Tomorrow, Donald Trump will make history. He shall become the first president to be the subject of two impeachment trials and the first to face trial once out of office.
On 6th January 2021, the United States Capitol building was stormed by protesters that believed the election had been fraudulent and that Donald Trump was the real victor – their president.
When the Capitol was entered, United States Representatives and Senators fled, many hiding and barricading themselves in their offices, others being rushed out of the building and taken to a secure location. Last week, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke of the trauma when domestic terrorists that had entered the heart of American democracy were searching for her throughout the building.
The Representative from New York has been one of the major targets of Trump’s attacks since she was first elected to Congress in 2018. Ocasio-Cortez, along with other young female Representatives of colour Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, have been on the receiving end of some of the worst abuse from his supporters, and many believe that they were the most at danger on that fateful day.
Whilst still hunkered down in her office, Rep. Omar drafted the articles of impeachment for the president whose supporters (many of whom were armed) were searching for her. The articles read for “incitement of insurrection”. Just a week later – after the House was tidied up and cleared of insurrectionists – they voted by 232-197 to make Trump the first-ever twice-impeached president; he makes up half of all presidential impeachments.
Before the case went to trial, his legal team were reportedly preparing a challenge to the legitimacy of holding a trial once he had already left office. This was largely shot down when it leaked to the press and it appears that many of his lawyers left and his defence changed.
On the 6th of January, Trump held a rally in Washington D.C., where he stood on stage and riled up the crowd by again crying that the election was fraudulently stolen from him, before encouraging them to march on the Capitol.
During the attack, his supporters left bullet holes in the Capitol walls and smeared faeces on floors; hundreds were injured and five people, including a police officer, were left dead. Instead of calling for his supporters to end the violence, he appeared to praise them, once again cry fraud, and only fleetingly ask for calm. The violence lasted for several hours longer and a full condemnation only came the following day; appearing to be the result of intervention from his team.
After his first legal team departed, Donald Trump’s new team are focusing on saying that his words did not amount to incitement. David Schoen and Bruce L Castor, who now are charged with leading his defence, are focusing on convincing the Senate that Trump may have handled the situation badly, but that did not make him culpable.
Whether this will appear credible when the trial unfolds remains to be seen, but it likely that we already know the outcome of the trial.
With the Senate requiring a supermajority in order to convict, the prosecution will need 67 votes, meaning that they need to get at least 17 Republicans on board – this seems unlikely.
Despite being out of office, Trump’s shadow still looms large over the Republican Party, and a number of Republican Senators have continued to back the former president since he has left office. Ted Cruz has been amongst his most staunch defenders, with many not wishing to sour the relationship they have with Trump’s base by voting to impeach, perhaps costing them in a bid for re-election, or to replace Trump as the next Republican nominee.
Whether the evidence is compelling or not, it is very unlikely that the vote will be anything other than a partisan split; a few Republicans, like Mitt Romney, will likely vote to convict him, but it will likely be far from the 17 required.
45 Senators have already signed on to a memorandum by Republican Senator Rand Paul that the trial itself is unconstitutional, with the president being out of office; it is likely that the original trial strategy of his ousted team would have worked.
It is also likely that the final split will be somewhere along the lines of 55-45. When the result comes back at the conclusion of the trial – likely in the next two to three weeks – there is almost a guarantee that the president will be acquitted again, saving him from the final historic achievement of being the first president convicted by the Senate.