Trump's second impeachment trial to open with debate on constitutionality: Source

Washington, United StatesUpdated: Feb 08, 2021, 09:33 PM IST
main img
Donald Trump Photograph:(The New York Times)

Story highlights

The trial on a charge of inciting insurrection in a fiery speech to his supporters before they attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 will then feature up to 32 hours of debate beginning on Wednesday at noon

Donald Trump`s second impeachment trial, on a charge of inciting the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol, is to begin on Tuesday with a debate on whether the proceedings are unconstitutional because he is no longer president, a source said.

The trial on a charge of inciting insurrection in a fiery speech to his supporters before they attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 will then feature up to 32 hours of debate beginning on Wednesday at noon, said the source familiar with the discussions.

Trump`s legal defense team is due to file a brief with the Senate on Monday. The nine Democratic House of Representatives lawmakers who will serve as prosecutors hope to persuade members of the 100-seat Senate to convict Trump and bar him from ever again holding public office.

Republican Trump ended his four-year term on Jan. 20, having lost the Nov. 3 election to Democrat Joe Biden.

A failed bid last month to dismiss the case against Trump on the basis that it would be unconstitutional to hold a post-presidency trial drew the support of 45 of the 50 Republicans in the Senate. The House prosecutors rejected that argument in their brief filed with the Senate last week. They argued for Trump`s conviction to protect American democracy and national security and to deter any future president who might consider provoking violence in the pursuit of power. They argued that Trump had a "singular responsibility" for the Capitol attack.

To secure a conviction, 17 Republicans would need to join the Senate`s 50 Democrats in the vote, a daunting hurdle.

Monday`s deadline for the filing by Trump`s legal team comes as the defense prepares to emphasize its argument - laid out in an earlier filing - that the Senate lacks the constitutional authority to conduct the trial now that he has left office and is a private citizen. Challenging the case against Trump on such grounds would enable his fellow Republicans in the Senate to vote against conviction without directly defending his inflammatory speech to supporters shortly before the riot.

The Democratic-led House impeached Trump on Jan. 13 on a single charge of inciting insurrection, focused on that speech. He is the first U.S. president to be impeached twice and the first to face trial after leaving office.

In his Jan. 6 speech, Trump repeated false claims that the election was fraudulent and exhorted supporters to march on the Capitol, telling them to "stop the steal," "show strength" and "fight like hell." The rampage interrupted the formal congressional certification of Biden`s election victory, sent lawmakers into hiding for their own safety and left five people dead including a police officer.

Both parties may have an interest in completing the trial expeditiously. Biden since taking office has called for healing and unity in a nation that was left deeply polarized after Trump`s presidency.

Democrats hold slim majorities in both the House and Senate, and the trial could make it more difficult for Congress to pass Biden`s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan and complete the confirmation of nominees to government posts.

Trump`s false claims of a stolen election and his speech before the riot have left fissures in his party. Ten Republicans joined House Democrats in voting to impeach Trump.

Trump`s first impeachment trial, on charges of abuse of power and obstructing Congress arising from his request that Ukraine investigate Biden and his son Hunter, ended last year in acquittal by the then-Republican-led Senate.

Trump parted ways with his initial legal team amid a reported dispute over how to respond to the impeachment charge.

The Senate will pause the impeachment trial from Friday evening to Saturday evening to honor a request by a Trump attorney, David Schoen, who observes the Jewish Sabbath, a spokesman for Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said on Sunday.