Trump's second impeachment trial starts tomorrow

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Melissa Mahtani, Veronica Rocha and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 9:39 PM ET, Mon February 8, 2021
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10:08 a.m. ET, February 8, 2021

Senate leaders close in on deal on impeachment trial rules, source familiar with the talks says

From CNN's Manu Raju

Getty Images
Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are closing in on an agreement on a trial resolution for the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, according to a person familiar with the talks. 

Below is some of what has been agreed to, according to this person, but they note that this is not a complete list:

  • On Tuesday, up to a four hour debate on issue of constitutionality of the trial and then they will vote at a simple majority threshold (a repeat of the vote Sen. Rand Paul forced a few weeks ago). 
  • Starting Wednesday at noon ET, up to 16 hours per side for presentations.
  • At the request of the impeachment managers, a debate and vote on calling witnesses, if the managers want it.
  • Per the request of the former President’s counsel, no trial proceedings during the Sabbath (between Friday after 5 p.m. ET or on Saturday). The trial would reconvene the afternoon of Sunday, Feb. 14.

  

9:57 a.m. ET, February 8, 2021

Biden says Senate should "work it out" when asked about Trump's impeachment

From CNN's Nikki Carvajal

President Joe Biden walks from Marine One after arriving on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, on February 8.
President Joe Biden walks from Marine One after arriving on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, on February 8. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

After Marine One landed at the White House at 9:39 a.m., President Biden took a single question on impeachment before walking into the residence side of the White House.

When a reporter asked if former President Trump should lose his political rights, Biden responded, "the Senate has to work it out," according to pool reports. 

Biden was later spotted jogging to the Oval Office.

 

9:46 a.m. ET, February 8, 2021

What to watch on impeachment today

From CNN's Lauren Fox

The US Capitol rotunda is seen on February 8 in Washington, DC.
The US Capitol rotunda is seen on February 8 in Washington, DC. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

A series of legal briefs are due today from both the former president’s defense team and impeachment managers.

  • The Trump brief is expected at 10 a.m. ET
  • The Democrats will then respond with their own brief at 12 p.m. ET

We are also watching carefully to see if Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell cut a deal to organize how long the trial will be, whether there will be witnesses and how many hours each side has for arguments.

Over the weekend, Schumer agreed to accommodate a request from one of former President Trump's impeachment attorneys to halt Trump's impeachment trial during the Jewish Sabbath.

Lawyer David Schoen asked that the trial, which is set to begin on Tuesday, be temporarily put on hold if it is not finished by the beginning of the Sabbath on Friday at 5:24 p.m. ET and then reconvene on Sunday. There would need to be an agreement among senators to hold the trial on a Sunday.

9:44 a.m. ET, February 8, 2021

A debate over witnesses looms over the start of the trial

From CNN's Jeremy Herb and Manu Raju

House impeachment managers are preparing a case to show the visceral evidence of the Capitol insurrection and how former President Donald Trump's words and actions motivated the rioters to breach the Capitol, according to sources familiar with the deliberations.

There are still key questions for them to decide before the trial: They haven't made a final decision, for instance, on whether they will call witnesses. 

But the desire for witnesses who might be able to corroborate Trump's thinking and actions while the riots were unfolding is running into many Senate Democrats' wishes for a quick trial so they can move onto passing President Biden's Covid-19 relief package.

Still, some Senate Democrats say they don't want to hamstring the managers for the sake of speed.

Because Democrats control the Senate, they have the votes to allow for witnesses without GOP support, unlike in the 2020 trial.

"I think we should be consistent," Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, said on "Fox News Sunday" about Senate Democrats' push in the first trial to subpoena witnesses.

"This time, we saw what happened in real time," Murphy added. "President Trump sent that angry mob to the Capitol on live TV, so it's not as important that you have witnesses, but if the House managers want witnesses, we should allow them to be able to put them on."

Even without witnesses, Democrats are considering using evidence from video and social media to help illustrate how Trump's words, actions and tweets motivated the rioters to attack the Capitol, the sources say.

9:29 a.m. ET, February 8, 2021

Trump's lawyers will lay out more details of their defense strategy this morning 

From CNN's Jeremy Herb

On Monday, both the House impeachment managers and Trump's lawyers will file new briefs before the trial gets underway.

