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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7:56 p.m. ET, February 8, 2021

GOP wary of Trump's influence ahead of Senate impeachment trial

From CNN's Manu Raju and Sarah Fortinsky 

Rep. John Katko
Rep. John Katko Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images/FILE

They’ve faced sharp backlash from former President Trump and his supporters and been censured by their state parties, all the while facing new threats of primary challenges from the right.  

But the House Republicans who voted to impeach him are showing no signs of backing down and are signaling they'd do it again, the latest salvo in the battle over the party’s direction in the aftermath of Trump’s tumultuous tenure in the White House. 

“Hell no,” Rep. John Katko of New York told CNN, when asked if he had any regrets for his vote to impeach Trump. 

“In eight years in Congress, I probably had a hundred votes that I could have gone either way, and I maybe second-guessed a little bit,” Rep. Tom Rice, the South Carolina Republican who was censured by his state party for his vote, said in an interview. “This is not one of them." 

As the Senate gears up for his second impeachment trial starting Tuesday, Trump still remains a polarizing and dominant force in his party. The pro-Trump wing of the House GOP Conference is still the most sizable bloc, while a large contingent of top Senate Republicans are eager to move past the Trump-era and all the controversies that followed, even as they are likely to acquit him. 

Over the weekend, Rep. Liz Cheney, the No. 3 House GOP leader who was censured by her state party for being just one of 10 House Republicans voting to impeach Trump, asserted that the GOP should “not be embracing the former President.” 

Some top Senate Republicans agree. 

“I think our party has to be embracing solutions,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune, the No. 2 Republican, told CNN Monday when asked about Cheney’s comments. “I think if we want to speak to the issues that people in this country care about, the longer we're tied to a personality, a cult of personality, I just don't think that's a good durable model for the future. That's a debate we are going to be having among Republicans both here and around the country.” 

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska Republican who may vote to convict Trump, said in a brief interview, "I think we're in a place where Donald Trump is gone — and in terms of his role in party, that has yet to be determined. But I have not embraced the party of Donald Trump. I'm looking for the Republican Party.” 

Yet Trump allies like Sen. Lindsey Graham have long argued that Trump’s support is paramount to winning back the House and Senate in 2022 – while House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy made a trek to Trump’s South Florida golf resort to make amends with the former President. 

In the Senate, so far just five GOP senators have indicated they could convict Trump in his impeachment trial – but it’s far short of 17 Republicans who would at least be needed to reach the 67 votes to convict the former President and then later bar him from ever serving in office again. 

Asked if backlash from the right is weighing on Republican senators as they decide how to vote, Texas Sen. John Cornyn said, “I don’t know if I’d say it weighs on us, but we’re aware of that in the political context.” 

Other GOP senators were cryptic when asked about Cheney’s remarks. 

After expressing his concerns about the constitutionality of the impeachment trial, GOP Sen. Roy Blunt was asked was asked about Cheney’s comments about the party not embracing Trump. Instead, he pointed to how the trial is not constitutional in his view.

“Well, embracing your view of the Constitution doesn't mean you're embracing any individual if that's your legitimate view,” said Blunt, who is up for reelection in Missouri, next year. “It’s my legitimate view and that's the only person I can speak for.” 

Caught in the middle are a band of Republicans who defied their party and stood up to Trump, voting to impeach him on a charge of inciting the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection. Many are now facing the threats of Trump-inspired primary challengers following their vote to impeach. 

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Washington state Republican who also voted to impeach, said, “Heck no” when asked if she had any regrets about her impeachment vote. 

“When push comes to shove, I'm gonna stand with the Constitution, which is why I actually I'm at peace with it,” Herrera Beutler said. “Because that's what I said I'd do in the first place." 

CNN's Ted Barrett contributed to this story.

8:00 p.m. ET, February 8, 2021

GOP lawmaker says he thinks senators have already made up their minds on impeachment

From CNN's Ryan Nobles 

Joshua Roberts/Pool/Getty Images/FILE
Joshua Roberts/Pool/Getty Images/FILE

Sen. James Lankford, a Republican from Oklahoma, made it clear what many on Capitol Hill believe but aren’t saying out loud. That the outcome of former President Trump’s impeachment trial is already determined before it has even started. 

