On Tuesday, the Senate began proceedings to impeach ex-President Donald Trump. Senator Patrick Leahy opened the meeting.
Trump’s second impeachment trial was marked by a debate over whether impeachment is constitutional when it comes to an out-of-office president.
The trial is not chaired by US Supreme Court Chief John Roberts, who presided over the first Senate impeachment trial, but Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy; he is temporarily vested with presidential powers in the absence of Vice President Kamala Harris at meetings (recall that the official head of the upper house of Congress is the Vice President).
According to the Constitution, he is supposed to play the presidency in the impeachment proceedings. In this case, this role is assigned to the eighty-year-old Leahy (the oldest in terms of tenure as a senator in the current composition of the House) precisely because Trump, in respect of whom the proceedings are underway, is no longer president.
Trump’s lawyers have criticized Leahy’s appointment. “… Instead of a chief judge, a… biased senator will be in charge of the trial, who will also serve as a jury member who decides on issues that arise during the trial,” the lawyers said in a statement released on Monday.
Leahy, however, promised to demonstrate complete impartiality during the trial.
Each side was allotted four hours to address the debate.
Addressing the audience, Leahy formulated the agenda for today’s meeting, noting that the issue of the constitutionality of the present process is being discussed first of all.
Impeachment manager Jamie Raskin, who then spoke, stressed that the accusation against the ex-president is entirely based on facts. According to Ruskin, Trump tried to block the transfer of power, including by violent methods.
During the trial, a video clip was shown of Trump speaking to his supporters on January 6, which was followed by an attack by his supporters on the Capitol.
The video also contains a speech by Mitch McConnell, who emphasized that the events of January 6 were unprecedented in US history.
The video also contains the subsequent appeal of Donald Trump, in which, noting that he understands the feelings of his supporters, he at the same time encourages them to disperse.
Continuing his speech, Ruskin stated that Trump had committed a particularly serious crime by inciting the rebellion. The legislator also noted that this crime was committed while Trump was in office.
Citing historical precedents, including the late 18th century investigation into the former governor of British India, Warren Hastings, the legislator stressed that no constitution prohibits investigating the crimes of former officials.
“We shouldn’t have a president inciting mutiny,” Raskin said.
Another impeachment manager, Congressman Joe Negus, noted that the Constitution does not provide for any exceptions to the issue of impeachment. Illustrating his point with examples from US constitutional history, Negus emphasized the need to prevent abusive officials from being barred from holding office in the future.
At the same time, the impeachment manager noted the extraordinary nature of the crime in which Donald Trump is accused. He also said that it is difficult to find a clearer example of the abuse of office by the president.
The third impeachment manager, Congressman David Sislini, stated that the Senate has the power to disqualify officials who pose a threat to the country. In this regard, Sislini recalled Trump’s attempts to question the election results and maintain power against the will of the people.
Referring to the events of January 6, the legislator called them “frightening”. Leaving Trump’s role in these events without consequences would set a precedent that would itself be dangerous for the country, Sislini said. In particular, he focused on Trump’s rhetoric on the issue of the election results and stressed that this rhetoric was unacceptable for the president. Trump should be impeached for inciting rebellion against the US government, Sislini said.
Recall that last week, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump, bringing the above accusation against him in connection with the speech made on January 6.
On the eve of the Senate proceedings, the aides of the prosecution said that during the trial, previously unknown evidence would be presented to support the prosecution’s version.
Trump’s defense is keen to argue that the Senate has no power to judge the former president, but a team of prosecutors say many constitutional law experts, including conservative ones, do not share this view. According to prosecutors, the impeachment procedure would be “virtually useless” if it could not be used in the last weeks of the presidency, when there are especially many opportunities to prevent a peaceful transfer of power.
Ex-President Trump’s lawyer David Schoen, who made a speech, stressed. that the current impeachment is unconstitutional. He stated that the initiators of the impeachment act in “narrow party interests” and abuse the impeachment procedure in order to permanently remove Donald Trump from the American political scene. Schoen also noted that America’s enemies today are gloatingly watching as the division in the American political system deepens, which could weaken the position of the United States in the international arena.
Lawyer David Schoen also warned lawmakers that the current unconstitutional legal procedure threatens to set a dangerous precedent in which not only the country’s presidents who left the White House will be impeached, but also other statesmen and officials after their departure from government positions.
Prosecutors, for their part, noted that the First Amendment to the Constitution protects the democratic system of the United States, but “does not protect the president, who incites his supporters to threaten this system with the help of violence.”
“Accepting President Trump’s argument would mean that Congress could not impeach a president who burned the American flag on national television, spoke at a Ku Klux Klan rally wearing a white hood, or wore a swastika while marching through the Jewish Quarter,” says in a summary of the prosecution’s position. “This is all an expression of an opinion that is protected by the First Amendment, but would obviously be grounds for impeachment.”
Impeachment managers also reject Trump’s argument that some of the participants in the storming of the Capitol were planning an attack days before the rally. “This fact underlines that President Trump knew exactly what he was doing in his campaign to reverse the election results,” the prosecutors said.
On Tuesday evening, a majority of senators (56-44) voted to impeach former President Donald Trump, agreeing with the Democrats’ argument that impeachment of a president who is no longer in office and is a private citizen is allowed by the US Constitution.