This is an ABC News special report, The Impeachment Trial of President Donald Trump now reporting. George STEPHANOPOULOS, good afternoon.
We're coming on the air right now for the first full day of the impeachment trial of President Trump. There you see the Senate chaplain, Barry Black, giving the opening prayer for the Senate today.
We have read Lord as veteran affairs prepare to gather for today's impeachment trial. We declare that you alone are our hope. We pray in your mighty name. Amen.
Senate Chaplain Berry Black.
I pledge allegiance to one nation under God, indivisible.
Now we expect the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, to come to the floor and lay out his plans for how this trial is going to go. His plans for the rules for this trial likely to set up a day long fight today in the Senate over the rules. Democrats already calling those rules a national disgrace, saying it's not a fair trial. We'll see that Senator McConnell lay out his plans. He says it largely conforms to the same rules that govern the Clinton Senate trial 21 years ago.
Democrats say there are significant differences. So we're going to be following that today there. The Senate trial is not actually in session right now. It goes into session formally at 1:00 o'clock when Chief Justice John Roberts will preside over Senator McConnell.
United States Senate cross one of the greatest thresholds that exist in our system of government. We began just the third presidential impeachment trial in American history. This is a unique responsibility, which the framers of our Constitution knew that the Senate and only the Senate could handle. Our founders trusted the Senate to rise above short term passions and factionalism. They trusted the Senate to soberly consider what has actually been proven and which outcome best serves the nation. That's a pretty high bar, Mr.
President. And you might say that later today this body will take our entrance exam. Today we will consider and pass an organizing resolution that will structure the first phase of the trial. This initial step will offer an early signal to our country. Can the Senate still serve our founding purpose? Can we still put fairness, even handedness and historical precedent ahead of the partisan passions of the day? Today's vote will contain some answers. The organizing resolution we'll put forward already has the support of a majority of the Senate.
That's because it sets up a structure that is fair, evenhanded and tracks closely with past precedents that were established unanimously after pre-trial business. The resolution establishes the four things that need to happen next. First, the Senate will hear an opening presentation from the House managers. Second, we will hear from the president's counsel. Third, senators will be able to seek further information about posing written questions to either side through the chief justice. And fourth, with all that information in hand, the Senate will consider whether we feel any additional evidence or witness witnesses are necessary to evaluate whether the House case has cleared or failed to clear the high bar of overcoming the presumption of innocence and undoing a democratic election.
The Senate's fair process will draw a sharp contrast with the unfair and precedent breaking inquiry that was carried on by the House of Representatives. The House broke with precedent by denying members of the Republican minority the same rights that Democrats had received when they were in the minority back in 1998. Here in the Senate, every single senator will have exactly the same rights and exactly the same ability. To ask questions, the House broke with fairness by cutting President Trump's council out of their inquiry to an unprecedented degree here in the Senate.
The president's lawyers will finally receive a level playing field with the House Democrats and we'll finally be able to present the president's case. Finally, some fairness on every point. Our straightforward resolution will bring the clarity and fairness that everyone deserves. The president of the United States, the House of Representatives and the American people. This is the fair roadmap for our trial. We needed in place before we can move forward. So the Senate should prepare to remain in session today until we complete this resolution and adopt it.
This basic four part structure aligns with the first steps of the Clinton impeachment trial in nineteen ninety nine. Twenty one years ago, 100 senators agreed unanimously that this roadmap was the right way to begin the trial. All 100 senators agreed the proper time to consider the question of potential witnesses was after after opening arguments and senators questions. Now some outside voices have been urging the Senate to break with precedent on this question. Loud voices, including the leadership of the House majority, colluded with Senate Democrats and tried to force the Senate to pre commit ourselves to six specific witnesses and documents before senators had even heard opening arguments or even ask questions.
