Today is a momentous day. Not only is it somehow the second week of February in the year 2021, but it is also the day that a US President will face an impeachment trial for a second time. Donald Trump now makes up half of the impeachments in American history. No president has ever been impeached twice, let alone in one term.
Trump is also the first President to be impeached while no longer in office. We are in uncharted waters.
The impeachment trial, set to begin today in Washington DC – roughly 1.00am tomorrow AEDT – is likely to see a resurgence of the chaos of the Trump era after the short intermission of relative normality we have seen over the past few weeks under new President Joe Biden.
Here’s what to expect.
Why Is Trump Being Impeached Again?
Just over a month after the chaotic scenes at the Capitol building, in which a masked and heavily armed crowd forced their way into the symbolic heart of US democracy in what can only be described as an armed insurrection attempt or failed coup, Trump is facing charges for inciting the crowd and attempting to hold onto power.
The January 6 attack on the Capitol resulted in the deaths of five people and forced American lawmakers and politicians who were attempting to certify the presidency of Joe Biden to evacuate or hide in the US Capitol. Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio Cortez spoke candidly on Instagram recently about her experience of the attack, informing viewers of the true horror of the event for someone who is a sexual assault survivor.
Less than a week later, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump for the second time for “incitement of insurrection”. They claim his campaign of misinformation following the election result in November, culminating in him being banned from Twitter and much of the rest of the internet, resulted in the Capitol being attacked.
Trump called a rally on the day of the presidential ratification in which he told supporters that if they did not “fight like hell,” they wouldn’t have a country any more before instructing them to march on the Capitol.
Why Impeach Trump Now?
Although Trump is now out of office, he could still play a significant force in US politics. He has said before that he intends to run again in 2024, and, even if convicted, would still be able to campaign for candidates and causes.
Although Trump is now guaranteed his post-Presidential benefits like security detail, travel expenses, and a generous pension, the move would attempt to draw a line in the sand and show that America will not tolerate behaviour like his.
Whatever the outcome, Biden is likely to remove Trump’s security clearance anyway, denying him access to top-level security briefings which former Presidents typically get. Biden believes the former president cannot be trusted with such sensitive information.
How Will it Work?
The trial will be held in the senate, with the 100 senators acting like a jury in the trial. There will be opening statements made for and against the decision with Senators allowed to submit questions to be read during the proceedings.
The trial will likely go on for several days. Trump’s first impeachment trial took five months but this time the Democrats are keen to wrap things up quickly and get back to the business of governing.
Senior Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont will run proceedings with nine Democrats presenting the charges. The nine members are close allies of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who’s office was ransacked during the insurrection, and former lawyers. They are expected to show videos of Trump’s speech before the attack followed by footage from the crowd and the rioters inside the Capitol.
While Democrats have asked that Trump testify during the trial, his lawyers have rejected the request. Trump refused to speak at his first impeachment trial and has now moved from Washington to Florida so it’s unlikely we’ll see him there.
Trump instead will be represented by a legal team headed by lead lawyers, David Schoen and Bruce Castor. The pair came on board at the end of January after Trump’s first defence team quit after an argument with the former President. It’s expected to be a much smaller and less experienced team than he had for his first impeachment.
How Likely Is it Trump Will Be Charged?
Very unlikely. While there is significant anger over Trump’s actions from the Democrats, and a willingness to not let his actions be forgotten, the Senate needs to pass a two-thirds majority vote in order to convict him.
This majority makes it almost an impossible task to secure a conviction. To make up the numbers, 17 Republicans would have to join forces with all 50 Democrats. 45 out of 50 of the Senate Republicans have already voted in favour of challenging the constitutionality of the trial, which gives us a good indication of how they are likely to vote on impeachment.
The Washington Post is running a tracker which shows which way Senators are leaning in the run-up to the trial and, so far, only 12 Republicans have indicated that they are somewhat open to the idea of conviction.
It is however likely that the second vote, over whether or not to ban Trump from running for office again, will pass. That vote, as part of the impeachment trial, only requires a majority vote, which the Democrats already have in the Senate.