The impeachment is constitutional – but the likelihood that the ex-president will be removed afterwards remains low.
Donald Trump’s defense lawyers have failed in their attempt to stop the impeachment proceedings against the ex-US president in the Senate right from the start. They had argued that the process was unconstitutional because Trump was no longer in office. In a vote on Tuesday evening (local time), however, the majority of the US Senate judged the process to be constitutional: Six Republican senators voted with the 50 Democratic senators in the chamber.
They cleared the way for the rest of the procedure: From Wednesday, prosecutors and defense lawyers can present their arguments in the matter.
Prosecutors argued that Trump would have to answer for his actions as president until the last day in office – and thus also for his supporters’ attack on the Capitol two weeks before he left the White House.
Trump supporters forcibly stormed the Congress headquarters in Washington on January 6th. Five people were killed in the riots, including a police officer. With the attack, the attackers had tried to stop a meeting at which Congress was supposed to certify the election victory of Trump’s successor Joe Biden. Trump had recently incited his supporters at a rally that the election victory had been stolen from him. Among other things, he said at the time: “If you don’t fight like the devil, you will have no more land.”
The Democrats accuse him of “inciting a riot” and have initiated impeachment proceedings against him in the House of Representatives – supported by ten Republican MPs. This procedure is managed and decided in the Senate. The Congress Chamber takes on the role of a court.
The Senate started the process on Tuesday with a debate on the constitutionality of the process. Trump’s defense lawyers argued that the Senate trial was unconstitutional because it was directed against a private individual. Trump left office on January 20 when Biden was sworn in.
David Schoen of Trump’s defense team said private individuals could not be removed from office. Common sense suggests that. Schoen accused the Democrats of having initiated the process only to “remove Trump from the political stage”. This is an abuse of the impeachment procedure for political purposes. Contrary to what they said, the Democrats are not interested in uniting the country, on the contrary. “This so-called process will tear the country apart,” warned Schoen.
The House Democratic chief prosecutor, Jamie Raskin, argued that a president must answer for his actions until the last day in office. Anything else would be extremely dangerous. The Democrats also point out that the House of Representatives had already decided to open the procedure on January 13 – that is, one week before Trump’s departure from office. And: With the action against Trump, you also want to ensure that the Republican is banned from future offices at the federal level. This would mean that he would be denied a presidential candidacy in 2024.
So far, however, it is not foreseeable that the necessary two-thirds majority could come about in the Senate to condemn Trump. To do this, 17 Republicans would have to join the 50 Democratic Senators. The low chance of a conviction is also shown by the vote on the constitutionality of the procedure. 44 Republican senators rated the process as not being constitutional. It is hard to imagine that almost a dozen of them could turn around this very process at the end and vote for a condemnation of their party colleague. A guilty verdict for Trump would also be the prerequisite for a suspension of office.
As of Wednesday, prosecutors and defense lawyers will now have ample time to present their arguments for 16 hours each over two days. The prosecutors gave a foretaste of their strategy as early as Tuesday: They remembered the violent attack on the Capitol with haunting pictures and words. So they presented a video with dramatic scenes from January 6th and reported very personally how they experienced that day. In the coming days, they should do everything in their power to bring back memories of that January day through pictures and stories, when senators had to get themselves to safety from an angry mob.
It is expected that the procedure will only take a few days and possibly only drag on until the weekend or the beginning of the coming week.
Trump goes down in history as the first US president to be impeached two times during his tenure proceedings have been initiated in the House of Representatives. In the first trial, he had to answer in the so-called Ukraine affair for abuse of power and obstruction of congress investigations. In February 2020, however, he was finally acquitted of all charges – with the majority of his Republicans in the Senate at the time.