Trump Impeachment Trial Reaches Q-and-A Day

WASHINGTON (CN) — Sharpen those pencils, senators, it’s time for Q&A.

As lawmakers take to their wooden desks on the floor of the Senate for the eighth day of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, Chief Justice John Roberts will take charge of the historic proceedings in a new fashion.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., left, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., escort Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts into the Senate chamber on Jan. 16, 2020. (Senate Television)

House managers followed by the president’s counsel have laid out their cases for why to convict or acquit Trump on charges that he abused the power of the presidency and obstructed Congress.

Now senators will be submitting questions to Roberts written on a piece of paper. Only one side can respond to each question, with senators specifying whether their question is directed to the prosecution or defense. The session, a total of 16 hours, is expected to run late into the night Wednesday and continue on Thursday afternoon.

Here’s a worksheet for those following along at home.

1)  Is this really so different from other days of the impeachment?

“I don’t think any of us have ever been this quiet this long,” Senator Ben Casey, D-Pa., said with a laugh on Tuesday.

While senators are prohibited from speaking on the floor of the chamber during the trial, Republicans and Democrats alike have been seen to stray from the rule, whispering to the occupant of the neighboring desk or leaning heads together in the corner of the chamber for quick conversations. For the most part, however, the lawmakers have remained silent over the last seven days of proceedings.

Senators will not be speaking from the floor on Wednesday, but they will have their voices heard through submitted questions, read aloud by Roberts to the body.

The new phase of the trial promises insight as to where the senators stand in the second week of trial, as Democrats hoping to subpoena witnesses can only do so if four GOP members break party lines to back the measure.

2) After days of arguments from attorneys, why do the senators get to ask questions today?

The question-answer period is intended to give senators the opportunity to learn more from both sides on the arguments, presented across six days. Senators will sign their questions, before passing them off to a Senate page to deliver to Roberts on the dais.

Party leadership indicated previously that they will be reviewing questions to prevent duplication. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters Tuesday that he would not be censoring inquiries from Democrats during this process. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called a caucus Tuesday, where Republicans were instructed on how to navigate the questioning.

3) On all other days, Chief Justice Roberts doesn’t say much. Why is he the one reading out questions today?

Seated above the senators at trial, Roberts has so far played a perfunctory role in the impeachment trial. In his presiding role over the historic proceedings, Roberts beginning Wednesday will take center stage as he fields questions from senators, alternating Democrat and Republican inquiries.

The role reflects how a judge in a traditional courtroom would read aloud jury notes during deliberations.

Roberts told the chamber Tuesday that, during the Clinton impeachment trial, his predecessor Chief Justice William Rehnquist advised the House managers and defense counsel that questions could be answered “fully and fairly” in five minutes or less.

“The transcript indicates that the statement was met with quote laughter, end quote,” Roberts said, setting off chuckles of his own in the chamber on both sides of the aisle. “Nonetheless, managers and counsel generally limited their responses accordingly. I think the late chief’s time limit was a good one and would ask both sides to abide by it.”

With a similar appeal, McConnell, who has sought to limit the length of the trial since first proposing a resolution last week on the rules to govern it, asked that senators be thoughtful and brief with their questions, and managers and counsel succinct with answers.

4) Every other presidential impeachment trial has involved witnesses. Will that happen after all this questioning is over?

Democrats are expected to issue a motion to subpoena witnesses Friday, and McConnell is reported as of Tuesday night not to have the 51 “nay” votes to block it. The outcome of the end-of-week vote will determine whether the trial comes to what Democrats would describe as a premature close or continues into a third week with possible testimony from senior-level advisers at the center of the Ukraine scandal.

If Democrats grab the critical four GOP votes to bring the Democrats minority’s 47 votes to 51, a series of votes will follow on whether to specifically subpoena key witnesses like former national security adviser John Bolton and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.

Back in 1868, the Senate heard from 40 live witnesses before voting on whether to remove President Andrew Johnson from office.

Twenty-one years ago in the Clinton trial, the Senate reviewed three videotaped depositions from witnesses including from Monica Lewinsky, with whom the president denied having extramarital sex.

The Senate undertook a question-and-answer period at Clinton’s trial. The 16-hours allotted for questioning this week will be broken down into two, eight-hour days, with senators expected to take short breaks every 10 to 12 questions.

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