WASHINGTON — Democratic impeachment managers in the Senate trial of former President Donald Trump laid out their argument for convicting Trump on the charge of inciting the violent Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol on Tuesday, while the former president’s legal team pushed back on the legality of holding a trial at all.
Trump should be convicted and prevented from ever holding office in the future because he spread election falsehoods and his words incited violence, according to the House Democrats leading the prosecution. But Trump’s defense team said the Senate does not have the jurisdiction to try Trump since he is no longer in office.
The trial is the second Trump has been impeached over his conduct as president. In January 2020, the Senate, then Republican-led, voted to acquit him on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress for his dealings in Ukraine.
Here are the top moments from the first day of Trump’s second impeachment trial:
Who’s who in Trump’s 2nd impeachment:Key players from Rep. Jamie Raskin to attorney David Schoen
Senators voted impeachment trial is constitutional
Senators voted 56-44 that the impeachment trial of Trump is constitutional on Tuesday, closing out four hours of arguments from Democratic impeachment managers and Trump’s legal team and allowing the trial to proceed.
Six Republicans sided with all Democrats and independents in voting the trial is constitutional, despite the Trump defense team’s arguments that Trump cannot be tried as a current private citizen.
The Senate was expected to uphold the trial as constitutional because senators already voted 55-45 to support the proceedings last month. But that vote also suggested Trump could be acquitted because a two-thirds majority is required for conviction and more than one-third of the chamber found the trial unconstitutional.
One more Republican voted to proceed
Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., added his name to the list of Republicans who previously voted to support the impeachment trial proceedings of the former president. Cassidy and five of his Republican colleagues voted that the trial is constitutional on Tuesday.
The Republicans who agreed the Senate can try Trump are:
- Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La.
- Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine
- Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska
- Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah
- Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb.
- Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Penn.
Cassidy said he believed the “House managers are focused” and relied upon opinions of legal scholars, whereas “anyone who listened to President Trump’s legal team saw they were unfocused — they attempted to avoid the issue.”
Other Republicans appeared impressed by the Democratic prosecutors, including Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., who said “I thought the attorneys were very well prepared and well spoken.”
Wicker has been viewed as a likely vote for Trump’s acquittal and already voted to dismiss the trial on constitutional grounds. He said despite the presentation, “it did not change my mind” that the proceedings violated the Constitution.
The vote on constitutionality required a simple majority, but the Democratic House managers would need to win over a total of 17 Republicans to succeed with a conviction of Trump.
Democrats use video of Capitol attack to remind Senators of purpose of impeachment
Senators were brought back to the day of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol when Tuesday’s Senate trial opened with a 13-minute video containing clips from that day, from the president’s exhortation at a rally near the White House that his followers should go to the Capitol to the ensuing attack.
The video included footage of rioters breaking windows and chanting “stop the steal” as they disrupted the process to certify the 2020 presidential election results, falsely believing Trump’s claims that President Joe Biden won due to widespread fraud.
Members of Congress were shown in the video being escorted out. One clip showed the moment a Capitol Police officer shot Ashli Babbitt, the 35-year-old woman who had joined the rioters trying to get into the House chamber.
The clips were followed by Trump’s words on social media, directing the rioters to “go home with love and in peace.”
“Senators, the president was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives on Jan. 13 for doing that. You ask what a high crime and misdemeanor is under our Constitution? That is a high crime and misdemeanor. If that’s not an impeachable offense, then there is no such thing,” said House impeachment prosecutor Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md.
‘Dad, I don’t want to come back’:Rep. Jamie Raskin, in tears at trial, recounts daughter’s fear during Capitol riot
David Schoen, one of former President Donald Trump’s defense lawyers, later slammed House managers for “splicing” videos together to play “movies” of the Jan. 6 Capitol breach at the Senate trial.
“They don’t need to show you movies to show you that the riot happened here. We will stipulate that it happened, and you know all about it,” he said.
Minutes later, Schoen played a clip of several Democratic lawmakers saying years before they would vote to impeach Trump, edited together over dramatic music.
Democrats argue Trump must be held accountable
House Democratic impeachment managers sought to counter the arguments laid out by Trump’s lawyers regarding the constitutionality of an impeachment trial for a former president who is not currently in office.
Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., one of the lawmakers leading the prosecution against Trump, responded to the argument that the trial was invalid because the chief justice was not presiding. The Constitution stipulates the chief justice presides over impeachment trials of presidents, but otherwise the Senate’s presiding officer – the vice president or its president pro tempore – oversees the trial.
Cicilline noted, “Right now, Joseph R. Biden Jr. is 46th president of the United States. As a result, the requirement (in the Constitution) that the chief justice preside isn’t triggered.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is presiding over the trial in his role as president pro tempore of the Senate.
Cicilline also said the Trump team’s arguments about the validity of the trial’s process “are not only wrong on their own terms, but they’re also completely irrelevant to the question of whether you should hold this trial.”
Democratic impeachment manager Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., looked to the case of War Secretary William Belknap in 1876 for precedent of holding an impeachment trial process for someone who has already left office.
Neguse said Congress’ action nearly a century and a half ago clearly established the precedent that an official’s resignation or departure does not allow the Senate to avoid its legal responsibility to hold a trial, despite that Belknap was acquitted.
Democrats argued that to do so would to be to create a “January exception,” allowing future leaders to commit high crimes and misdemeanors in their final weeks in office only to leave office before they can be held accountable.
“Presidents can’t claim insurrection in their final weeks and then walk away like nothing happened. And yet that is the rule President Trump ask you to adopt. I urge you – we urge you – to decline his request,” Neguse said.
Trump’s team says the former president can’t be tried
The former president cannot be legally convicted in a Senate impeachment trial because he does not currently hold the office of president, Trump’s legal team argued on Tuesday. They said the Senate has no jurisdiction over Trump as a private citizen.
The process that was begun on Tuesday is the only impeachment trial of a president who is no longer in office.
The team led by Bruce Castor Jr. and David Schoen also argued that his speech to the mob before the Capitol violence is protected by the First Amendment. Trump’s words are protected political speech that should not be blamed for the actions of others, namely the rioters, Castor said.
‘I’ll have to do better next time’:Trump attorney says after GOP criticism of impeachment opening
Castor said the Trump team strongly denounces the violence that took place at the Capitol, but cautioned senators against “suggesting that we punish people for political speech in this country.”
In a sometimes long-winded opening statement, Castor said moving ahead with the trial means “impeachment will become the rule, not the rare exception.”
“The flood gates will open,” Castor told the Senate, noting that two of the nation’s four presidential impeachments have taken place in the last 13 months. He added that the current Democratic majority in the House may someday shift and warned senators that impeachment may be used the other way in the future.
Schoen argued that the House’s quick impeachment process was a denial of Trump’s due process rights.
What’s next in the impeachment trial?
At the beginning of the Senate process Tuesday, senators voted to approve guidelines that outline the rest of the trial’s schedule this week after Tuesday’s vote on constitutionality.
Wednesday and Thursday: House impeachment managers will have 16 hours over two days to make their case.
Friday and Saturday: Trump’s lawyers will have 16 hours over two days to argue their case.
Senators will then have the opportunity to ask both sides questions, and either side could request to call witnesses, which could extend the trial. If no witnesses are called, the trial could conclude early next week after closing arguments from both sides and a vote to convict or acquit.
Contributing: Nicholas Wu, Bart Jansen, Ledyard King, Savannah Behrmann, Christal Hayes