Trump impeachment trial could begin on Inauguration Day

14 January 2021, 17:14

Trump
Trump. Picture: PA

The trial timeline and schedule are largely set by Senate procedures.

President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial could begin on Inauguration Day, just as Democrat Joe Biden takes the oath of office in an extraordinary end to the defeated president’s tenure in the White House.

The trial timeline and schedule are largely set by Senate procedures and will start as soon as the House of Representatives delivers the article of impeachment. That could mean starting the trial at 1pm on Inauguration Day. The ceremony at the Capitol starts at noon.

Mr Trump was impeached on Wednesday by the House of Representatives over the deadly Capitol siege, the only president in US history twice impeached, after a pro-Trump mob stormed the building.

The attack has left the nation’s capital, and other capital cites, under high security amid threats of more violence around the inauguration.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has not said when she will take the next step to transmit the impeachment article, a sole charge of incitement of insurrection.

Some senior Democrats have proposed holding back the article to give Mr Biden and Congress time to focus on his new administration’s priorities.

Mr Biden has said the Senate should be able to split its time and do both.

The impeachment trial will be the first for a president no longer in office. And, politically, it will force a reckoning among some Republicans who have stood by Mr Trump throughout his presidency and largely allowed him to spread false attacks against the integrity of the 2020 election.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is open to considering impeachment, having told associates he is done with Mr Trump, but has not signalled how he would vote.

Convening the trial will be among his last acts as majority leader, as two new senators from Georgia, both Democrats, are to be sworn into office leaving the chamber divided 50-50. That tips the majority to the Democrats once Kamala Harris takes office, as the vice president is a tie-breaker.

In a note to colleagues on Wednesday, Mr McConnell said he had “not made a final decision on how I will vote” in a Senate impeachment trial.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

With the Capitol secured by armed National Guard troops inside and out, the House voted 232-197 on Wednesday to impeach Mr Trump. The proceedings moved at lightning speed, with representatives voting just one week after violent pro-Trump loyalists stormed the Capitol, egged on by the president’s calls for them to “fight like hell” against the election results.

Ten Republicans joined Democrats who said he needed to be held accountable and warned ominously of a “clear and present danger” if Congress left him unchecked before Mr Biden’s inauguration on January 20. It was the most bipartisan presidential impeachment in modern times, more so than against Bill Clinton in 1998.

The Capitol insurrection stunned and angered politicians, who were sent scrambling for safety as the mob descended, and it revealed the fragility of the nation’s history of peaceful transfers of power.

Ms Pelosi invoked Abraham Lincoln and the Bible, imploring representatives to uphold their oath to defend the constitution from all enemies, foreign “and domestic”.

She said of Mr Trump: “He must go, he is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love.”

Holed up at the White House, watching the proceedings on TV, Mr Trump later released a video statement in which he made no mention of the impeachment but appealed to his supporters to refrain from any further violence or disruption of Mr Biden’s inauguration.

He said: “Like all of you, I was shocked and deeply saddened by the calamity at the Capitol last week.”

The president appealed for unity “to move forward” and said: “Mob violence goes against everything I believe in and everything our movement stands for. No true supporter of mine could ever disrespect law enforcement.”

Mr Trump was first impeached by the House in 2019 over his dealings with Ukraine, but the Senate voted in 2020 to acquit.

No president has been convicted by the Senate, but Republicans have said that could change in the rapidly shifting political environment as officeholders, donors, big business and others peel away from the defeated president.

Conviction and removal of Mr Trump would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate.

Mr Biden said in a statement after the vote that it was his hope the Senate leadership “will find a way to deal with their constitutional responsibilities on impeachment while also working on the other urgent business of this nation”.

Hundreds of National Guard troops inside the Capitol Visitor’s Centre to reinforce security
National Guard troops inside the Capitol Visitor’s Centre (J Scott Applewhite/AP)

Unlike his first time, Mr Trump faces this impeachment as a weakened leader, having lost his own re-election as well as the Senate Republican majority.

In making a case for the “high crimes and misdemeanours” demanded in the constitution, the four-page impeachment resolution relies on
Mr Trump’s own incendiary rhetoric and the falsehoods he spread about Mr Biden’s election victory, including at a rally near the White House on the day of the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

The impeachment resolution is also intended to prevent Mr Trump from ever running again.

A Capitol Police officer died from injuries suffered in the riot, and police shot and killed a woman during the siege. Three other people died in what authorities said were medical emergencies.

The riot delayed the tally of Electoral College votes that was the last step in finalising Mr Biden’s victory.

By Press Association