Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., who is chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee that helped investigate Trump. Engel noted that two first-term lawmakers were chosen – Garcia and Crow – and said a larger number of managers would have been “unwieldy.”