Trump's team is scheduled to file its pre-trial brief at 10 a.m. ET, which will be a more detailed account of the former President's defense after the initial response to the House's impeachment submitted last week.

The House managers will file a response to Trump's initial filing by 12 p.m. ET, giving them an opportunity to push back on the claims that both Trump and most Senate Republicans are making that the trial itself is unconstitutional.

All sides expect a shorter trial than Trump's three-week impeachment trial in 2020, but the exact length of time for arguments is still undecided.

How both sides are presenting their case: The House managers have been diligently preparing a presentation for when the trial gets underway Tuesday, relying on the hours of video footage available from the Capitol riot on Jan. 6 to try to illustrate in visceral detail how the rioters were incited by Trump and his months of lies that the election was stolen from him.

While convicting Trump with a two-thirds vote is highly unlikely, the case will serve as the first detailed public accounting of how rioters temporarily halted Congress from certifying President Biden's win, violently attacked police officers and actively sought out then-Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as they ransacked the Capitol.

Trump's legal team plans to argue that Trump did not incite the rioters, and that the trial of a former president is unconstitutional after the House rushed to impeach Trump without giving him the chance to mount any defense.

9:21 a.m. ET, February 8, 2021

Here's why the Senate wants a speedy impeachment trial

From CNN's Jeremy Herb and Daniella Diaz

The US Capital is seen on February 8 in Washington, DC.
The US Capital is seen on February 8 in Washington, DC. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and their aides have been engaged in extensive discussions about the trial's organizing resolution, which the Senate will pass before arguments begin.

Unlike last year's trial, both sides hope to reach a bipartisan agreement on the trial's parameters, which will include how long the impeachment managers and defense team get to make their arguments, how witnesses could be called and other matters.

There's reason for bipartisan optimism in the Senate — when it comes to logistics at least — because both sides are seeking a speedy trial. While the House impeachment managers are eyeing a proceeding that could last up to two weeks, some Senate Democrats are pushing for a quicker time frame.

The reason is simple. Senate Democrats are diving into their effort to pass President  Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus plan, a high-wire act that will require every Senate Democrat to stay on board. Plus, Biden still has a slate of nominees that needs to get confirmed by the Senate. And none of that can happen on the floor until the trial is done.

While Republicans are in no rush to confirm Biden's Cabinet, they also don't have a desire for the public to remain fixated on the events of Jan. 6 — and on the former President — in a lengthy trial.

The expectation on all sides is that Trump's second impeachment trial will be shorter than the first, which lasted three weeks. Just how much shorter is still being negotiated.

Schumer's office said Saturday night that the Senate will accommodate a request from one of Trump's impeachment attorneys, David Schoen, to halt the trial during the Jewish Sabbath.

This would mean the trial would be suspended at sundown Friday and potentially not reconvene until Sunday.

9:05 a.m. ET, February 8, 2021

Key things to know about the senator who will preside over Trump's impeachment trial 

From CNN's Joan Biskupic

Senator Patrick J. Leahy walks to the Senate floor on Capitol Hill on February 2 in Washington, DC.
Senator Patrick J. Leahy walks to the Senate floor on Capitol Hill on February 2 in Washington, DC. Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images

Sen. Patrick Leahy is expected to adhere largely to the script of Chief Justice John Roberts when he presides over the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump this week.

But unlike when the robe-clad Roberts oversaw then-President Trump's 2020 trial, Leahy will routinely slip into his senator role for votes, including on whether to convict or acquit the former president of inciting the deadly January 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

The 80-year-old Vermont Democrat — who is the chamber's president pro tempore, or the longest serving senator of the majority party — could also end up voting on knotty motions related to evidence and witnesses.

Just as the first-ever impeachment trial of a former president will break new ground in America, so will the dual roles of Leahy. He will have a model in the actions of two chief justices of the United States, Roberts with Trump in 2020 and William Rehnquist with President Bill Clinton in 1999.

Sources familiar with Leahy's preparation say he is reviewing how the two men presided and is looking to patterns set by the chief justices in an effort to enforce Senate trial procedures, maintain a sense of decorum and avoid driving the arguments of either side.

