Senate impeachment trial gets underway with solemn swearing-in and stern warnings to keep quiet
With pomp and protocol complete, trial will begin in earnest on Tuesday
WASHINGTON — The impeachment trial of President Donald Trump officially began Thursday with a recitation of the charges against him and the somber swearing in of Chief Justice John Roberts and the senators who took an oath to render “impartial justice.”
A bipartisan group of senators — Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Dianne Feinstein, D.Calif. — escorted Roberts to the dais of the chamber where he was sworn in by the Senate’s most senior member, Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa, to preside over the trial.
“Do you solemnly swear that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of Donald John Trump, president of the United States, now pending, you will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws, so help you God?” Grassley asked.
“I do,” Roberts said.
“God bless you,” Grassley said.
Roberts, wearing his black judicial robe, then had the senators stand and raise their right hands to be sworn in as jurors while more than 150 spectators looked on from the public gallery. The senators then lined up alphabetically, in groups of four, to sign a book at the clerk’s desk in front of the chamber confirming they had taken the oath.
“I thought of the Bible I have in my Senate desk when they asked the chief justice to put his hand on the Bible to take his oath,” Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said following the near 30-minute swearing-in process.
He said that while senators also take an oath of office, an impeachment trial is a first for him and most members. But it’s the second time for 15 other senators now serving, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who sat as jurors for the trial against President Bill Clinton in 1999.
“Even though I have gone through this before, for all of us, the solemnity, gravity of the moment in our history hits you square in the back when you take that oath,” Schumer said, noting he could see his colleagues “visibly gulp” as Roberts walked into the chamber. “The weight of history, the eyes of history, you feel it, are upon you.”
The solemn process carried out in a nearly silent chamber stood in stark contrast to the almost celebratory signing of the articles of impeachment on Wednesday by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who handed out keepsake pens following that ceremony.
McConnell blasted the display as “a transparently partisan performance from beginning to end.” And on Wednesday, he said the Senate members pledged to “rise above petty factionalism” during the trial.
“I can’t speak for the House or what they do over there, but that’s certainly the objective here,” Lee said, when asked about the Senate’s decorum. A Trump ally and co-chairman of the president’s reelection campaign in Utah, Lee added that “it is now up to the Senate to exercise our constitutional duty to rise above this factious spirit and ensure right is done.”
With the traditional pomp and protocol complete, the Senate will convene as a court Tuesday at 1 p.m. to hear the trial’s opening arguments. It is the third time in American history that the Senate has held an impeachment trial. No president has ever been convicted and removed from office and the Republican-controlled body is expected to render the same verdict for Trump.
Two hours before the swearing in, the House managers who will prosecute the case arrived in the Senate to read the two articles of impeachment against the president.
“Hear ye! Hear ye! Hear ye! All persons are commanded to keep silent, on pain of imprisonment, while the House of Representatives is exhibiting to the Senate of the United States articles of impeachment against Donald John Trump, president of the United States,” proclaimed the chamber’s sergeant-at-arms.
As the six other managers stood on the Democrats’ side in the well of the Senate, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., read the resolution appointing the managers, who will prosecute the case, and the articles charging Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
The first charge alleges Trump abused his presidential power by pressuring Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden, using military aid to the country as leverage. The president is also charged with obstructing Congress’ ensuing probe.
“President Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to the Constitution if allowed to remain in office,” Schiff said. “President Trump thus warrants impeachment and trial, removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States.”
Trump insists he did nothing wrong, and The Associated Press reported he dismissed the trial on Thursday at the White House: “It’s totally partisan. It’s a hoax.”
While the senators are expected to acquit the president, new revelations surfaced this week relating to the White House’s dealings with Ukraine.
The Government Accountability Office said Thursday that the White House violated federal law in withholding security assistance to Ukraine, which shares a border with hostile Russia.
Earlier in the week, an indicted associate of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Lev Parnas, turned over to prosecutors new documents that link the president to an alleged shadow foreign policy being run by Giuliani which set off alarms among career U.S. foreign service workers in Ukraine.
The developments added pressure on senators to call witnesses for the trial, a main bone of contention that is still to be resolved. Utah Sen. Mitt Romney is among a group of GOP senators working behind the scenes to ensure the trial will allow an opportunity to call new witnesses.
McConnell has said the trial should follow the model used in the Clinton impeachment, where a decision on adding new witnesses and evidence took place after opening arguments and questions from senators.
Correction: An earlier version incorrectly stated that one of the articles of impeachment charge President Donald Trump with obstruction of justice. He is charged with obstruction of Congress.