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Trump impeachment: Senate trial poised to start next week

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Former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial over his role in the deadly US Capitol riot is set to begin next week in the Senate, Democrats say.

On Monday, the House of Representatives will deliver the impeachment charge to the Senate, triggering the trial process in the 100-member chamber.

Republicans had argued for a delay, asking for more time to prepare.

Mr Trump’s impeachment trial will be the only one ever to have taken place after a president has left office.

Mr Trump’s term ended on Wednesday. He left Washington DC ahead of his successor Joe Biden’s inauguration.

The House of Representatives last week charged Mr Trump with inciting a deadly riot at the US Capitol, paving the way for a Senate trial. If convicted, he could be barred from future office.

Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said on Friday that the House would deliver the impeachment article on Monday. Unless Democrats, who took control of the Senate this week, change the rules, it will mean Mr Trump’s trial will begin on Tuesday.

“The Senate will conduct a trial of the impeachment of Donald Trump. It will be a full trial. It will be a fair trial,” Mr Schumer said on the floor of the Senate.

Mr Trump’s actions ahead of the 6 January riot are at the heart of the case. The then-president told protesters near the White House to “peacefully and patriotically” make their voices heard as they prepared to march towards the US Capitol building. He also told them to “fight like hell”.

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The demonstration turned ugly as a mob forced its way into the congressional complex where lawmakers were certifying Mr Biden’s election victory.

Four protesters and a Capitol Police officer died in the mayhem.

A week later, Mr Trump became the first US president to be impeached twice. Ten House Republicans sided with Democrats to do so.

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Impeachment: The basics

  • What is impeachment? Impeachment is when a sitting president is charged with crimes. In this case, former President Trump is accused of having incited insurrection
  • What has already happened? The House of Representatives voted to impeach Mr Trump for a second time on 13 January, shifting the process to the Senate for a trial – but that trial could not be carried out before he left office on 20 January
  • So what does it mean? A trial can still happen although Mr Trump’s term has ended, and senators can vote to bar him from holding public office again

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What had Republicans asked for?

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell had asked House Democrats to delay sending the impeachment article to the Senate until 28 January. This would have given Mr Trump two weeks to submit his pre-trial defence, with arguments then beginning mid-February.

But Republicans, who as of Wednesday no longer control the Senate, failed to gain the support of new Democratic leader Mr Schumer.

Speaking on the Senate floor on Friday, Mr McConnell acknowledged his request had been rejected.

He condemned the “unprecedentedly fast” process in the House earlier this month, when Mr Trump was impeached in one day.

“The sequel cannot be an insufficient Senate process that denies former president Trump his due process or damages the Senate or the presidency itself.”

Mr McConnell added that delay would also have given Democrats more time to confirm Biden cabinet officials and pass an economic stimulus bill.

In a statement on Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi confirmed the article would be submitted on Monday.

She also noted that the impeachment managers, the Democratic House lawmakers who will serve as prosecutors in trial, will have the same amount of time to prepare as Mr Trump’s legal team.

On Thursday, Mrs Pelosi had said she rejected the notion that Mr Trump should be given a “get out of jail card free” just because he had left office.

Even though Democrats now hold a narrow Senate majority, they would need the support of at least 17 Republicans in order to convict Mr Trump, because a two-thirds vote is required.

A handful of Senate Republicans have indicated they are open to conviction, but most have either cast doubt on the legality of trying a president after he has left office, or said the process would be too divisive.

Meanwhile, Republicans continue to chair Senate committees while Senators McConnell and Schumer work out a new power sharing agreement, laying out rules for the evenly split chamber.

Some Democrats wish to abolish the filibuster, a delaying tactic where members of the minority party can drag out policy debate.

Republicans, however, want to retain a filibuster rule that allows any one Senator to call for legislation to pass by a 60% majority, rather than a simple 50% majority.

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A dilemma for Democrats

Analysis box by Anthony Zurcher, North America reporter

The Senate majority leader said the House of Representatives will deliver the articles of impeachment on Monday. Unless the Senate changes its rules, that means the trial will begin on Tuesday.

Some Democrats would have welcomed McConnell’s offer of a two-week postponement, as it could have given the Senate some more time to confirm presidential appointments and begin work on its legislative agenda. Before his inauguration, Joe Biden expressed concern about being unable to quickly staff his administration and recommended the Senate try to conduct a part-time trial while doing other business.

Democrats demanding a speedy trial appear to have won the day, however. They fear a long delay might make it the easier for Republicans to acquit the president, as the Capitol Hill insurrection fades into the past.

Since the Democrats control both chambers of Congress, they’re the ones who get to set the timetable and make the rules. It marks a sharp contrast from the last Trump impeachment, where Republicans had the Senate majority and McConnell was in charge.

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What does the Constitution say?

The rules set out in the US Constitution say that by 13:00 ET on the day following the submission of an impeachment article, the Senate must convene to begin the trial.

The Senate sergeant-at-arms begins the proceedings by warning lawmakers – who will act as jurors – “to keep silence, on pain of imprisonment”.

The trial must then continue every day – barring Sundays – until a verdict is rendered.

Where is Trump now?

Donald Trump left the White House on Wednesday morning and flew on Air Force One to his golf club in Palm Beach, Florida. He arrived minutes before Mr Biden took the oath of office in Washington DC.

Mr Trump is expected to live at the resort he calls his “Winter White House”, despite concerns from some neighbours about the increased traffic and heightened security.

He is planning to maintain a tight-knit coterie of former White House aides in Florida.

According to reports, he wants to raise $ 2bn (£1.46bn) for his presidential library and has floated the idea of forming a new political party called the Patriot Party.

Who will defend Trump?

Mr Trump has hired South Carolina-based lawyer Butch Bowers to represent him in his Senate impeachment trial, according to Senator Lindsey Graham.

According to his website, Mr Bowers was a special counsel on voting matters at the US Department of Justice under President George W Bush.

He also served as counsel to two former governors of South Carolina, Nikki Haley and Mark Sanford.

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BBC News – World

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