Trump’s second impeachment trial explained

Donald Trump will make history as the first president to face a Senate impeachment trial twice

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Former president Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial is set to begin on Tuesday in the Senate.

Mr Trump may no longer occupy the White House, but like much of his presidency, the trial is unprecedented as it marks the first time that the Senate has put a president on trial twice.

What are the charges?

The US House of Representatives voted 232-197 to impeach Mr Trump during the final days of his presidency. Only 10 Republicans joined Democrats in voting to impeach Mr Trump.

The single article of impeachment charges Mr Trump with “incitement of insurrection” over his alleged role in encouraging a mob of his supporters to storm Capitol Hill after a rally on January 6 in a last-ditch effort to stop Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s election victory.

The mob forced politicians and former vice president Mike Pence to flee the House and Senate floors and shelter in place – temporarily delaying the election certification. The violence resulted in five immediate deaths and 140 injuries.

The rally and subsequent attack on the Capitol came after months of Mr Trump and his Republican allies in Congress pushing conspiracy theories that made unsubstantiated allegations of mass voter fraud.

What’s at stake?

Mr Trump ultimately left office following his loss at the polls to Mr Biden and the failed insurrection on January 6. However, he hopes to run for a second term as president in 2024. A vote to convict Mr Trump in the Senate would bar him from holding any federal office, including the presidency, ever again.

What will the prosecution argue?

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has appointed Jamie Raskin, a representative from Maryland, as the lead impeachment manager. He will lead a team of eight other House Congress members as they present their case against Mr Trump in the Senate.

They are expected to begin their case on Tuesday by recounting the January 6 attack on the Capitol. They will reportedly use video and audio recordings to paint a visceral image of the failed insurrection and build their case that the riot was a direct consequence of Mr Trump’s actions. Chiefly, they allege that the failed insurrection resulted from Mr Trump’s months-long campaign to overturn the election result by spreading conspiracy theories predicated on claims of voter fraud.

What will the defence argue?

The impeachment managers asked Mr Trump to give evidence before the Senate last week, but he declined to do so.

Mr Trump's lawyers filed a legal brief on Monday accusing Democrats of "political theatre" and alleging that they simply want to "silence a political opponent."

They are expected to argue that Mr Trump was asserting his First Amendment rights to the freedom of expression under the constitution. They will also take the position of most congressional Republicans that the Senate “lacks the constitutional jurisdiction” to try a former president.

Mr Trump has selected Bruce Castor, a former district attorney in Pennsylvania, and David Schoen, a civil rights and criminal defence lawyer, for his legal team.

Mr Castor is best known for opting not to charge Bill Cosby for sexual assault, though he was later convicted of the crime. Mr Schoen has argued that Jeffrey Epstein, the politically connected financier and alleged child sex trafficker, did not in fact killed himself in prison.

Mr Trump’s initial defence attorneys, Butch Bowers and Deborah Barbier, left his legal team after the president reportedly insisted that they focus on his unsubstantiated voter fraud allegations and not on the constitutionality of impeaching a former president.

How long will the trial last?

It is unclear how long the proceedings will last, though both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate favour a shorter trial and reportedly do not want it to run longer than two weeks.

All senators must sit in the chamber throughout the duration of the trial, and it will interrupt Senate Democrats efforts to enact Mr Biden’s agenda, which includes an economic stimulus package and the confirmation of the rest of the president’s Cabinet. For their part, Republicans are hoping to avoid a protracted trial that will keep Mr Trump’s alleged role in the failed insurrection front and centre for weeks on end.

Mr Trump’s first trial lasted three weeks.

How will the Senate vote?

Under the constitution, 67 senators must vote to convict a president. That is unlikely to happen.

The Senate is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, and 45 Senate Republicans voted in favour of a failed resolution last month arguing that Mr Trump’s trial is unconstitutional, as he has left office. The five Senate Republicans to side with Democrats and defeat the resolution were Ben Sasse, Susan Collins, Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski and Pat Toomey.

Still, the trial could give some insight into where the Republican party is going. If more than a few senators vote to convict Mr Trump after the trial, it will signal that his grip on the party is more tenuous than he thought, despite the fact that he continues to enjoy widespread popularity with the Republican base.

What do Americans think?

An ABC News/Ipsos Poll released on Sunday found that 56 per cent of Americans believe that the Senate should convict Mr Trump, while 43 per cent oppose a conviction.

Predictably, those views largely break down along party lines: 92 per cent of Democrats favour a conviction, while only 15 per cent of Republicans agree.

Still, that is a significant increase from Mr Trump’s first impeachment trial last year, when an ABC News/Washington Post poll found that less than half of Americans – only 47 per cent – believed that the Senate should convict Mr Trump and remove him from office.

What happened in the first trial?

The House first voted to impeach Mr Trump in 2019 over allegations that he improperly withheld military aid to Ukraine as part of a bid to pressure Kyiv into investigating Mr Biden's family members.

But only 48 senators ultimately voted to convict Mr Trump following his three-week trial last year. Mr Romney was the only Republican at the time to join Democrats in voting to convict Mr Trump over abuse of power.