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Impeachment of Donald Trump: A look at questions surrounding the trial

Trump defence team laying out arguments ahead of impeachment trial
WATCH ABOVE: Trump defence team laying out arguments ahead of impeachment trial

The world will be watching this week as 100 senators convene to consider convicting United States President Donald Trump, who was impeached on the grounds of abuse of power and obstructing Congress.

Several questions still remain. Will witnesses be allowed to testify? Will the president be acquitted? And where will Trump be during all of this, anyway?

We answer some of the questions surrounding the upcoming Senate impeachment trial.

Trump defence team laying out arguments ahead of impeachment trial
Trump defence team laying out arguments ahead of impeachment trial

How long will it last?

The trial formally began on Thursday, but the Senate will sit as a court of impeachment for Trump’s trial on Tuesday at 1 p.m. ET.

Historic rules determined by the Senate say the trial will run six days per week — Monday to Saturday — until it is finished.

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The duration of the trial, though, depends on a number of factors, including whether witnesses are called to testify.

READ MORE: Here are the rules surrounding Trump’s Senate impeachment trial

The parameters of the trial — including speaking time and the possibility of witnesses — will be laid out Tuesday afternoon in a resolution from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that will kick off the proceedings.

Will witnesses testify?

It is still unclear if witnesses will be called to testify at the trial.

For weeks, Democrats have been pushing to hear from witnesses who did not appear before the House committees spearheading the impeachment inquiry.

Democrats call Trump a national security risk ahead of Senate impeachment trial
Democrats call Trump a national security risk ahead of Senate impeachment trial

They are seeking testimony from White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, his senior adviser Robert Blair, former national security adviser John Bolton and Office of Management and Budget official Michael Duffey.

McConnell, however, has lambasted the Democrats over their calls for witnesses, calling it a “fishing expedition.”

“If the existing case is so strong, there’s no need for the judge and jury to reopen the investigation,” McConnell told reporters on Tuesday.

READ MORE: Trump’s impeachment trial officially underway in U.S. Senate

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He and the majority of Senate Republicans have expressed their desire for a speedy trial, one that does not include witness testimony.

Democrats need at least four Republicans to join them to reach a majority of 51 senators to approve subpoenas for potential witnesses.

Will Trump testify?

While the impeachment trial is unfolding in Washington, Trump will be in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, attending the annual World Economic Forum.

Murkowski says it’s important impeachment trial is seen as fair, says she may vote for witnesses
Murkowski says it’s important impeachment trial is seen as fair, says she may vote for witnesses

A White House statement released on Jan. 1 said the president will be in Davos on Monday, hosting delegations led by Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin.

It is unclear whether Trump will be testifying if the trial goes longer than the conference, which he returns from on Friday.

In November, the president tweeted he would “strongly consider” testifying during the impeachment inquiry, but it’s unclear whether that applies to the Senate trial.

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Should Trump be convicted, he would be guilty of constitutional “high crimes and misdemeanours.” Whether Trump committed any criminal wrongdoing in connection to the articles of impeachment would be up to the U.S. Justice Department to decide.

The Justice Department has previously said it will not charge a sitting president with a crime, but all bets are off if the Republican president loses the 2020 election.

READ MORE: John Bolton willing to testify in Senate impeachment trial if subpoenaed

What is Trump’s defence?

There are some questions that have been answered. On Tuesday, the White House submitted a brief that laid out Trump’s impeachment defence.

The 110-page document centred largely around the argument that an abuse of power is not an impeachable offence.

U.S. senators sworn in for Trump impeachment trial
U.S. senators sworn in for Trump impeachment trial

“House Democrats’ novel theory of ‘abuse of power’ improperly supplants the standard of ‘high crimes and misdemeanours’ with a made-up theory that would permanently weaken the presidency by effectively permitting impeachments based merely on policy disagreements,” Trump’s lawyers wrote.

According to the U.S. Constitution, a president can be removed from office for “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanours.”

The document asserts Trump did “absolutely nothing wrong” and said the Democrats’ goal was never to “ascertain the truth” when they impeached Trump.

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“Instead, House Democrats were determined from the outset to find some way — any way — to corrupt the extraordinary power of impeachment for use as a political tool to overturn the result of the 2016 election and to interfere in the 2020 election,” the defence said. “All of that is a dangerous perversion of the Constitution that the Senate should swiftly and roundly condemn.”

READ MORE: White House lays out Trump’s impeachment defence, says abuse of power is not a crime

Even if withholding needed military aid to Ukraine was an abuse of power, the document argues it would not be impeachable because it did not violate a specific criminal statute.

What about the Democrats?

Trump’s defence directly counters the Democrat’s brief, which was filed two days ago. It summarized weeks of testimony from more than a dozen witnesses in a case for impeaching the president.

The brief, which is 111 pages long, outlined the two articles of impeachment against Trump, and called the Ukraine scandal the framers of the Constitution’s “worst nightmare.”

Senators react to ‘bombshell’ report that found Trump violated law in pausing Ukraine aid
Senators react to ‘bombshell’ report that found Trump violated law in pausing Ukraine aid

Their position is that impeachment imposes a check on a president who violates their oath by “using the powers of the office to advance his own interests at the expense of the national interest.” In the document, Democrats contend the president poses an “urgent” threat to democracy, and that his misconduct warrants his removal from office.

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“President Donald J. Trump used his official powers to pressure a foreign government to interfere in a United States election for his personal political gain, and then attempted to cover up his scheme by obstructing Congress’s investigation into his misconduct,” prosecutors said.

“The Constitution provides a remedy when the President commits such serious abuses of his office: impeachment and removal.”

How will things play out?

The Senate is ultimately tasked with deciding whether Trump should be removed from the office of the president of the United States.

At the end of the trial, the 100-seat chamber will hold a vote. A two-thirds vote is required to oust Trump from his position as commander-in-chief.

Ex-Giulani associate contradicts Trump on Ukraine scandal
Ex-Giulani associate contradicts Trump on Ukraine scandal

The Republicans currently hold 53 seats in the chamber, meaning all Democrats, both Independents and 20 Republicans would need to vote to convict and remove Trump — something experts say is very unlikely.

It is widely expected that Trump will be acquitted by his fellow Republicans and will remain in office, eligible for re-election.

If the Senate does vote to convict and remove Trump, Vice-President Mike Pence would take over the office of the president until the election, which is scheduled to take place in November.

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Michael Gerhardt, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law and author of Impeachment: What Everyone Needs to Know, said in an interview that if Trump is re-elected in 2020, there is no rule in the U.S. Constitution that prevents Congress from attempting to impeach a president more than once.

READ MORE: Impeachment prosecutors, Trump’s defence team lay out arguments as trial looms

However, he says, general congressional practice suggests it would be inappropriate to impeach a president for the same misconduct twice.

“If there were different misconduct then there’s nothing in the constitution that bars the House from impeaching again,” he said, adding that impeachment offences do not have to be criminal.

— With files from Reuters.