What to know about the impeachment process: Cornyn and Nadler fill in gaps on trial

1/19: Face the Nation

The impeachment probe into President Donald Trump has finally come to trial in the Senate, with Tuesday set to be the formal kick-off of proceedings. But much of the impeachment process has been just that -- process. Here's a closer look at where things stand, where things go and what's expected with insight from two top party members who recently joined us on "Face the Nation."


What's day one look like?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to offer his organizing resolution designating the rules for the impeachment trial in the Senate on Tuesday at 1:00 p.m.  

When the two hours of debate on the resolution is up, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer can offer amendments. Democrats are expected to offer amendments, with at least one amendment related to requesting witnesses and documents. Up to two hours of arguments on the amendments will be equally divided by the White House defense team and the House managers. Senators are not allowed to speak. 

The only time senators can speak or debate on the Senate floor is in closed deliberations. Senators can make a motion to go into closed session at anytime, which can happen with the approval of 51 senators. During a closed session, everyone is removed from the chamber except the senators. However, a number of Senators would prefer the vast majority of the impeachment proceedings to be out in the open.  

After the vote on the impeachment rules, the House managers and president's legal team will make their opening arguments. The senators are required to sit silently, without their electronic devices. And after the arguments, if they have questions, they may submit them in writing. Chief Justice John Roberts who is effectively overseeing the trial will read each question aloud, and the legal team addressed in the question will answer.  

That seems different than the Clinton trial, right?

You said it. Tuesday's session will differ from the debate over the organizing resolution in the Clinton impeachment trial. In 1999, the 100 senators met behind closed doors to deliberate a resolution negotiated by Republican Majority Leader Trent Lott and Democratic Leader Tom Daschle. A bipartisan impeachment organizing resolution was brought to the Senate floor with the support of all 100 senators, and it passed unanimously.

So who does the litigating?

The White House legal defense team and House impeachment managers will be the ones to argue the impeachment resolution, not the senators.  The White House legal team and the impeachment managers will have two hours equally divided to argue. Senators are not allowed to speak on the floor except to offer motions, offer amendments, or roll call votes.  

Once impeachment gets underway -- the managers will effectively be the litigators in the process making their case to remove the president from office. 

Why is Justice John Roberts involved in this? What's his role?

As standing tradition in an impeachment trial, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court acts as a bit of "traffic cop" in the impeachment proceedings. Chief Justice John Roberts is now the third chief justice out of 17 to have presided over a presidential impeachment. The most recent -- Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Roberts' predecessor, in President Clinton's impeachment trial. 

An eye on the Supreme Court as Roberts prepares for impeachment trial

CBS News' Chief Legal Correspondent Jan Crawford broke it down for us on "Face the Nation" on Sunday:

"John Roberts is going to be in this really kind of weird position where he may rule on some related matters or issues but then the Senate could overrule him if it disagrees. And so many people who know him well think he's going to try to work closely with the Senate parliamentarian on any potential rulings and- and not really be the center of attention. 

She adds, "But I think it's a mistake to think about that as that he's just going to be sitting up there kind of trying to keep a low profile because the one thing that's important to understand about the chief justice is that he cares very deeply about protecting the independence of the judiciary and asserting that judges are above politics. This is something that he has cared about since back to his confirmation hearing."

What about those "managers", what do they do?

Nancy Pelosi announces impeachment managers

A select group of lawmakers will serve as impeachment managers and present the two articles of impeachment to the Senate to be considered in the trial. Those handpicked to serve as managers will play a crucial role in what will be just the third impeachment trial in U.S. history, working to convince senators that Mr. Trump deserves to be removed from office for his conduct.

Effectively serving as prosecutors for the Senate trial, they may also respond to arguments presented by the president's defense team and answer written questions from senators.

The impeachment managers are:

  • House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff
  • House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler
  • Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren
  • Congressman Hakeem Jeffries
  • Congresswoman Val Demings
  • Congressman Jason Crow
  • Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia

How long will this last exactly?

While the White House and McConnell continue to hope for a "speedy" trial process, top Republican Senator John Cornyn told "Face the Nation" on Sunday to expect it to be a "grueling exercise."

