9, February 2021
The US Senate begins debate Tuesday on the unprecedented second impeachment of former US president Donald Trump as lawmakers decide whether he is guilty of inciting the deadly January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol.
US senators will step into uncharted territory when they sit in judgment of a president who is no longer in office but who remains a potent force in his party. The extraordinary proceedings will unfold in one of the chambers ransacked by an angry mob of Trump supporters who stormed Congress on January 6, seeking to halt the certification of President Joe Biden’s election win.
If convicted, the former Republican president could be barred from holding public office in the future, dealing a fatal blow to any hopes he may have of running again in 2024.
Here is a look at the basics of the trial and its broader implications.
What are the charges against Trump?
The 45th US president is accused of “inciting violence against the government of the United States” by using inflammatory language at a rally in Washington, DC, moments before his supporters launched the deadly attack on the Capitol.
One week after the siege, when Trump was still the sitting president, the House of Representatives formally impeached him for “high crimes and misdemeanors”. House members voted 232 to 197 in favour of impeachment, with 10 Republicans joining Democrats, making Trump the first president in US history to be twice impeached.
When will we get a verdict?
The US Constitution says the House has sole power of impeachment, while only the Senate can try and convict an impeached president. A two-thirds majority of senators is required for the president to be found guilty – a threshold that has never been crossed before.
It is still unclear how long the trial will last, but both Democrats and Republicans are keen for the proceedings to be swift. The GOP does not want to dwell on a divisive episode that raises tricky questions about its future course; Democratic senators are in a hurry to move on Biden’s $1.9 trillion rescue package that tackles the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump’s first impeachment trial, in which the Senate acquitted him on charges that he abused power by pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden, lasted almost three weeks. This one is expected to be shorter as the case is less complicated and senators are already familiar with the details.
Should Trump be convicted, the Senate could then vote to bar him from seeking office again – this time by a simple majority. Such a move would nip in the bud any remaining hopes of running for election again in 2024.
How likely is a conviction?
The two-thirds majority requirement means Democrats need to persuade at least 17 Republican senators to convict Trump – a target they are unlikely to reach.
Trump was acquitted in his first impeachment trial a year ago with only one Republican senator, Mitt Romney, voting to convict. In a vote last month, 45 of the Senate’s 50 Republicans backed an effort to dismiss the trial based on the argument that, under the US Constitution, only a sitting president can be impeached.
What to expect from Trump’s accusers
Setting the tone in a pre-trial brief, the House-appointed prosecutors – known as impeachment managers – have accused Trump of “creating a powder keg, striking a match, and then seeking personal advantage from the ensuing havoc”.
They intend to use many of Trump’s own public statements against him, including his repeated, baseless claims that the election was “stolen” and his January 6 speech near the White House in which he urged his supporters to “fight like hell”. They are also expected to use social media posts and mobile phone data as evidence that Trump’s words incited the mob that stormed the Capitol later that day.
Source: France 24