Capitol Riot: Trump Impeachment Trial Begins
The second impeachment trial of former US President Donald Trump, for allegedly inciting last month’s riot at the Capitol, begins with a debate over the constitutionality of trying a president after leaving office.
Hundreds of Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol on Januaru 6 after a fiery speech in which the then president alleged that his defeat in the 3 November, 2020 election was a result of widespread fraud and urged them to “fight like hell (or) you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
Five people, including a police officer died in the unprecedented riot, in which the mob attacked police, sent lawmakers scrambling for safety and briefly delayed Congress in formally certifying now-President Joe Biden’s victory, came after Trump spent two months challenging the election results.
The Senate trial is the fifth impeachment of a president in US history, but, unlike others, Trump is the only president to have been impeached twice by the House of Representatives and he is also the only ex-president to face a Senate trial.
The trial could provide clues on the direction of the Republican Party following Trump’s tumultuous presidency, leading to sharp divisions between Trump loyalists and those hoping to move the party in a new direction.
Reuters reported that Trump’s lawyers plan to open the trial by questioning whether the US Constitution allows the Senate to hold an impeachment trial for a president after he has left office.
Most Senate Republicans have embraced that argument, which strongly suggests that Democrats will be unable to garner the two-thirds majority needed to convict in the 100-member Senate, just as Democrats and many legal scholars reject the Republicans’ constitutional interpretation.
Senator Leahy, not chief justice, would preside over Trump’s second impeachment trial, as five Republicans who said his post-presidency impeachment trial is constitutional are expected to prevail in Tuesday’s vote on the constitutionality of the trial.
It would be recalled that an effort to block the trial on those grounds was defeated by 55-45 votes, last month.
A prominent US impeachment expert cited by Trump’s lawyers in a brief advancing their argument accused the team on Monday of distorting his work “quite badly.”
A group of nine House Democratic impeachment managers will prosecute the case, having accused Trump of betraying the country and the Constitution by fomenting acts of violence by falsely claiming the presidential election had been “stolen” from him by vote fraud.
“The House did not impeach President Trump because he expressed an unpopular political opinion. It impeached him because he willfully incited violent insurrection against the government,” House managers wrote earlier this month.
During the trial, they will argue that in working to overturn his election loss, Trump emboldened a mob to break through Capitol security to stop congressional certification of Democrat Biden’s victory.
The House Democrats prosecuting the case face a high bar, needing the votes of at least 17 Republicans as well as all 48 Democrats and the two independents who caucus with them to secure a conviction.
Tomorrow, the prosecution and defense will turn to the merits of the charge, as they have a total of 32 hours evenly divided over no more than four days to present their cases.
The report added that arguments would begin midday and the proceedings could be extended further as senators would have time to question both sides.
“If House managers want to call witnesses or subpoena documents, the Senate would have to vote to allow those. Trump lawyers and House managers could question witnesses – a far more exhaustive procedure than Trump’s first impeachment trial, which had no witness testimony.
“Trump’s defense is also anchored on the argument that he was exercising his right to free speech in urging backers to “fight” to overturn the election result.
“His lawyers said in a pretrial document that Trump was speaking in a figurative sense. Notably absent from his speech was any reference to or encouragement of an insurrection, a riot, criminal action, or any acts of physical violence whatsoever,” the report stated.
In 2020, the then Republican-controlled Senate acquitted the former president on charges of obstructing Congress and abuse of power related to his pressure on the president of Ukraine to launch an investigation into Biden and his son, Hunter, in 2019.
The Democratic-controlled House said Trump withheld vital military aide for Ukraine as leverage to get an investigation that he hoped would politically wound Biden as he ran for the Democratic presidential nomination.
However, the then US President DonaldTDonald dismissed the allegations as a “witch hunt”, orchestrated by Democrats.