“I don’t know of anyone that their mind is not made up ahead of the impeachment trial,” Lankford said. “The first question on the issue of constitutionality, that drives a lot of it and everything else. I think people are pretty locked down.”

Lankford made note of the fact that most Republicans senators already voted that the trial did not have constitutional standing. 

“You’ve got to solve the first issue first. Does this have standing in the basic case? Is this constitutional? Is this jurisdictional?” Lankford asked. “That’s already settled for many people including myself.”

6:18 p.m. ET, February 8, 2021

Security at US Capitol on high alert for Trump impeachment trial 

From CNN's Zachary Cohen, Shimon Prokupecz and Whitney Wild 

Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

The unprecedented second impeachment trial of former President Trump will take place under extraordinary security inside the US Capitol building — a physical reminder that federal officials still believe threats to lawmakers and federal buildings are possible more than a month after the Jan. 6 insurrection. 

Members of the National Guard still patrol the exterior of the Capitol Complex — in some cases along eight-foot, non-scalable fences topped by razor wire. 

Within the halls of the building, all nine House Democratic impeachment managers are flanked by a security detail as they walk to votes and take meetings around the Capitol. The managers were also assigned a security detail during last year's impeachment trial.

In addition, enhanced security measures around the US Capitol will remain in place due to the ongoing potential for violence by domestic extremists, in part because the heightened political tension surrounding the trial itself, sources familiar with the plans told CNN. Access to the Senate will also be tightly regulated, as it was during Trump's first impeachment trial. 

Federal law enforcement officials say they are not currently tracking any "specific and credible" threats to the Capitol surrounding the Senate impeachment trial, which is scheduled to begin on Tuesday, but relevant agencies, including the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security remain on high alert. They're using all the tools at their disposal to avoid the same security and intelligence failures that occurred leading up to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. 

The FBI continues to conduct surveillance on a number of people inside the US, in cases where there is enough probable cause to do so — monitoring for any signs that they are planning something specific around the impeachment trial and in the weeks that follow, according to a law enforcement official. 

Law enforcement officials have also reached out to some of the suspects, in an effort to discourage them from facilitating unrest or violence, the official said. 

As part of that effort, officials are closely tracking threats against individual members of Congress, which have continued to mount in recent weeks. Ensuring the safety of lawmakers both in Washington and as they travel back to their home states has become a particular area of focus, sources have told CNN. 

CNN's Jeremy Herb, Josh Campbell and Katelyn Polantz contributed to this story. 

5:52 p.m. ET, February 8, 2021

Masks not required on Senate floor during impeachment trial 

From CNN's Lauren Fox

Masks will not be required on the Senate floor during former President Trump’s second impeachment trial amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but the expectation is that the House impeachment managers and Trump’s defense lawyers will wear masks unless they are speaking at the podium, according to a Senate official familiar with the planning. 

As for senators, mask-wearing as usual is not mandatory in the Senate. But almost all senators and staffers have complied with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidance to wear masks during the pandemic on the Senate floor and around the US Capitol office complex, with the exception of Republican Sen. Rand Paul.

The Kentucky senator is often seen maskless around the Capitol and on the floor, arguing he’s immune after having Covid early last year. It’s still unclear if those who have had coronavirus remain immune to the virus. Other senators, however, who have had coronavirus and/or been vaccinated for the disease still wear masks.

Note: For the duration of the impeachment trial, senators are required to remain silent, according to trial rules.

5:32 p.m. ET, February 8, 2021

Senate trial expected to start at 1 p.m. ET tomorrow

From CNN's Manu Raju and Ted Barrett

The Senate trial is expected to start at 1 p.m. Tuesday — unless there’s an agreement to start earlier, according to leadership aides.

The trial will start with a prayer and pledge. And then a roll call vote on the organization resolution if any one in the GOP requests one. Otherwise it would be adopted by voice vote.

Tuesday's timeline will be locked in when the Senate wraps up Monday's session right before they gavel out this evening.

5:11 p.m. ET, February 8, 2021

GOP Sen. Blunt says he believes Trump impeachment trial is unconstitutional

From CNN's Manu Raju

Tom Williams/Pool/Getty Images/FILE
Tom Williams/Pool/Getty Images/FILE

In a key sign showing the hurdles for convicting former President Trump, GOP Sen. Roy Blunt said he believes the proceedings are unconstitutional and he’s seen nothing that will change his mind so far.

