Senate opens Trump impeachment trial

The Senate on Thursday officially opened the impeachment trial against President TrumpDonald John TrumpTeachers union launches 0K ad buy calling for education funding in relief bill FDA head pledges 'we will not cut corners' on coronavirus vaccine Let our values drive COVID-19 liability protection MORE, formally accepting a pair of articles presented by House Democrats.

Seven House Democrats serving as prosecutors — handpicked a day earlier by Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTeachers union launches 0K ad buy calling for education funding in relief bill No signs of breakthrough for stalemated coronavirus talks Governors air frustrations with Trump on unemployment plans MORE (D-Calif.) — solemnly walked together from the House chamber over to the Senate to present the articles of impeachment, in a similar ceremonial display to when they delivered them to the upper chamber the previous night.

Stepping into the well of the Senate, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffGOP chairmen hit back at accusation they are spreading disinformation with Biden probe Schiff, Khanna call for free masks for all Americans in coronavirus aid package House Intelligence panel opens probe into DHS's involvement in response to protests MORE (D-Calif.) read the resolution naming the seven House prosecutors or “impeachment managers” and informing the Senate that his chamber had charged Trump with high crimes and misdemeanors.

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Schiff, the lead manager, then read the two articles of impeachment — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — pertaining to Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to launch investigations into Democrat Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump says he is 'seriously' considering a capital gains tax cut Why Joe Biden is in trouble Harris favored as Biden edges closer to VP pick MORE and other political rivals.

The ceremony, filled with pomp and circumstance, marked the official handoff of the months-long impeachment process from the House to the Senate, which in the coming weeks will vote on whether to end Trump’s presidency.

Later Thursday, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts made the short drive across the street to the Senate, where he was sworn in to preside over the trial. Roberts was escorted to the Senate dais by a bipartisan quartet: Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

The chief justice then administered an oath to all of the senators, who pledged to uphold "impartial justice." 

The substance of the trial is expected to start Tuesday following the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. It will begin with the Senate passing a resolution that establishes rules and procedures for the trial. 

The Senate will then notify the president’s defense team, which must be given at least two days’ notice. 

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That means opening arguments from the Democratic managers and Trump’s defense team would not occur until later in the week.

The House voted largely along party lines on Wednesday to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate, four weeks to the day after voting to impeach Trump.

Pelosi had declined to immediately send over the articles in an effort to pressure Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTeachers union launches 0K ad buy calling for education funding in relief bill No signs of breakthrough for stalemated coronavirus talks State aid emerges as major hurdle to reviving COVID-19 talks MORE (R-Ky.) to agree to allow witness testimony during the trial.

But McConnell — with the backing of his Senate Republican Conference — refused to budge and maintained that any decisions on witnesses should come after the opening arguments. 

Still, each day seems to bring new developments in the Ukraine scandal.

The presentation of the impeachment articles on Thursday came hours after the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the nonpartisan congressional watchdog, released a report concluding that the Trump administration violated the law by withholding military aid to Ukraine last year.

“Faithful execution of the law does not permit the president to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law,” the GAO said.

It also came after Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiCoronavirus concerns emerge around debates Giuliani says Black Lives Matter is 'domestic terrorist' group Commission on Presidential Debates rejects Trump campaign call for earlier debate MORE, provided new documents to House impeachment investigators this week showing efforts to convince Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to announce an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden as well as apparent communications tracking the movements of former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie YovanovitchMarie YovanovitchMarie Yovanovitch on Vindman retirement: He 'deserved better than this. Our country deserved better than this' Cheney clashes with Trump Voters must strongly reject the president's abuses by voting him out this November MORE

One handwritten note from Parnas read: "get Zalensky [sic] to announce that the Biden case will be investigated."

Parnas also conducted an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that aired Wednesday night claiming that "President Trump knew exactly what was going on," 

"He was aware of all of my movements. He- I wouldn't do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president,” Parnas added.

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisHarris favored as Biden edges closer to VP pick The Hill's Campaign Report: LIVE: Trump from Gettysburg | The many unknowns of 2020 | Omar among those facing primary challenges Sens. Markey, Cruz clash over coronavirus relief: 'It's not a goddamn joke Ted' MORE (D-Calif.) said Thursday the Senate should call Parnas to appear as part of the impeachment trial though GOP senators so far have been reluctant to say if Parnas should testify or if any of the new evidence should be considered.

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“They are afraid of the truth,” Pelosi said of GOP senators. “This is just another avoiding of the facts and the truth on their part.”

McConnell, meanwhile, criticized Pelosi for holding a ceremony Wednesday evening to sign the articles of impeachment before the impeachment managers walked over to the Senate to deliver them. Pelosi used multiple pens — as is standard for such ceremonies to sign legislation — and handed them out to the impeachment managers.

“Well, nothing says seriousness and sobriety like handing out souvenirs. As though this were a happy bill signing instead of the gravest process in our Constitution,” McConnell said from the Senate floor.