Whether any of Leahy's votes are cast on close fractious motions will depend on how the trial scheduled to begin Tuesday unfolds and the dueling strategies of the US House impeachment managers and Trump legal team.

Leahy already voted once after being sworn on Jan. 26 as presiding officer, with the 55-45 majority that rejected a move by Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul to block the trial from going forward. That vote could be a preview of the ultimate result, an insufficient number of Republicans voting with Democrats and a Trump acquittal: The Senate trial process for a president resembles that for judges and other officials impeached by the US House. In all cases, the Constitution requires a two-thirds vote for conviction.

Leahy, who has vowed to be fair and impartial, is declining interviews, according to a spokesperson.

9:04 a.m. ET, February 8, 2021

Democratic senator says impeachment managers should be allowed to call witnesses if they want

From CNN's Ali Main

Sen. Chris Murphy speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on January 27.
Sen. Chris Murphy speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on January 27. Greg Nash/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, said he thinks Senate Democrats should be "consistent" in their support for having witnesses testify in an impeachment trial if House managers want that, although he noted that "it's not as important" to call witnesses in this trial, since so much of the case against former President Trump rests on things that happened publicly.

"I think we should be consistent. Obviously, we were very strongly in favor of witnesses during the first impeachment trial. We were very disappointed when the House asked for the ability to call witnesses and Senate Republicans denied them that ability, so if the House managers want to call witnesses, then I think we should allow them to do so," he said Sunday, adding that Trump's second impeachment trial is "different" from the first.

"This time, we saw what happened in real time. President Trump sent that angry mob to the Capitol on live TV so it's not as important that you have witnesses, but if the House managers want witnesses, we should allow them to be able to put them on," he explained.

This comes as CNN reports the House impeachment managers haven't made a final decision on whether they will call witnesses. They're preparing for the possibility they won't have any witnesses – but they may decide to use them if they find a witness willing to voluntarily step forward, according to sources. Even without witnesses, Democrats are preparing to use evidence from video and social media to help illustrate how Trump’s words, actions and tweets incited the rioters to attack the Capitol.

The Connecticut Democrat said he thinks Sen. Rand Paul's argument against the constitutionality of holding an impeachment trial for a president who has left office is "not from outer space" or "ridiculous," but that he comes to a different judgement on the issue.

"I think that that the clause that gives Congress the responsibility to deny an official future office requires us to take this step, even though the President has left office, and of course, as you cited, there is precedent for that. It sets up a strange circumstance by which a president or any official could very quickly resign to preserve their right to run later on even though they engaged in pretty serious misconduct. So I think we have this responsibility," he said.

8:30 a.m. ET, February 8, 2021

Trump's second impeachment trial begins tomorrow. Here's what you need to know.

Analysis from CNN's Paul LeBlanc

Former President Trump's second Senate impeachment trial will commence on Tuesday, setting up a week (or two) that will be equal parts historic and divisive.

The outcome of the trial is really not in doubt. Trump is poised to be acquitted by the Senate, where it would take a two-thirds vote to convict him. At least 17 Republicans would need to join all of the Senate Democrats to convict.

However, the trial will still bring drama. Trump is not expected to appear, after his lawyers rejected a Democratic request to testify.

His lawyers are expected to argue that the Senate cannot impeach a former president and that Trump's January 6 speech at the White House Ellipse preceding the US Capitol insurrection was protected by the First Amendment.

The House impeachment managers will argue that Trump is "singularly responsible" for inciting the insurrection, and that he should be barred from holding future office.

  • Read the pre-trial brief from Trump's legal team here.
  • The House impeachment managers' brief is here.

How long will the trial last? That's an open question at this point. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and their aides have been engaged in extensive discussions about the trial's organizing resolution, which the Senate will pass before arguments begin.

Both sides hope to reach a bipartisan agreement on the trial's parameters, which will include how long the impeachment managers and defense team get to make their arguments, how witnesses could be called and other matters.

What you need to know. For a complete walkthrough of the trial process, the key players, and what the results could mean for the country, listen to the latest CNN Political Briefing hosted by David Chalian here.