Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell altered the resolution proposing rules for President Trump’s impeachment trial Tuesday after Democrats alleged Republicans were trying to hold the trial in the dark of night.
The resolution gives House impeachment managers and the president’s legal team 24 hours over a three-day period to present their arguments, the same that was afforded to both sides during the 1999 impeachment trial for President Bill Clinton.
An early version of the proposed rules on Monday suggested the 24 hours would be divided only over a two-day period, suggesting 12-hour days. With the trial beginning at 1 p.m. every day, Democrats protested holding the hearings in the wee hours of the morning.
“Why not when the sun is shining?” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said Tuesday morning, ahead of the trial kicking off. “It’s pretty obvious why not. On something as important as impeachment, McConnell’s resolution is nothing more than a national disgrace.”
After the arguments from both sides, senators will have 16 hours to submit written questions through Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts Jr., who will pose the questions to each side.
A vote on whether or not to call witnesses will come after the senators’ submit the questions. It would take 51 votes to do so. Republicans hold 53 seats, while the Democratic caucus holds 47.
The change did not prevent a fight over the rules, which were debated as the first order of business when the trial got underway.
House impeachment managers insisted the trial should be expanded to include new documents and new witnesses. Mr. Trump’s team wants to delay decisions on more evidence until after both sides present their cases.
Taking the podium in front of the Senate, Rep. Adam B. Schiff argued that that the proposed rules would render the proceedings “a mockery of a trial.”
Mr. Schiff, a California Democrat serving as the lead House impeachment manager prosecuting the case against Mr. Trump, warned that the vote on the GOP-proposed rules would be “even more serious than your vote on guilt or innocence.”
He also acknowledged the historic nature of the proceedings that are only the third time the Senate has considered convicting and removing a president from office.
But he said the two articles of impeachment against Mr. Trump — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — are “the most serious ever charged against a president.”
The senators on both sides of the aisle watched in grim silence from their desks.
White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, who is leading Mr. Trump’s defense team, urged the senators to adopt the rules that mirror the process followed in President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial in 1999.
He chided House Democrats for delaying the start of the trial for 33 days since they impeached Mr. Trump in a party-line vote on Dec. 18.
“Its time to start with this trial. It’s a fair process. They will have the opportunity to stand up and make their opening statement,” Mr. Cipollone said.
He said that after each side makes their arguments, “the only conclusion will be the president has done absolutely nothing wrong and these article of impeachment do not begin to approach the standard required by the Constitution.”
With the proposed new timeline for presenting the cases, House impeachment managers and Mr. Trump’s team will each have 24 hours over three days to make their case. It is the same timeline used in 1999.
The showdown over trial procedure comes after Democrats have repeatedly tried to demand witnesses be called during the upper chamber’s hearing. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi held on to the articles of impeachment for about a month in an attempt to influence the process.
Mr. McConnell and his Republican conference have remained united in support of following the same procedures used for Mr. Clinton’s impeachment trial in 1999. At the time, the Senate unanimously agreed to the rules.
During the process about 20 years ago, House impeachment managers had 24 hours to argue their case, as did the president’s legal team. Both sides used the hours spread across three days each. The senators were able to submit written questions to both sides over two days before the issue of witnesses came up for debate.
The impeachment of Mr. Trump stemmed from a July 25 phone call in which he pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for a “favor” in investigating former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, who is a 2020 Democratic presidential front-runner, and Ukraine meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.
The president’s legal team says he is warranted in his request to probe the Mr. Biden’s conduct given that Hunter Biden, the son of the former vice president, was paid about $50,000 a month to sit on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings despite having no expertise in the industry and getting the job while his father was leading Obama administration policy in that graft-riddled country.
Interest increased in the elder Mr. Biden’s actions in Ukraine after he recently boasted of forcing Ukraine to fire the country’s chief prosecutor in spring 2016. He said he threatened to block a $1 billion U.S. loan guarantee. The prosecutor was widely viewed as not doing enough to combat corruption.
But the prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, also had looked into corruption allegations against Burisma and Mykola Zlochevsky, the Ukraine oligarch running the company.
A whistleblower, who is said to be a CIA official assigned to the White House, accused Mr. Trump of abusing his power on the call, including withholding $391 million of U.S. military aid from Ukraine as leverage.
The whistleblower, whose alleged identity is widely discussed in Washington but whose name is being withheld by The Washington Times, has ties to the Democratic Party and the former vice president.
The whistleblower also met with Mr. Schiff’s staff for guidance before making the complaint.
Mr. Trump has acknowledged that he wanted an investigation into alleged corruption involving the Bidens and Ukraine interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
The president has denied any wrongdoing.
Mr. Trump also wanted Ukraine to look into a missing Democratic National Committee server that was hacked by Russia during the 2016 presidential campaigns. An American cybersecurity company called CrowdStrike examined the server to probe the hack but the server disappeared before it got to the FBI.
He subscribes to an unsubstantiated theory that the server ended up in Ukraine.