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The Senate on Tuesday affirmed the constitutionality of Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial over the objections of his legal team, which contended that moving forward with the proceedings would be unconstitutional.
The trial opened shortly after noon with a graphic and emotional video shown by House impeachment managers of the assault on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 that resulted in the deaths of five people, including a Capitol Police officer. The 13-minute video montage was spliced with statements from Trump before and during the riot urging his supporters to “fight” to overturn the certification of the 2020 election in Congress.
House impeachment managers then argued on behalf of the constitutionality of holding an impeachment trial for a former president. They pointed to previous Senate trials of former government officials and warned that not holding Trump accountable in this case would set a precedent for future presidents to commit high crimes and misdemeanors at the very end of their term and escape consequences.
“You don’t need to be a constitutional scholar to know the argument President Trump asks you to adopt is not just wrong, it’s dangerous,” Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) said, adding: “There is no January exception to the impeachment power, that presidents can’t commit grave offenses in their final days and escape any congressional response.”
Trump lawyer David Schoen, meanwhile, argued that “only a sitting president may be impeached, convicted and removed.”
“Presidents are impeachable because presidents are removable. Former presidents are not,” Schoen added.
But the House impeached Trump while he was still president. Moreover, the Senate in the late 19th century held a trial for William W. Belknap, a corrupt Secretary of War, after he had already resigned. Trump’s lawyers did not address those two points in their opening arguments on Tuesday.
Scores of constitutional scholars have sided with the House managers on the question of trying a former president, including conservative lawyer Chuck Cooper.