He said he will vote the same way tomorrow on the constitutional question as he will on the ultimate acquittal vote.

Blunt is up for re-election next year.

4:55 p.m. ET, February 8, 2021

A group of House Republicans will help defend Trump during his impeachment trial

From CNN's Jeremy Herb

Rep. Jim Jordan speaks to reporters in the Senate basement at the U.S. Capitol during the Senate impeachment trial of US President Donald Trump on January 30, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Rep. Jim Jordan speaks to reporters in the Senate basement at the U.S. Capitol during the Senate impeachment trial of US President Donald Trump on January 30, 2020 in Washington, DC. Zach Gibson/Getty Images/FILE

A group of House Republicans allied with Donald Trump are reprising their role at the former President’s second impeachment trial to defend him in the public debate. 

Roughly a half-dozen House Republicans are aiding Trump’s legal defense by planning to speak to reporters during breaks in the impeachment trial, according to a source familiar with the matter. 

That’s what the House Republicans did during Trump’s first impeachment trial last year, when they would speak to television cameras not far from the Senate chamber during breaks in the trial, speaking along with Trump’s lawyers. Senators from both parties would often be waiting in the wings to offer their take on the day’s events, too.

The House members taking part in the effort to publicly defend Trump during the trial include Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio, Lee Zeldin of New York, Elise Stefanik of New York, Mike Johnson of Louisiana, Matt Gaetz of Florida and Andy Biggs of Arizona, according to the source. While House members can’t join Trump’s legal team as a member of Congress – Gaetz suggested last week he’d resign if asked to be part of Trump’s legal team – they can take part in the de facto impeachment trial spin room.

Jordan’s Judiciary Committee staff is also helping the members with their prep for the trial. The Judiciary Committee Republican general counsel, Steve Castor, is a cousin to one of Trump’s attorneys, Bruce Castor. Bruce Castor told a Pennsylvania radio station last week it was a connection that helped put him in touch with Trump before he was hired for the trial.

4:37 p.m. ET, February 8, 2021

Here's where the impeachment managers and Trump's legal team will be working during the trial 

From CNN's Ali Zaslav and Ted Barrett

The House Impeachment managers have set up shop for the duration of the Senate impeachment trial in an office near Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s office suite, according to a person familiar with the planning of the trial.

The room has computers set up on a table, plus a television screen with several channel options available. Hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes can also be seen on the table.

The impeachment managers spent time in the office on Monday afternoon. The managers departed about an hour later back to the House side without comment.

CNN
CNN

Former President Trump’s legal team will be offered to break in an office during the trial on the other side of the Senate floor, called the LBJ room, according to two officials familiar with the logistics of the trial. Tables are set up with a navy cloth hanging over, and two large cases of water bottles.

CNN
CNN

Also of note, a metal detector has been placed in the Senate Press Gallery for reporters to walk through in order to enter the Senate chamber during the impeachment trial.

The security measure is likely temporary for the duration of the trial, like last year — where security magnetometers were put up in the same spot in the gallery until Trump’s first impeachment trial concluded.

CNN
CNN

4:39 p.m. ET, February 8, 2021

Trump fixated on "accountability" for GOP lawmakers who voted to impeach him, sources say

From CNN's Jim Acosta

Former President Trump has been reaching out to aides and advisers to discuss his upcoming impeachment trial, sources familiar with the conversations said.

Trump believes he will be acquitted at his trial, based in part on the likelihood that there won't be enough Republican senators to vote to convict the ex-president, one of the sources said.

During these last two weeks out of office, Trump has been fixated on punishing GOP lawmakers who voted to impeach him in the House, including Rep. Liz Cheney.

One Trump adviser said the ex-president is seeking what he sees as "accountability" for Republican House members who turned "against the people." The adviser acknowledged that was a twisted view of reality as Trump was the one who was actively attempting to overturn the will of the voters.  

Former Trump aides recall the then-President was enjoying the spectacle created by the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6. Trump was "loving watching the Capitol mob," one former senior White House official said.