Senate finds Trump impeachment trial constitutional on first day


Washington — The Senate voted to move forward with former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial on Tuesday, with a majority of senators determining they have jurisdiction to place former presidents on trial in cases of impeachment.

By a vote of 56 to 44, the Senate rejected arguments by Mr. Trump’s attorneys, who asserted that holding an impeachment trial of a former president is unconstitutional.

Six Republicans joined all 50 Democratic senators in voting to move forward with the trial. But the vote also served as an indication of Mr. Trump’s eventual acquittal, since 17 GOP senators would need to vote with Democrats in order to convict him. Senator Bill Cassidy joined five other GOP senators who had previously voted that the trial is constitutional.

Mr. Trump faces one article of impeachment for “incitement of insurrection” for his conduct leading up to the attack on the Capitol on January 6. The House impeached Mr. Trump on January 13, when he was still in office. The Constitution is silent on the question of whether former officials can be impeached and face trial in the Senate.

The first day of proceedings was dedicated to the question of whether the Senate has jurisdiction to try the former president. Mr. Trump’s attorneys and the House impeachment managers were given two hours each to present their cases to senators.

The House managers argued that declining to hold the impeachment trial would establish a “January exception” in which outgoing presidents could evade accountability for the actions in the final weeks of their terms. 

The Democratic managers opened the proceedings with a dramatic video timeline of the events on January 6, showing hundreds of Trump supporters storming the Capitol to disrupt the counting of electoral votes. The footage was juxtaposed with Mr. Trump’s speech to supporters earlier in the day, when he urged his followers to “fight like hell.” 

“You ask what a high crime and misdemeanor is under our Constitution. That’s a high crime and misdemeanor,” Representative Jamie Raskin, the lead impeachment manager, said when the montage concluded. “If that’s not an impeachable offense, then there is no such thing.”

The president’s attorneys, meanwhile, argued that the Senate has no authority to hold an impeachment trial for ex-officials under the plain language of the Constitution.

David Schoen, one of the former president’s lawyers, called the constitutional theory put forth by the impeachment managers “radical” and “unprecedented,” and warned adopting it would make future elected officials vulnerable to impeachment long after they’ve left office.

“They’re willing to sacrifice our national character to advance their hatred and their fear that one day, they might not be the party in power,” he said.

The trial will resume on Wednesday, when the Democratic managers will have eight hours to present the case for convicting Mr. Trump. Both sides will have two days to make their arguments before the Senate considers possible witnesses before a final vote. Senators will convene every day until a verdict is reached.

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