"We'll be sitting there in our chairs, about probably on the order of six hours a day starting at 1:00 p.m. on East- Eastern Time and then six days a week," Cornyn told CBS. 

What about those witnesses Democrats want?

The decision on whether witnesses would be called is likely not going to be made until after the opening arguments. 

McConnell wants to organize the trial like that of President Clinton, when votes on witnesses took place after the impeachment managers and the president's lawyers presented their cases. House Dems currently argue that not all the facts have been revealed in their case against the president and would like to hear from at least four present or former administration officials, including former National Security Adviser John Bolton, who were kept from testifying in the House impeachment inquiry by the White House. 

"Any Republican senator who says there should be no witnesses or even that witnesses should be negotiated is part of the cover up," Judiciary Chair Rep. Jerry Nadler contended on "Face the Nation" on Sunday. 

Republicans, however, argue that additional witnesses would be unnecessary. 

Sen. John Cornyn says push for new witnesses shows Democrats "getting cold feet" on impeachment

"The House heard testimony from 17 witnesses, more than 100 hours of testimony. All of that will be available to the impeachment managers to present their case to the Senate. And then after they're through, then if the senators, 51 senators, want to hear more then- then we can vote to subpoena those witnesses," Cornyn suggested.

He added, "If the House isn't prepared to go forward with the evidence that they produced in the impeachment inquiry, maybe they ought to withdraw the articles of impeachment and- and start over again. 

What about those other guys -- Rudy Giuliani or Lev Parnas -- are they involved in the trial?

That's yet to be determined, but likely a no. But a new letter released by Lev Parnas, an indicted business associate of Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney, said that Giuliani himself was acting with the approval and knowledge of the president when he was reaching out to the president of Ukraine -- something that certainly has peaked Democrats' interest as being included in the trial proceedings. 

"He [Parnas] seems to be credible because everything he says corroborates things we knew. New documents that he has brought out corroborate what he was saying. But the main credit, the main thing is all relevant evidence should be admitted," Nadler told "Face the Nation" Sunday. 

But Republicans appear to think that kind of information is far from admissible in court

"There's no question that there have been a series of grifters and other hangers on that have associated themselves with the president's campaign or claimed to have special relationships with the president. But this is not the issue that the Senate's going to be deciding," Cornyn told CBS. 

Who's defending Trump in all this?

Who's who on Trump's legal team

You might recognize some big names -- Ken Starr for one, he served as the independent counsel during the Clinton impeachment trial. Add to that is former Harvard University professor-turned Trump defender on cable news Alan Dershowitz.

"It's a historic event and I've expressed my views about it over time. I agreed to do it an an independent constitutional scholar. I take no position on the politics — just on the Constitution," Dershowitz told CBS News on Friday. 

"I'm very, very concerned the precedent this could establish for future presidents," he added. "It could weaken the presidency and weaponize impeachment as a partisan tactic."

Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, private counsel Jane Raskin, Eric D. Herschmann, and Robert Ray round out the rest of the roster. The team of litigators will be led by White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Mr. Trump's personal lawyer Jason Sekulow. 

As for Democrats' perception of the Trump defense team, look no further than Nadler's exchange with Margaret Brennan:

REP. NADLER: I'm not going to comment on their witnesses, except that Ken Starr thinks that,  apparently thinks that, asking a foreign government to involve itself in our elections is okay. But the president 20 years ago talking about a private sexual affair, now that's impeachable. I mean, he's- he's- it's ridiculous.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And Alan Dershowitz says it's not a constitutional criteria for impeachment, abuse of power. It doesn't meet that standard.

REP. NADLER:  Well, I was surprised to see Alan Dershowitz say that. That's simply ignorance.

So, what happens after all this is over?

After the trial concludes, the Senate will conduct a public vote on whether to convict the president and remove him from office. Two-thirds of senators' support is required for that to happen. 

Given a Republican majority in the Senate, McConnell believes Mr. Trump will be acquitted and will remain in office.

CBS News' John Nolen and Grace Segers contributed. 

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    Emily Tillett is the digital producer at "Face the Nation"