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Trump impeachment

Trump impeachment: What has Donald Trump said about the process?

The former president's legal team will argue that the process is unconstitutional as Donald Trump's trial for allegedly inciting the Capitol riots gets underway.

Donald Trump waves as he arrives at Palm Beach International Airport in West Palm Beach, Florida, January 20, 2021.
Carlos BarriaREUTERS

Donald Trump’s impeachment trial is due to begin this week with the former president’s lawyers seeking to have the proceedings thrown out on the basis of being unconstitutional. Trump’s legal team have accused Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and those allied to the cause of a second impeachment trial for the 45th US president of acting in the interests of “political gain” after the House voted to proceed with impeachment against the former White House incumbent, with the backing of 10 Republican representatives.

Trump stands accused of “incitement of insurrection” following the 6 January storming of the US Capitol by his supporters in the wake of his presidential election defeat to current US President Joe Biden. The violence that erupted at the seat of American democracy, leaving five people dead, was the culmination of weeks of legal chicanery by the Trump camp to have the results of the election overturned with the defeated Republican politician making repeated claims of voter fraud. These were almost universally thrown out of the courts to the ire of Trump’s supporters, who marched on Washington at his behest on the day that Congress was counting the electoral votes to confirm Biden’s victory.

The decision to impeach Trump rests on the content of a speech the then-president made addressing his supporters, calling on them to “fight like hell” and starting that “you'll never take back our country with weakness.”

Trump impeached for a second time

After the violent scenes that engulfed the Capitol, the House of Representatives called on Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, to invoke the 25th Amendment to have the president removed from office. When Pence frustrated that option by refusing to add his support to the motion, the House moved to impeachment proceedings with the eventual vote to send the matter to the Senate floor taken on 13 January coming back 232-197 in favour.

The preliminaries of the trial are due to begin on Tuesday, with the question of whether the proceedings are constitutional to take centre stage. Trump’s legal team will argue that the move to impeach a private citizen, as the former president now is, is unconstitutional. Trump faces the prospect of being barred from ever holding public office again if convicted, a scenario that would require a minimum of 17 Senate Republicans to side with the 48 Democrats and two independents in the evenly split upper chamber.

On Wednesday, the prosecution and defense will turn to the merits of the charge. They have a total of 32 hours evenly divided over no more than four days to present their cases.

The arguments would begin midday on Wednesday. The proceedings could be extended further as senators would have time to question both sides.

If House managers want to call witnesses or subpoena documents, the Senate would have to vote to allow those. Trump lawyers and House managers could question witnesses - a far more exhaustive procedure than Trump's first impeachment trial, which had no witness testimony.

Rioters “acted of own accord” – Trump lawyers

Trump's lawyers filed a brief on Monday ahead of the proceedings arguing the rioters who stormed the Capitol on 6 January did so of their own accord and were not incited by the president’s speech.

Trump’s statement in the hours before the riot "was not an act encouraging an organized movement to overthrow the United States government," his lawyers said.

Notably absent from his speech was any reference to or encouragement of an insurrection, a riot, criminal action or any act of physical violence whatsoever. Mr Trump never made an express or implied mention of weapons, the need for weapons, or anything of the sort,” Trump’s legal team said in a statement released on Tuesday.

Who has said what about impeachment proceedings?

The former president has elected not to testify at his trial, stating that it is unlawful and that he will not attend despite a request from Jamie Raskin, the lead House impeachment manager, who will oversee proceedings in the Senate. For their part, Trump’s lawyers have dismissed the impeachment trial as a “brazen political act.”

However, Senate Democrats are expected to prevail in Tuesday's vote on the constitutionality of the trial. An effort to block the trial on those grounds was defeated 55-45 last month.

A group of nine House Democratic impeachment managers will prosecute the case. They have accused Trump of betraying the country and the Constitution by fomenting acts of violence by falsely claiming the presidential election had been "stolen" by vote fraud.

"The House did not impeach President Trump because he expressed an unpopular political opinion," House managers wrote earlier this month. "It impeached him because he willfully incited violent insurrection against the government."

Trump has himself described the allegations as a “continuation of the greatest witch hunt in the history of politics.”

"Violence and vandalism have no place in our country... No true supporter of mine would ever endorse political violence,” Trump said in a statement in the immediate aftermath of the Capitol rioting.