House Democrats prosecuting the impeachment of former U.S. President Donald Trump are set to lay out their case Wednesday as they try to convince Senators serving as jurors to convict Trump of inciting insurrection at the Capitol last month.
The House impeachment managers and Trump’s defense will each have 16 hours over the course of two days to present their case, after which Senators will be given a total of four hours for questioning.
The Senate voted 56-44 Tuesday to hear the case.
The vote followed four hours of impassioned arguments from the two sides, with Democratic lawmakers arguing Trump must be held accountable for his actions and the former president’s defense contending an impeachment trial after the end of his term is unconstitutional.
Congressman Jamie Raskin, the Democrat’s lead impeachment manager, said Tuesday that not holding the trial would create a “dangerous” new exception for a president to act with impunity in their final weeks in office.
Video of January 6 violence
The Democrats showed the Senate a dramatic video of the chaos that unfolded in the Capitol on January 6 when a pro-Trump mob stormed past authorities and sent lawmakers scrambling for safety.
The attack, which ended with five people dead, came shortly after members of Congress started to certify Joe Biden’s victory over Trump in the November election. Trump had spent two months baselessly alleging voter fraud, and at a rally that day outside the White House he continued, telling his supporters, “if you don’t fight like hell you’re not going to have a country anymore.” He encouraged them multiple times to march to the Capitol.
Raskin recalled that his chief of staff, daughter and son-in-law were forced to barricade themselves in House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s office. He said they hid under a desk while rioters banged on the door, “placing what they thought were their final texts and whispered phone calls to say their goodbyes. They thought they were gonna die.”
Raskin said every day a president is in office “he’s prohibited from committing high crimes and misdemeanors” — the standard for conviction on impeachment charges — and cannot avoid responsibility for the deadly mayhem at the Capitol because he now is out of office.
Trump lawyer Bruce Castor Jr. rejected the premise that not holding the trial would create a loophole for avoiding responsibility, saying, “The idea of a January exception is nonsense.” He said that if Trump committed any offenses, “arrest him,” now that he is a private citizen and no longer immune from prosecution.
Castor quoted the Constitution saying that conviction on impeachment charges “shall not extend further than removal from office,” an impossibility since Trump’s term has already ended.
“The object of the Constitution has already been achieved,” Castor said. “He was removed by the voters.”
Trump’s other lawyer, David Schoen, accused Democrats of pursuing the impeachment case against him “to eliminate Donald Trump from the American political scene.” He said “pure, raw, misguided partisanship” was at the heart of the Democrats’ case.
Last month, Republican Senator Rand Paul, a staunch Trump supporter, attempted to block the trial on the same constitutional grounds, but five Republicans joined all 50 members of the Democratic caucus in voting 55-45 to proceed with the trial.
Tuesday’s vote to proceed was expected.
Last month, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, a staunch Trump supporter, attempted to block the trial on the same constitutional grounds, but five Republicans joined all 50 Democrats in voting 55-45 to proceed with the trial.
In the new vote Tuesday, another Republican, Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, also voted to go ahead with the trial.
However, it will take a two-thirds majority for conviction, meaning at least 11 more Republican senators would have to reverse their votes for the prosecution to prevail in the 100-member body.
Paul says there is a “zero chance of conviction.” If Trump is convicted, the Senate, on a simple majority vote, could bar him from ever holding federal office again.
In 1876, the Senate conducted an impeachment trial of a Cabinet secretary who resigned moments before he was impeached. Trump was impeached by the House while still in office.
The senators deciding the impeachment case against the single-term president are in a unique position: Many of them were witnesses themselves to the chaos as they fled the Senate chamber.
Trump, the only U.S. president to be twice impeached, was acquitted a year ago when he was accused of soliciting the president of Ukraine to dig up dirt against Biden ahead of the election.
A week after the storming of the Capitol, the House voted 232-197, with 10 Republicans joining all 222 Democrats, to accuse Trump of “incitement of insurrection.” Then, on January 20, Biden was inaugurated and Trump went to his Florida estate where he has stayed since.
Trump has declined a request from Democrats to testify in his defense and is not expected to attend. The trial could last a week or longer.