Opening arguments in the Senate impeachment trial for Donald Trump on the charge of incitement of insurrection for the Capitol riot will begin the week of Feb. 8.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced the schedule late Friday after reaching an agreement with Republicans.
Under the timeline, the House will transmit the impeachment article against Trump late Monday, with initial proceedings Tuesday.
From there, Trump’s legal team will have time to prepare the case before opening arguments begin in February.
Pelosi to Send Article to Senate on Monday
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will send the article of impeachment against Donald Trump to the Senate on Monday. This triggers the start of the former president’s trial on a charge of “incitement of insurrection” in the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer announced Pelosi’s intentions Friday for the quick trial. This rebuffs Republicans’ proposal to push the proceedings to mid-February to give Trump more time to prepare his case. Schumer said there will be “a full trial,” and “it will be a fair trial.”
Unlike any in history, Trump’s impeachment trial would be the first of a U.S. president no longer in office, an undertaking that his Senate Republican allies argue is pointless, and potentially even unconstitutional. Democrats say they have to hold Trump to account, even as they pursue new President Joe Biden’s legislative priorities, because of the gravity of what took place — a violent attack on the U.S. Congress aimed at overturning an election.
The trial could start as soon as Tuesday, but timing remains uncertain as leaders negotiate. If Trump is convicted, the Senate could vote to bar him from holding office ever again, potentially upending his chances for a political comeback.
Urgency of Trump’s Second Impeachment Trial
The urgency to hold Trump responsible is somewhat complicated by Democrats’ simultaneous need to get Biden’s government in place and start quick work on his coronavirus aid package. The trial could halt Senate work on those priorities.
“The more time we have to get up and running … the better,” Biden said Friday in brief comments to reporters.
A trial delay could appeal to some Democrats, as it would give the Senate more time to confirm the Cabinet and debate the new round of coronavirus relief.
The timing and details of the Senate trial eventually rest on negotiations between Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who are also in talks over a power-sharing agreement for the Senate, which is split 50-50 but in Democratic control because Vice-President Kamala Harris serves as a tie-breaking vote.
Whenever they start, Pelosi said Friday the nine House impeachment managers, or prosecutors, are “ready to begin to make their case” against Trump. Trump’s team will have had the same amount of time since the House impeachment vote to prepare, Pelosi said.
Trial to Move Quickly
Democrats say they can move quickly through the trial, potentially with no witnesses, because lawmakers experienced the insurrection first-hand.
One of the managers, California Rep. Ted Lieu, said Friday that Democrats would rather be working on policy right now. However, “we can’t just ignore” what happened on Jan. 6.
“This was an attack on our Capitol by a violent mob,” Lieu said in an interview with The Associated Press. “It was an attack on our nation instigated by our commander in chief. We have to address that and make sure it never happens again.”
Trump, who told his supporters to “fight like hell” just before they invaded the Capitol two weeks ago and interrupted the electoral vote count, is still assembling his legal team.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday deferred to Congress on timing for the trial. Psaki would not say whether Biden thinks Trump should face conviction. But she said lawmakers can simultaneously discuss and have hearings on Biden’s coronavirus relief package.
“We don’t think it can be delayed or it can wait, so they’re going to have to find a path forward,” Psaki said of the virus aid. “He’s confident they can do that.”
Democrats would need the support of at least 17 Republicans to convict Trump, a high bar. While most Republican senators condemned Trump’s actions that day, far fewer appear to be ready to convict.
A Divisive Impeachment Trial?
A handful of Senate Republicans have indicated they are open — but not committed — to conviction. But most have come to Trump’s defence as it relates to impeachment. They say they believe a trial will be divisive. They also question the legality of trying a president after he has left office.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally who has been helping him find lawyers, said Friday there is “a very compelling constitutional case” on whether Trump can be impeached after his term — an assertion that Democrats reject, saying there is ample legal precedent. Graham also suggested that Republicans will argue Trump’s words on Jan. 6 were not legally “incitement.”
“On the facts, they’ll be able to mount a defence, so the main thing is to give him a chance to prepare and run the trial orderly, and hopefully the Senate will reject the idea of pursuing presidents after they leave office,” Graham said.
Other Republicans had stronger words, suggesting there should be no trial at all. Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso said Pelosi sends a message to Biden that “my hatred and vitriol of Donald Trump is so strong that I will stop even you and your Cabinet from getting anything done.” Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson suggested Democrats are choosing “vindictiveness” over national security as Biden attempts to set up his government.
Trump at a Disadvantage
McConnell, who said this week that Trump “provoked” his supporters before the riot, has not said how he will vote. He said Senate Republicans “strongly believe we need a full and fair process where the former president can mount a defence and the Senate can properly consider the factual, legal and constitutional questions.”
Trump, the first president to face impeachment twice, remains at a disadvantage compared with his first impeachment trial. Bach then, he had the full resources of the White House counsel’s office to defend him. Graham helped Trump hire South Carolina attorney Butch Bowers after members of his past legal teams indicated they did not plan to join the new effort.
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