Soon the United States Senate will be forced to decide whether or not to find former President Donald Trump guilty of inciting insurrection. The trial formally begins Tuesday, the first of a president who is no longer in office.
Although they are expected to acquit Trump, the 100 senators will first have to sit at their tables and listen to hours of explicit testimony about the violent mob of Trump supporters that besieged the US Capitol on January 6, killing five.
On January 13, the House of Representatives voted 232-197 in favor of starting a second impeachment process for Trump, a week after the violence. Republicans and Trump’s attorneys argue that the trial is unnecessary, and even unconstitutional, because Trump is no longer president and cannot be removed from office.RELATED
Here’s a look at the basics of the upcoming impeachment:
How does the trial work?
The Constitution says that the House of Representatives has the exclusive power to approve the initiation of an impeachment, while the Senate has the exclusive power to try the individual on the charges. The accused person, who can be the president, vice president, or any civil servant of the United States, can be found guilty with a two-thirds majority of the senators present.
The House of Representatives appoints the “impeachment managers” as prosecutors to be installed in the Senate to present their case, in front of the defendant’s attorneys. Prosecutors and Trump’s defense team will have a set amount of time to present arguments, and then senators can ask questions in writing before the final vote.
The Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court normally presides over a president’s trial, but because Trump has left office, the president will be Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, who is the ceremonial head of the Senate for having been the longest serving majority party member.
Once the senators reach a final vote on the impeachment charge – this time there is only one: incitement to insurrection – each legislator will stand up and cast their vote: guilty or innocent.
How long will the trial last?
That is unclear. The Senate has to accept the rules of the trial and party leaders are still working out the details.
Trump’s first impeachment trial, in which he was acquitted of charges of abuse of power by pressuring Ukraine to investigate now-President Joe Biden, lasted nearly three weeks. But this is expected to be shorter, as the case is less complicated and senators already know many of the details, having been on Capitol Hill themselves during the insurrection.
And while Democrats want to make sure they have enough time to present their case, they don’t want to paralyze the Senate for long. Until the trial is complete, the Senate cannot confirm Biden’s cabinet nominees and move forward with its legislative priorities, such as relief from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Why prosecute Trump if he is already out of the White House?
If Trump is found guilty, the Senate could hold a second vote to bar him from returning to office. Democrats believe it would be an appropriate punishment after he told the angry crowd of his supporters to “fight like hell” to reverse his electoral defeat.
Democrats also argue that there should not be a “January exception” for presidents who commit chargeable crimes just before leaving office. They say the trial is necessary not only to properly hold Trump accountable, but also so they can deal with what happened and move on.
“You can’t move on until justice is served,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said this week. “If we don’t continue with this, we could also remove any sanction from the Constitution of impeachment.”
How is this trial different from Trump’s first trial?
Recent memories from Jan.6 might make it easier for prosecutors to lay out their case, but it doesn’t mean the outcome is different from the first trial against Trump. The then president was acquitted in his first trial a year ago with just one Republican – Utah Senator Mitt Romney – voting in favor of finding him guilty, and it is possible that this time there will not be many votes in that regard either.
In a trial vote on January 26, only five Senate Republicans voted against an attempt to dismiss the trial, an early indication that Trump is likely to be acquitted again.
What would a second acquittal mean for Trump?
A second impeachment acquittal by the Senate would be a victory for Trump, and would demonstrate that he retains considerable influence over the Republican Party, despite his efforts to subvert democracy and the widespread condemnation of many Republican colleagues after the 6th. from January.
Still, acquittal may not be the end of attempts to hold you accountable. Senators Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, filed a motion of no confidence after last month’s vote made clear that Trump was unlikely to be found guilty.
While they have not yet said whether they will push for a no-confidence vote after impeachment, Kaine said this week that “the idea is on the table and may become a useful idea in the future.”