The chief justice of the United States was sworn in Thursday to preside over President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, then immediately swore in the entire Senate body in turn with an oath to ensure “impartial justice” as jurors for only the third such proceeding in American. history.
Chief Justice John Roberts made the short trip across the street from the Supreme Court before being ushered to the Senate chamber.
The Constitution mandates the chief justice serve as the presiding officer. Roberts, who has long insisted judges are not politicians, is expected to serve as a referee for the proceedings rather than an active participant. Senators will ultimately render the verdict.
GOP Sen. James Inhofe was absent, home in Oklahoma for a family medical issue, his office said. He plans to return when the full trial begins next week.
The Senate opened the impeachment trial at the start of the election year as Trump seeks another term. Several senators are running for the Democratic Party’s nomination to challenge Trump in November.
Earlier Thursday, House Democrats prosecuting the case stood before the Senate and formally read the articles of impeachment against Trump.
“Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye!” said the Senate’s sergeant at arms, calling the proceedings to order at noon.
Senators filled the chamber, sitting silently at their seats under strict trial rules that prohibit talking or cellphones, as the ceremonial protocol shifted the proceedings out of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Democratic-run House to the Republican-majority Senate.
Seven lawmakers prosecuting the charges, led by Rep. Adam Schiff of the Intelligence Committee and Rep. Jerrold Nadler of the Judiciary Committee, made the solemn walk across the Capitol for a second day.
“With the permission of the Senate, I will now read the articles of impeachment,” said Schiff, standing at a lectern in the well of the chamber, a space usually reserved for senators.
All eyes were on him.
“House Resolution 755 Impeaching Donald John Trump, president of the united States, for high crimes and misdemeanors,” he began, reading the nine pages.
The other House prosecutors stood in a row to his side.
Trump faces a charge that he abused his presidential power by pressuring Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden, using military aid to the country as leverage. Trump was also charged with obstructing Congress’ ensuing probe. Ahead of the proceedings the Government Accountability office said Thursday that the White House violated federal law in withholding the security assistance to Ukraine, which shares a border with hostile Russia.
The president calls the impeachment a “hoax,” even as new information emerges about his actions toward Ukraine that led to the charges against him.
Pelosi said new allegations from an indicted associate of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Lev Parnas, only reinforces the need for the Senate to consider further testimony about the president’s actions toward Ukraine.
Pelosi noted that typically a special prosecutor would investigate but she doubted that would happen.
“This is an example of all of the president’s henchmen,” Pelosi said, “and I hope that the senators do not become part of the president’s henchmen.”