These are potential witnesses, Mr. President, whom the House managers themselves themselves declined to hear, from whom the House itself declined to pursue through the legal system during its own inquiry. The House was not facing any deadline. They were free to run whatever investigation they wanted to run if they wanted witnesses who would trigger legal battles over presidential privilege. They could have had those fights. But the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee decided not to.
They decided their inquiry was finished and moved right ahead. The House chose not to pursue the same witnesses they apparently would now like would now like the Senate to precum it to pursue and ourselves. As I've been saying for weeks, nobody, nobody will dictate Senate procedure to non state senators. A majority of us are committed to upholding the unanimous bipartisan Clinton precedent against outside influences with respect to the proper timing of these mid-trial questions. And so if any amendments are brought forward to force premature decisions on mid-trial questions, I will move to table such amendments and protect our bipartisan precedent.
If a senator moves to amend the resolution, orders, subpoena specific witnesses or documents, I will move to table such motions because the Senate will decide those questions later in the trial, just like we did back in nineteen ninety nine. Now, Mr. President, today may present a curious situation. We may hear house managers themselves agitate for such amendments. We may hear a team of managers led by the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committee chairman argue that the Senate must pre commit ourselves to reopen the very investigation they themselves oversaw and voluntarily shut down.
It would be curious to hear these two House chairmen argue that the Senate must commit ourselves to supplementing their own evidentiary record to enforcing subpoenas. They refused to enforce to supplementing a case they themselves have recently described as overwhelming, overwhelming and beyond any reasonable doubt. So, Mr. President, these mid-trial questions could potentially take us even deeper into even more complex constitutional waters. For example, many senators, including me. Serious concerns about blurring, blurring the traditional role between the House and the Senate within the impeachment process.
The Constitution divides the power to impeach on the power to try. The first belongs solely to the House, and with the power to impeach comes the responsibility to investigate. The Senate agreed to pick up and carry on the House's inadequate investigation, which set a new precedent that could incentivize frequent and hasty impeachment from future House majorities. It could dramatically change the separation of powers between the House and the Senate. If the Senate agrees, we will conduct both the investigation and the trial of an impeachment.
What's more, some of the proposed new witnesses include executive branch officials whose communications with the president and with other executive branch officials lie at the very core of the president's constitutional privilege.
Pursuing those witnesses could indefinitely delay the Senate trial and draw our body into a protracted and complex legal fight over presidential privilege. Such litigation could potentially have permanent repercussions, but the separation of powers and the institution of the presidency that senators would need to consider very, very carefully. So, Mr. President, the center is not about to rush into these weighty questions without discussion and without deliberation, without even hearing opening arguments.
First, there were good reasons why 100 out of 100 senators agreed two decades ago to cross these bridges when we came to them. That is what we will do this time as well. Fair is fair. The process was good enough for President Clinton, and basic fairness dictates it ought to be good enough for this president as well.
So the eyes are on the Senate. The country is watching to see if we can rise to the occasion. Twenty one years ago, 100 senators, including a number of us who sit in the chamber today, did just that. The body approved a fair, common sense process to God, the beginning of a presidential impeachment trial.
Today, two decades later, the Senate will retake that entrance exam. The basic structure we're proposing is just as eminent, like fair and evenhanded as it was back down. The question is whether senators are themselves ready to be as fair and as even handed. The Senate made a statement. Twenty one years ago, we said that presidents of either party deserve basic justice and a fair process. A challenging political moment like today does not make such statements less necessary, but all the more necessary.
So I would say to my colleagues across the aisle, there is no reason why the vote on this resolution ought to be remotely partisan. There is no reason other than base partisanship to say this particular president deserves a radically different rulebook than what was good enough for a past president of your own party. So I would urge every single senator support our fair resolution. I urge everyone to vote to uphold the Senate unanimous bipartisan precedent of a fair process. Is Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican leader, making the case for his resolution, saying fair is fair?
He says it tracks what happened 21 years ago during a Clinton trial. You should expect the Democrats led by Senator Schumer to contest.