In this file photo taken on December 31, 2019 US President Donald Trump speaks to the press outside the grand ballroom as he arrives for a New Year's celebration at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida. Picture: AFP/JIM WATSON
In this file photo taken on December 31, 2019 US President Donald Trump speaks to the press outside the grand ballroom as he arrives for a New Year's celebration at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida. Picture: AFP/JIM WATSON

The Republican-controlled US Senate expects to begin the trial of President Donald Trump in January after the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives voted to impeach him on December 18.

Here are the main players in what would be only the third such trial in US history.

Chief justice John Roberts 

A conservative who was appointed by Republican president George W Bush, Roberts might find himself celebrating his 65th birthday on January 27 by presiding over Republican Trump’s impeachment trial.

Under the US constitution, the chief justice of the highest court is the referee in presidential impeachment trials.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has noted that if Roberts presides in a similar fashion to then-chief justice William Rehnquist in the trial of president Bill Clinton, he could allow any disagreements over procedures to be worked out by the senators themselves, probably through one or more Senate floor votes.

But Roberts has been known to surprise court watchers. For example, early in 2019 he joined liberals in a 5-4 abortion case decision and did the same in a 2012 ruling upholding a central feature of Democratic president Barack Obama’s signature health-care law.

Senators Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer 

The Senate majority and minority leaders, respectively, have been at odds over the rules that would govern any Trump trial.

McConnell has raised the possibility of a trial that could consist only of arguments by House Democrats for conviction and by White House lawyers for acquittal, with no witnesses testifying. He has said there is no chance that Trump will be convicted by fellow Republicans.

Schumer has called for a full and open trial, with testimony from four current and former top White House aides who refused to participate in the House’s impeachment investigation. Both Senate leaders will be keenly aware that the trial will take place just weeks before the first nominating contests of the 2020 presidential election. McConnell will be anxious not to allow the trial to turn into a circus while Schumer hopes that some moderate Republicans split away and vote to convict Trump as he campaigns for re-election.

Trump’s legal team

Much like a trial held in the US judicial system, the accused — in this case Trump — would be defended by a team of lawyers arguing for his acquittal.

The White House has not yet announced who would spearhead this effort on the Senate floor.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone is expected to play a leading role, an administration official told Reuters. He has been working with deputies Patrick Philbin and Michael Purpura.

Cipollone, a 53-year-old Republican, sent an eight-page letter to Congress in October laying out why the White House was refusing to co-operate with the House inquiry, calling it a “charade”.

Trump lawyers are likely to argue that there is no evidence that the president did anything wrong and that the House investigation was partisan and flawed.

House ‘managers’ 

House speaker Nancy Pelosi has not yet named the Democratic “managers” who would prosecute the case against Trump in the Senate. But some obvious potential choices would be House judiciary committee chair Jerrold Nadler and House intelligence committee chair Adam Schiff. They spearheaded the impeachment effort in the House after Pelosi announced the start of a formal inquiry on September 24.

Pelosi likely would weigh several factors in choosing the managers, including their expertise on constitutional law and familiarity with details of the Trump impeachment case, as well as their oratorical eloquence.

Reuters