Former US President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial begins on Tuesday, over a single charge: incitement of insurrection. The allegations revolve around Trump inciting a violent mob of his supporters to storm the US Capitol on January 6 – which they did. The trial will take place at the same location where, almost exactly a month ago, Trump’s die hard supporters unleashed utter bedlam, leaving five people dead and several law enforcement officers with injuries that will haunt them for a lifetime.
Here are some questions that will headline the trial, expected to move at a swift pace:
Will Trump be convicted? At least 67 Senators in the 100 member chamber have to vote to convict Trump. The Senate is on a 50-50 razor’s edge between Democrats and Republicans, with Vice President Kamala Harris as tie breaker. But the tie-breaker won’t do for this. Emotions continue to run high among Republicans too but during a January 26 test vote, we got a preview of the softening towards Trump. Only five Republican senators voted against throwing out the trial. Even if those five vote to convict Trump, it’s well short of the 17 breakaways needed to seal the deal. Legal scholars are all over the map on whether the trial itself is constitutional – since Trump is no longer in office.
What is Trump’s case? Lawyers for Donald Trump have slammed the impeachment trial as an act of “political theater” where Democrats are juicing the January 6 riot for political gain. In initial arguments, Trump’s lawyers are expected to skewer the Democrats’ case as “patently absurd” and accuse them of silencing a political opponent. They plan to frame Trump’s comments as First Amendment rights, including when he urged his supporters to “fight like hell” before they marched to the Capitol. The Trump tent pole will be built around the argument that the Senate should not be holding this impeachment trial at all since Trump is not a sitting president any more. No US president has faced impeachment proceedings after leaving office.
What is the case against Trump? Democrats will argue that Trump is “singularly responsible” for the January 6 attack. They will say that Trump, by “creating a powder keg, striking a match, and then seeking personal advantage from the ensuing havoc,” is where the insurrection begins and ends. They will make the case that minus Trump, the grisly events of January 6 would have been “impossible”.
Will Trump show up? Trump has rejected a request from impeachment managers to testify. Since January 20, Trump has parked himself in Florida. Without access to Twitter, Trump has relied mostly on old world networking and press releases to get his message out via surrogates.
How long will the trial take? Trump’s first impeachment trial lasted three weeks. Round Two is expected to be quicker because most of the evidence on the single point article played out in full public view. More importantly, the Biden administration is intent on moving quickly with its $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package, and Cabinet nominees are yet to be confirmed. None of that can move forward while the impeachment trial is on.
What do the polls say? The latest AP poll shows a majority of Americans think Trump bears some blame for the Capitol insurrection; they remain split on whether the Senate should vote to convict him. An ABC News / Ipsos poll released Sunday shows 56 per cent of Americans support the Senate convicting Trump and barring him from office in the future but the results are along strictly partisan lines. Over 9 in 10 Democrats support barring Trump and over 8 in 10 Republicans oppose it.
(Nikhila Natarajan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)