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Trump Impeachment Trial to Start Week of Feb. 8

The Wall Street Journal. logo The Wall Street Journal. 1/23/2021 Lindsay Wise, Siobhan Hughes
a man wearing a suit and tie talking on a cell phone © Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg News

WASHINGTON—Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N. Y.) said that arguments in the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump would begin the week of Feb. 8, delaying the trial’s start for two weeks while the Senate confirms some of President Biden’s nominees and works on a new Covid-aid package.

The announcement marked an agreement with Republicans on the pretrial phase of the impeachment proceedings. Democrats and Republicans had been at an impasse over the structure of the coming proceedings, which will formally kick off on Monday, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) will send the article of impeachment to the Senate.

The two sides have yet to announce a deal on other contours of the trial, including whether witnesses will appear and the duration. Over the next two weeks, House managers prosecuting the case and defense lawyers will work on their legal briefs.

“We all want to put this awful chapter in our nation’s history behind us, but healing and unity will only come if there is truth and accountability, and that is what this trial will provide,” Mr. Schumer said.

The House voted last week to impeach Mr. Trump, alleging he incited a mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. The violent events that day left five people dead.

The Democratic impeachment managers are “ready to begin to make their case to 100 Senate jurors through the trial process,” Mrs. Pelosi said Friday. The nine managers, who act as prosecutors in the case, will be led by Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland.

The announcement by Mr. Schumer came a day after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) proposed that the article be sent over Jan. 28 and then both the impeachment managers and Mr. Trump’s defense team be given two weeks to complete pretrial briefs and responses.

A spokesman for Mr. McConnell said Mr. McConnell is “glad that leader Schumer agreed to Republicans’ request for additional time” before the trial.

In his own floor remarks earlier in the day, before the agreement on timing was reached, Mr. McConnell said the arrival of the article could force the Senate to start a trial immediately, delaying confirmation for Mr. Biden’s nominees and stalling his administration’s other priorities. He said the quick House impeachment demanded a fuller Senate examination of Mr. Trump’s case before a vote.

“The sequel cannot be an insufficient Senate process that denies former President Trump due process or damages the Senate or the presidency itself,” Mr. McConnell said in floor remarks following Mr. Schumer.

Mr. Trump’s spokesman, Jason Miller, declined to comment.

Mr. Biden has suggested splitting Senate sessions, so that part of each day is devoted to the trial, and the rest of the day for other matters, such as confirmation votes and Covid-aid legislation.

Asked by a reporter about the trial schedule suggested by Mr. McConnell, Mr. Biden said he hadn’t heard the details. He added: “I do think that having some time to get our administration up and running ... the more time we have to get up and running to meet these crises, the better.”

Republicans warned normal Senate business would grind to a halt without a deal in place on the impeachment proceedings when the article is sent over.

“This basically stops President Biden in his tracks at a time when a number of Republicans believe that President Biden ought to be able to put a cabinet in place,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R., Wyo.).

So far, the Senate has confirmed Avril Haines for director of national intelligence and Lloyd Austin for secretary of defense, and held confirmation hearings for other nominees. Mr. Schumer said the confirmation vote for Treasury nominee Janet Yellen would be held Monday.

The negotiations over the trial come amid broader fight over an organizing resolution needed to set the guidelines and committee assignments for the new 50-50 Senate, where Democrats hold the majority thanks to the ability of Vice President Kamala Harris to cast a tiebreaking vote.

Mr. McConnell wants Democrats to promise to keep the legislative filibuster, a longstanding rule that requires 60 votes to advance most legislation. That hurdle gives members of the minority party more influence over the Senate agenda.

But Mr. Schumer on Friday flatly rejected Mr. McConnell’s demand.

“Leader McConnell’s proposal is unacceptable, and it won’t be accepted,” Mr. Schumer said. “And the Republican leader knew that when he first proposed it.”

Mr. McConnell and some other Republicans have said they are considering whether to convict Mr. Trump in the trial. A two-thirds supermajority is needed to convict, meaning 17 Republicans would need to side with Democrats. Last week, the article of impeachment passed with support from all House Democrats and 10 Republicans.

Some Republican senators have said that it would be unconstitutional to hold an impeachment trial of a president who has left office, arguing the Senate lacks jurisdiction to try him because he is now a private citizen.

Mr. Schumer dismissed that criticism. After conviction, the trial process allows for a simple majority vote on barring the president from holding federal office again, and Mr. Schumer said not conducting a trial would set a dangerous precedent.

“It makes no sense whatsoever that a president or any official could commit a heinous crime against our country and then be permitted to resign so as to avoid accountability and a vote to disbar them from future office,” Mr. Schumer said.

Two federal officials have been impeached after leaving office, according to the Senate Historical Office. In 1798, the Senate dismissed a case for lack of jurisdiction after Sen. William Blount had been expelled by the Senate. In 1876, the Senate held an impeachment trial for William Belknap, who had resigned as secretary of war, but fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to convict him.

Write to Lindsay Wise at lindsay.wise@wsj.com and Siobhan Hughes at siobhan.hughes@wsj.com

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