Trump impeachment trial begins in 3 days: Why he won’t testify, what else to know – CNET

Donald Trump

Former President Donald Trump faces his second impeachment trial in the Senate.

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When the 100 Senators gather early next week to begin the impeachment trial of Donald Trump, the former president is not likely to make an appearance in the Senate chamber. In preparation for the start of the trial Feb. 9, the House lead trial manager has asked Trump to testify under oath before the Senate during his second impeachment trial. But after Rep. Jamie Raskin, the lead impeachment trial manager, sent a letter asking Trump to provide testimony and submit to cross-examination between Feb. 8 and Feb. 11, Trump’s legal team quickly labelled the request a “publicity stunt in order to make up for the weakness of the House managers’ case,” Trump lawyer Bruce Castor told NBC News.

Raskin responded: “Despite his lawyers’ rhetoric, any official accused of inciting armed violence against the government of the United States should welcome the chance to testify openly and honestly—that is, if the official had a defense,” adding that Trump’s “immediate refusal to testify speaks volumes and plainly establishes an adverse inference supporting his guilt.”

Trump’s team, however, did make a formal response to the article of impeachment earlier this week, arguing the Senate does not have the jurisdiction to decide an impeachment trial, as Trump is no longer president. The response also “denied that President Trump incited the crowd to engage in destructive behavior” and “denied that the phrase ‘If you don’t fight like hell you’re not going to have a country anymore’ had anything to do with the action at the Capitol.”

Whether or not he testifies, Trump is expected to stand trial beginning Feb. 9, where he faces a single impeachment article for incitement of insurrection, regarding his role in the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the US Capitol. To convict Trump, 17 Republicans would need to vote in favor, along with the 48 Democrats and 2 independents, to reach a two-thirds supermajority. Just five voted with Senate Democrats against the motion on Jan. 27 to declare the trial unconstitutional.

More than 350 congressional staffers on Wednesday implored the Senate to convict Trump, describing the traumatic events that unfolded within the Capitol on Jan. 6 and saying Trump “broke America’s 230-year legacy of the peaceful transition of power when he incited a mob to disrupt the counting of electoral college votes.”

The House Democrats impeachment managers laid out their case to the Senate Tuesday, arguing the trial must go ahead, citing twin needs to protect democracy and deter future presidents from provoking violence.  

“He was impeached by the House and it has to move forward, otherwise it would come off as farcical what this was all about,” President Joe Biden said on People TV, adding that abandoning the trial would “make a mockery of the system.”

The siege of the Capitol building sought to overturn the 2020 election results and halt the process of confirming Biden’s win in the Electoral College. Biden was confirmed after the riot and later inaugurated on Jan. 20. In a historic moment, 10 House Republicans broke with their party to vote in favor of impeachment.

The dramatic pretrial period has seen Trump name a new legal team over the weekend; a vote by Republican senators to have the trial declared “unconstitutional”; and the presiding officer for the trial, Sen. Patrick Leahy, 80, briefly hospitalized for several hours last week after unspecified “tests.” While Leahy is set to carry out his duties, the hospitalization, along with these other events, underscores the unusual nature of Trump’s impeachment trial — both in terms of the timing and against the broader backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We’ll explain what we know about how the impeachment trial could progress, what it takes to convict or acquit, what’s at stake and where the situation stands now. This story continues to be updated with new information.

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Current schedule of Trump’s impeachment trial

The trial is scheduled to unfold as follows:

  • Jan. 25: Article of impeachment was presented to Senate
  • Jan. 26: Senators were sworn in, summons for Trump issued
  • Feb. 2: Trump’s answer to article of impeachment due, has been given
  • Feb. 8: Trump’s pretrial brief due
  • Feb. 9: House’s pretrial rebuttal brief due; trial begins

What would happen if Trump is convicted or acquitted

If the former president is convicted in the Senate, there will be an additional vote to bar him from running again (per the US Constitution Article 1, Section 3), which would prevent a possible presidential run in 2024. This vote would only require a simple majority, where Vice President Kamala Harris serving as president of the Senate would cast a tie-breaking vote if required.

Trump could also be disqualified from the benefits given to former presidents by the Post Presidents Act, including a Secret Service security detail, pension and yearly travel allowance.

According to the US Constitution, impeached presidents also can’t be pardoned.

If acquitted, Trump would have access to all the benefits of a former US president, including the option to run for public office.

What could happen during Trump’s impeachment trial?

The US Constitution lays out clear guidelines for impeaching a sitting president and other officers for “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Trump’s trial is an unusual case, however. With his second impeachment, Trump, who as of Jan. 20 is a private citizen, is the first president to be impeached twice and the first to be tried after leaving office.

The Supreme Court Chief Justice would normally preside over the impeachment trial of a president. But because it’s not a trial of a sitting president, it will instead be presided over by Leahy, the new Senate President Pro Tempore, who as a senator is also still expected to be able to vote in the trial, too.

The House will prosecute the case, and the Senate will sit as jury and ultimately vote to convict or acquit. 

To convict Trump, 67 senators — or two-thirds of the Senate — must vote in favor. Following Biden’s inauguration, the Senate is now made up of 48 Democrats, two independents who caucus with Democrats and 50 Republicans, for an even 50-50 split.

Why was Trump impeached in 2019?

Trump was impeached in December 2019 by the House, but the Republican-majority Senate acquitted him at the beginning of 2020.

His first impeachment involved articles accusing Trump of abusing power and obstructing Congress. The issue was Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, including a July 2019 phone call in which he appeared to be using US military aid as a bargaining chip to pressure Ukraine into investigating alleged ties between his political opponent Biden, Biden’s son Hunter and a Ukrainian gas company. The articles also charged Trump with interfering with a House inquiry into the Ukraine matter.