Washington (AFP) – The historic impeachment trial of Donald Trump opened Thursday in the US Senate, as lawmakers took a solemn oath to be “impartial” in deciding whether to force the 45th US president from office.
In a hushed chamber, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, clad in a traditional black robe, raised his right hand as he was sworn in to preside over the trial. He then administered the oath to senators in turn, to convene the third court of impeachment in American history.
Roberts asked if they swore to deliver “impartial justice” according to the US Constitution, and 99 lawmakers — one was absent — responded in unison: “I do.”
Earlier in the day in a deeply symbolic moment, the two articles of impeachment — charging Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — were read out on the Senate floor.
The Senate Sergeant of Arms Michael Stenger issued a warning as proceedings got underway.
“Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye,” Stenger said, commanding senators to “keep silent, on pain of imprisonment.”
Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who will serve as lead prosecutor for the trial, read the charges accusing Trump of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Trump has ridiculed the impeachment process for months, and he responded to the opening of the trial by once more branding it a “hoax.”
“I think it should go very quickly,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office.
“It’s totally partisan,” Trump said. “I’ve got to go through a hoax, a phony hoax put out by the Democrats so they can try and win an election.”
The Democratic-controlled House, in an overwhelmingly partisan vote, impeached Trump on December 18 over his dealings with Ukraine and subsequent efforts to obstruct the investigation into the affair.
Impeachment rules require a two-thirds Senate majority to convict and remove a president, and Trump’s acquittal is widely expected in the Republican-dominated Senate.
Justice Roberts, 64, was appointed to the nation’s top court by president George W. Bush, and will preside over the duration of the trial, which is expected to last two weeks.