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WASHINGTON — Break out the caffeine: Senate Republicans are gearing up to force Democrats to make their case for impeaching President Trump in marathon sessions that go past midnight, when few Americans will be watching.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell unveiled the new rules for Trump’s Senate impeachment trial late Monday, and Democrats, sputtering with rage, charged they amount to a brazen GOP coverup of Trump’s misdeeds.
“It’s clear that McConnell’s rules cause the trial to be rushed, with as little evidence as possible, in the dark of night,” Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told NPR on Tuesday morning. “These rules are a national disgrace.”
The new plan deviates from McConnell’s repeated pledge that the roadmap for Trump’s Senate impeachment trial — which the GOP-controlled Senate will almost certainly approve Tuesday afternoon — would be the same as the one used during the impeachment of former president Bill Clinton. Instead, several details are crucially different.
McConnell’s program squeezes the timeframe so tightly that the Senate trial might even wrap up before Trump gives his State of the Union speech on February 4th. That would a surely please the White House.
Congressional Democrats argue that the Senate now risks frittering away its institutional credibility in a rush to clear Trump, who was impeached by the House of Representatives in December for abusing his office by pressuring Ukraine to grant him political favors and then trying to derail a Congressional investigation into what happened.
“The Clinton comparison was a lie,” Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “No jury would be asked to operate on McConnell’s absurdly compressed schedule, and it is obvious that no Senator who votes for it is intending to truly weigh the damning evidence of the President’s attacks on our Constitution.
Here’s what McConnell’s rules mean for Trump’s impeachment trial.
Late night sessions
The new rules give the same total amount of time for opening arguments as the Clinton trial: 24 hours. But they introduce a new two-day limit per side to use their full time.
Since opening arguments kick off after 1 p.m. Wednesday, that means, once bathroom breaks and meals are included, Democrats might be wrapping up around 2 a.m. or 3 a.m.
Daily trial sessions are scheduled to continue six days a week, including Saturday.
After House Democrats present the case for impeaching Trump on Wednesday and Thursday, Trump’s legal team will get their turn on Friday and Saturday. Then, next week, Senators will get up to 16 hours to ask questions, before deciding whether to call any new witnesses — a hot-button issue.
The case to impeach Trump will be laid out by a select team of seven members of the House of representatives, dubbed “impeachment managers,” including House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff.
For his defense team, Trump has chosen high-profile lawyers who regularly appear on Fox News, including the guy who led the impeachment charge against Clinton: Former Independent Counsel Ken Starr. He’ll be joined by Harvard professor and controversial television pundit Alan Dershowitz.
The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, will preside over the trial, although he can be overruled by a majority of Senators.
McConnell’s new rules throw a bombshell into the debate that’s already raging over whether to bring new witnesses in to testify at the Senate trial.
His plan calls for any new witnesses to appear in a private deposition before they testify publicly. That might allow Republican senators to keep the sworn testimony of new witnesses from being broadcast on national television during the course of the proceedings.
Such new witnesses might include former National Security Advisor John Bolton, who’s suggested he was present during key moments in Trump’s Ukraine saga that haven’t been testified about yet. Bolton said he would testify if he receives a subpoena, but a majority of the GOP-controlled Senate will need to approve one, and that outcome remains far from certain.
Another explosive potential witness is Lev Parnas, the ex-associate of Rudy Giuliani who claims he personally pressured Ukraine on behalf of Giuliani and Trump to launch an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden. Parnas has already turned over a large pile of documents to House investigators, which backs up parts of his story.
In another change from the Clinton era, the vast trove of evidence compiled by the House of Representatives against Trump might not even be officially entered into the record of the Senate impeachment trial.
During Clinton’s impeachment in the late 1990s, a mammoth report drafted by former Independent Counsel Ken Starr was entered automatically into the Senate trial. Now, although the House documents will be printed and distributed to Senators during the proceedings, and the Senate will have to vote on whether to formally admit them into the record.
While it remains to be seen whether this provision will have any material impact, it’s allowed Democrats to bash Senate Republicans for appearing uninterested in acknowledging the mountain of evidence against Trump amassed by House investigators.
Return of the House GOP
On Monday night, the White House also announced that a thundering herd of House Republicans, who have vociferously argued in Trump’s favor, will also advise his impeachment team in the Senate.
The “initial list” features eight of Trump’s most enthusiastic backers from the House, including GOP firebrand Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, and the top-ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, Doug Collins.
It’s not yet entirely clear what role they’ll have over the coming weeks in the Senate, where their presence may not be entirely welcomed by Republican Senators who tend to view their own chamber as more buttoned-up and straight-laced than the hurly-burly House of Representatives.
But the White House definitely wants these fiery defenders involved.
“The President looks forward to their continued participation and is confident that the Members will help expeditiously end this brazen political vendetta on behalf of the American people,” the White House said in a statement.
Cover image: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., gestures while exiting the Senate chambers on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)