(WASHINGTON) — For a president who likes a good show and seems to thrive on chaos, the opening of his impeachment trial Tuesday could give him exactly that. Sources on Capitol Hill expect the first full day of the trial to be something of a political food fight. At the heart of that debate is whether or not to call witnesses who Democrats claim have first-hand knowledge of the president’s alleged pressure campaign against UkraineRather than the staid proceedings of Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial in 1999 — which followed a close script known to the public, with opening arguments by the House impeachment managers — the choreography of President Donald Trump’s trial is something of a question mark that could see the chamber, known for its decorum and heady debate, run entirely off script, if not off the rails. Ahead of Tuesday’s trial, sources close to the president’s legal team argued the articles of impeachment against Trump are “deficient on their face” because they fail to state any violation of law.In the 110-page trial brief, lawyers for the president rejected the articles as a “brazenly political act” and argued that even if the president did raise the issue of the Bidens and/or Burisma in the course of engaging with Ukraine, there would be nothing wrong with that so long as the president was seeking to advance the public interest. “Importantly, even under House Democrats’ theory, mentioning the matter to President Zelenskyy would have been entirely justified as long as there was a basis to think that would advance the public interest. To defend merely asking a question, the President would not have to show that Vice President Biden (or his son) actually committed any wrongdoing,” the brief argues. For now, much of what will happen Tuesday hinges on how long this political slugfest continues. A senior administration official predicted it is “highly unlikely” opening arguments happen Tuesday, and that could complicate the push by GOP leaders and the White House to compress the schedule.However, the White House has said it’s “extraordinarily unlikely” the trial goes beyond two weeks. Once Chief Justice John Roberts gavels the trial to order, and the opening prayer is given by Senate Chaplain Barry Black and impeachment proclamation by Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to make a motion to take up his majority-only resolution that lays out the guidelines for the first phase of the trial. The McConnell measure, released Monday night, condenses opening arguments by the managers and Trump lawyers to 24 hours each over two days per side, followed by up to 16 hours of questioning, via written special submissions by senators. Democrats say a setup involving 12-hour days amounts to GOP efforts to “conceal” the president’s alleged misconduct by conducting the trial in the “dead of night” when the American public is less likely to be paying attention.On the crucial issue of whether or not to call witnesses, senators will vote up or down — after the questioning period — immediately following a four-hour period of debate on the issue. Key GOP senators, like Susan Collins of Maine and Utah’s Mitt Romney, who have expressed interest in subpoenaing certain witnesses, insisted that this language be included. “If the Senate votes no at that point, no party or Senator will be permitted to move to subpoena any witness or documents. If the Senate votes yes, both sides will be free to make motions to subpoena witnesses, and the Senate can debate and vote on them,” according to a senior Senate GOP leadership aide. Democrats were riled up by the GOP leader’s exclusion of evidence not in the record at the time of the Dec. 18 House impeachment vote. It appears that any evidence related to Lev Parnas, a key associate of Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, would not be permitted.Parnas has been turning over evidence to congressional investigators that he argues is pertinent to their impeachment investigation. Democrats, who have been releasing the evidence publicly, argue that Republicans saying no new evidence should be included is “completely out of sync with how trials are done” and say any evidence that is in the public record should be considered. “Impeachment rules do not automatically admit evidence from the House into the Senate trial,” said a senior Senate GOP leadership aide. “This is an important fact specific to this trial because the White House was denied due process throughout the 12 weeks of partisan House proceedings.”Democrats are expected to try to amend McConnell’s trial rules with a request for witnesses and documents, according to sources familiar with their plans. But because of impeachment rules, no senator is allowed to debate anything in public. That leaves the debate before cameras to both the House managers and the newly minted Trump legal team. Each side would likely get up to an hour to speak. It will be the first time the public will see both sets of opponents on the Senate floor, seated at tables specially arranged for the occasion. “We are going to demand votes — yes or no, up or down — on the four witnesses we’ve requested and on the three sets of documents we’ve requested. … Make no mistake about it, we will force votes on witnesses and documents,” Sen. Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a press conference Sunday evening.”It’s going to be total chaos. No one knows what they’re doing,” said one former Senate aide with experience in impeachment trials. McConnell’s resolution is expected to include time for a motion to call witnesses after senators have had a chance to ask their questions of both sides, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, confirmed. This was important to middle-of-the-road GOP senators like Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, as well as Romney. Collins signaled in a statement Thursday night that she is “likely” to support calling witnesses.
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