Trump’s Impeachment Trial: Process, How long it last, Who presides over the trial
|Donald Trump at his Washington rally on 6 January, before a pro-Trump mob attacked the US Capitol. Photograph: Jim Bourg/Reuters.|
Donald Trump’s unprecedented second impeachment trial begins on Tuesday 9 February in the Senate for his role in the Jan. 6 riot and breach of the Capitol, which occurred as a joint session of Congress was ratifying the election of President Biden.
He is the first US president to be impeached twice, and it is the first time an impeachment trial has been held against a former president. The trial will hear allegations that he committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” before leaving office.
How does the presidential impeachment process works?
An impeachment proceeding is a formal process by which a sitting president of the United States is accused of wrongdoing. It is a political process and not a criminal process, ABC News cited.
The articles of impeachment (in this case there's just one) are the list of charges drafted against the president. The vice president and all civil officers of the U.S. can also face impeachment.
The process begins in the House of Representatives, where any member may make a suggestion to launch an impeachment proceeding. It is really up to the speaker of the House in practice, to determine whether or not to proceed with an inquiry into the alleged wrongdoing, though any member can force a vote to impeach.
Over 210 House Democrats introduced the most recent article of impeachment on Jan. 11, 2021, contending Trump "demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security, democracy and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law."
The impeachment article, which seeks to bar Trump from holding office again, also cited Trump's controversial call with the Georgia Republican secretary of state where he urged him to "find" enough votes for Trump to win the state and his efforts to "subvert and obstruct" certification of the vote.
And it cited the Constitution's 14th Amendment, noting that it "prohibits any person who has 'engaged in insurrection or rebellion against' the United States" from holding office.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats accelerated the procedure -- not holding any hearings -- and voted just a week before the inauguration of President Biden.
The vote requires a simple majority vote, which is 50% plus one (218), after which the president is impeached.
Trump now faces a trial on the article in the Senate.
What is Trump charged with?
On 13 January, the US House of Representatives voted by 232 to 197 to impeach Trump over “incitement of insurrection” after his supporters stormed the Capitol in an attempt to overturn November’s election result. 10 Republican representatives voted to impeach him, making it the most bipartisan presidential impeachment in US history, according to the Guardian.
|Past presidential impeachments |
The House voted to impeach Trump on Dec. 18, 2019, on two articles of impeachment, one for abuse of power and one for obstruction of justice, in connection with his alleged quid pro quo call with the Ukrainian president.
Following a three-week trial, the Republican controlled Senate acquitted Trump on Feb. 5, 2020, with just one Republican -- Mitt Romney of Utah -- voting to convict.
Johnson faced impeachment in 1868 after clashing with the Republican-led House over the “rights of those who had been freed from slavery,” although firing his secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, who was backed by the Republicans, led to the impeachment effort. The articles of impeachment centered on the Stanton event, according to the Senate.
Clinton, whose impeachment was connected to the cover-up of his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky while in office, was 22 votes away from reaching the necessary number of votes to convict in the Senate.
Richard Nixon faced three articles of impeachment related to the Watergate scandal, in which he allegedly obstructed the investigation and helped cover up the crimes surrounding the break-in.
But he didn’t let the process get any further, resigning before the House could impeach him.
Prosecutors place the blame for the violence squarely on the former president. Five died, hundreds were injured, members of Congress and staff were terrorized and the seat of US government building was left with “bullet marks in the walls, looted art, smeared faeces in hallways” – all in a bid to prevent the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory. “President Trump’s responsibility for the events of 6 January is unmistakable,” the prosecutors charge in an 80-page memorandum submitted last week.
They will argue that his actions in whipping up the crowd with unfounded accusations of election fraud “endangered the life of every single member of Congress” and “jeopardized the peaceful transition of power and line of succession”.
Who presides over Trump’s impeachment trial?
Patrick Leahy of Vermont is president pro tempore of the Senate, meaning he is empowered to preside over Senate sessions in the absence of Vice President Kamala Harris, Reuters reported.
Leahy, a liberal lawmaker, has vowed to be fair, but some Republicans and Trump’s lawyers have criticized the arrangement.
|Sen. Patrick Leahy presides Trump's impeachment trial.|
They suggested Leahy’s role would be grounds for a court challenge of any conviction.“Now, instead of the Chief Justice, the trial will be overseen by a biased and partisan Senator who will purportedly also act as a juror while ruling on issues that arise during trial,” Trump’s lawyers wrote in a legal brief filed on Monday.
The criticism belies the fact that a member of the Senate presides at most sessions of the body, including on sensitive votes, in a procedure accepted by both parties.
How long will the trial last?
How long the trial will take is not known, but most people believe it will be much shorter than the three-week trial the last time Trump was impeached over his actions over Ukraine, when he was accused of abusing his power and obstructing Congress.
It is unclear yet whether the Senate will vote to allow the legal teams to call witnesses in person, although the trial is highly unusual in that the jury are witnesses, as senators were present in the Capitol and were forced into hiding as the mob invaded the very chamber where the trial will be held. The prosecution team are expected to include video footage and eyewitness testimony from members of Congress while building their case.
Will Trump be found guilty?
On the face of it, it seems unlikely. An impeachment trial requires a two-thirds majority for a conviction. If every senator votes, then at least 17 Republicans would need to vote against their former president to reach the required 67-vote threshold.
Already, 45 senators have supported a motion presented by Kentucky Sen Rand Paul that the process itself is unconstitutional and against holding the trial at all. It would be quite a leap for them in the space of a few weeks to go from saying the trial should not take place, to finding Trump guilty.
For many Republican senators the calculation is political. House Representatives who voted to impeach Trump, such as Republican Liz Cheney, have already faced protest and censure from their state Republican parties over their failure to back Trump, who still has strong grassroots support despite losing November’s election.
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