The lawmakers chosen by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to serve as managers during the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump will get a distinction earned by only a few people in history.
The managers’ presentations before the Senate are among Democrats’ last chances to persuade Republicans – and the American public – on the merits of impeachment.
Pelosi named as managers: Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif.; Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y.; Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y.; Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla.; Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif.; Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo.; and Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas.
Congressional rules specify that managers, members of the House whose roles are similar to prosecutors, are tasked with presenting the case for impeachment to the Senate. The trial will determine whether Trump should be convicted and removed from office. Removal requires a two-thirds majority vote, or 67 votes.
The House approved two articles of impeachment against Trump on Dec. 18, alleging abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The charges stem from allegations that Trump pressured Ukraine to open politically motivated investigations and that he stonewalled the investigation.
There have been only two other impeachment trials in the nation’s history, so the historical precedent for the process and managers’ roles is sparse.
Question: Who are the managers?
Answer: All impeachment managers have been from the same party because they generally all supported the impeachment of the president. Almost all Democrats voted for the articles of impeachment against Trump in the House, and all Republicans voted against the articles.
An ideal choice of manager, Democratic strategist Michael Gordon said, would be a “credible, least-partisan-seeming” member, rather than an “overly partisan” member who would “not really be open to the facts.”
One risk in choosing managers, noted Joe Lockhart, a spokesman for President Bill Clinton during his impeachment, is that congressional politics might win out over the most qualified managers.
“You could go, for example, with committee chairs and you could go by seniority,” he explained. “And that doesn’t necessarily give you the most effective prosecution.”
Q: How are managers picked?
A: Under the rules passed for Trump’s impeachment, a resolution will be introduced in the House of Representatives to appoint managers for the Senate trial.
Historically, managers were picked for their legal experience or for their skills of argumentation. They were traditionally all members of the House Judiciary Committee because it led impeachments.
“A number of those, and I’m not one of those, were former U.S. attorneys and had fairly recently become members of the Congress and then of the House Judiciary Committee,” said Bill McCollum, a former congressman from Florida and a Clinton impeachment manager. McCollum was a senior member of the Judiciary Committee.
Q: How many managers are there?
A: The number of managers varies depending on the trial.
There were seven managers for President Andrew Johnson’s impeachment in 1868 and 13 managers for Clinton’s impeachment.
James Rogan, a former Republican congressman from California who served as an impeachment manager, said he suggested four managers for Clinton’s impeachment, each of whom would present an article of impeachment. The Judiciary Committee drafted four articles of impeachment against Clinton, though the full House passed only two. Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill., picked 13 managers.
Rogan recalled Hyde telling him after all the managers were picked, “Everybody on the committee that asked if they could be the House manager, I told him I couldn’t say no.”
Q: What responsibilities do impeachment managers have?
A: A manager’s role is similar to a prosecutor’s in a criminal trial.
The managers will present the case for impeachment while members of the Senate serve as jurors. The chief justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, will preside over the trial, and the president’s lawyers will serve as his defense attorneys.
Rogan said managers in the Clinton trial all adopted separate roles in presenting the evidence.
“I ended up basically making the presentation on perjury. (Rep. Asa) Hutchinson handled the presentation on obstruction of justice,” Rogan recalled. Rogan said he gave a two-hour opening statement on Clinton’s alleged crime of perjury for lying under oath about his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
Rogan was responsible for cross-examining Clinton, but he never testified before the Senate.
If precedent is any prediction of the Trump trial, managers are unlikely to change senators’ minds about impeachment.
“You know beforehand that a fair number, if not all of them have either come to a conclusion before the thing even starts or certainly are biased in one direction or another,” Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, a Clinton impeachment manager, told USA TODAY.
Q: How long do managers get to present?
A: During the Clinton trial, the impeachment managers and the president’s lawyers had 24 hours each to present. Senators were given 16 hours to question either side.
The amount of time for the Trump trial has not been specified.
Q: Do managers control the format of a trial?
A: Impeachment managers do not control how a trial runs. The format and rules for a trial are left to the Senate, which can introduce and pass motions by a simple majority of 51 votes, as opposed to the two-thirds majority required to convict and remove a president from office.
Democrats want to call witnesses during the trial, but in past impeachments, the Senate voted against calling witnesses to testify directly.
“I think she can name managers that can make the case through the power of fair presentation that we need the witnesses,” Lockhart said. He said the managers’ presentation at the beginning of Clinton’s impeachment trial helped ensure Republicans had the votes to call witnesses, albeit as videotaped depositions rather than live testimony.
Q: What happens to the managers after the trial?
A: For some members of Congress, being selected as an impeachment manager can be a good opportunity because of the high visibility of the position.
Only three of the 13 managers from Clinton’s impeachment are still in Congress: Chabot, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
Chabot said Democrats brought Hillary and Bill Clinton to his Cincinnati-area district to raise money for his opponents. He has won every election since then.
That said, “it’s certainly hurt the congressional career of at least one member that I can think of,” Chabot said.
That member was Rogan, who lost to then-California state Sen. Adam Schiff in the 2000 election. Schiff has been a prominent figure in Trump’s impeachment as the chairman of the Intelligence Committee.