Trump impeachment: Senate trial poised to start

Donald Trump
Mr Trump's impeachment trial will be the only one ever to have taken place after a president has left office.

Former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial over his role in the deadly US Capitol riot is set to begin on February 8th in the Senate, under an agreement reached between Senate Democrats and Republicans.

On Monday, the House of Representatives will deliver the impeachment charge to the Senate, triggering the trial process in the 100-member chamber.

Republicans had argued for a delay, asking for more time to prepare.

Mr Trump’s impeachment trial will be the only one ever to have taken place after a president has left office.

Mr Trump’s term ended on Wednesday. He left Washington DC ahead of his successor Joe Biden’s inauguration.

The House of Representatives last week charged Mr Trump with inciting a deadly riot at the US Capitol, paving the way for a Senate trial. If convicted, he could be barred from future office.

Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said on Friday that the House would deliver the impeachment article on Monday.

“The Senate will conduct a trial of the impeachment of Donald Trump. It will be a full trial. It will be a fair trial,” Mr Schumer said on the floor of the Senate.

Mr Trump’s actions ahead of the 6 January riot are at the heart of the case. The then-president told protesters near the White House to “peacefully and patriotically” make their voices heard as they prepared to march towards the US Capitol building. He also told them to “fight like hell”.

The demonstration turned ugly as a mob forced its way into the congressional complex where lawmakers were certifying Mr Biden’s election victory.

Four protesters and a Capitol Police officer died in the mayhem.

A week later, Mr Trump became the first US president to be impeached twice. Ten House Republicans sided with Democrats to do so.

Impeachment: The basics

  • What is impeachment? Impeachment is when a sitting president is charged with crimes. In this case, former President Trump is accused of having incited insurrection
  • What has already happened? The House of Representatives voted to impeach Mr Trump for a second time on 13 January, shifting the process to the Senate for a trial – but that trial could not be carried out before he left office on 20 January
  • So what does it mean? A trial can still happen although Mr Trump’s term has ended, and senators can vote to bar him from holding public office again

What did the Senate leaders agree?

Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said on Friday that the House would deliver the impeachment article – or charge – on Monday.

“The Senate will conduct a trial of the impeachment of Donald Trump. It will be a full trial. It will be a fair trial,” Mr Schumer said, speaking on the floor of the Senate.

 House Democrats say the article will be passed to the upper chamber of Congress at 19:00 local time on Monday. Democratic impeachment managers, lawmakers from the House who will act as prosecutors during the Senate trial, will be sworn in on Tuesday.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell’s office said he was glad Mr Schumer had agreed to his request for more time during the pre-trial phase, and that the trial itself would begin on 9 February.

A statement said: “Especially given the fast and minimal process in the House, Republicans set out to ensure the Senate’s next steps will respect former President Trump’s rights and due process, the institution of the Senate, and the office of the presidency.

“That goal has been achieved. This is a win for due process and fairness.”

What does the Constitution say?

The rules set out in the US Constitution say that by 13:00 ET on the day following the submission of an impeachment article, the Senate must convene to begin the trial.

The Senate sergeant-at-arms begins the proceedings by warning lawmakers – who will act as jurors – “to keep silence, on pain of imprisonment”.

The trial must then continue every day – barring Sundays – until a verdict is rendered.

Where is Trump now?

Donald Trump left the White House on Wednesday morning and flew on Air Force One to his golf club in Palm Beach, Florida. He arrived minutes before Mr Biden took the oath of office in Washington DC.

Mr Trump is expected to live at the resort he calls his “Winter White House”, despite concerns from some neighbours about the increased traffic and heightened security.

He is planning to maintain a tight-knit coterie of former White House aides in Florida.

According to reports, he wants to raise $2bn (£1.46bn) for his presidential library and has floated the idea of forming a new political party called the Patriot Party.

Who will defend Trump?

Mr Trump has hired South Carolina-based lawyer Butch Bowers to represent him in his Senate impeachment trial, according to Senator Lindsey Graham.

According to his website, Mr Bowers was a special counsel on voting matters at the US Department of Justice under President George W Bush.

He also served as counsel to two former governors of South Carolina, Nikki Haley and Mark Sanford.

Will Trump be convicted?

Even though Democrats now hold a narrow Senate majority, they would need the support of at least 17 Republicans in order to convict Mr Trump, because a two-thirds vote is required.

But Senator Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican, told CNN on Friday: “The chances of getting a conviction are virtually nil.”

Only five Republican senators – Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Susan Collins of Maine and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania – are seen as potential defectors.

Mr Trump will be the first former US president ever to be tried by the Senate. No president has ever been convicted in such proceedings, and if Mr Trump were found guilty he could end up being barred from future office.

On Friday, Mr Trump was approached by a reporter from the Washington Examiner at his Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Florida.

The former president was asked about his future plans. “We’ll do something, but not just yet,” he told the journalist from his regular table at the private club before an aide cut short the brief encounter.

Mr Trump is residing five miles away at his other golf club, Mar-a-Lago, which he calls his “Winter White House”.

A dilemma for Democrats

Analysis box by Anthony Zurcher, North America reporter

The Senate majority leader said the House of Representatives will deliver the articles of impeachment on Monday.

Before his inauguration, Joe Biden expressed concern about being unable to quickly staff his administration and recommended the Senate try to conduct a part-time trial while doing other business.

Democrats demanding a speedy trial appear to have won the day, however. They fear a long delay might make it the easier for Republicans to acquit the president, as the Capitol Hill insurrection fades into the past.

Since the Democrats control both chambers of Congress, they’re the ones who get to set the timetable and make the rules. It marks a sharp contrast from the last Trump impeachment, where Republicans had the Senate majority and McConnell was in charge.


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