The second impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump begin. An inglorious entry in the history books is certain for him. Here you will find everything you should know about impeachment.
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How controversial Donald Trump’s presidency was can be seen from the list of impeachment proceedings in the USA: Only four such impeachment proceedings have been opened by the House of Representatives against presidents since 1868, two of them against Trump – the 45th president of the USA in the history books. A little over a year after he was acquitted in his first trial – and just a few days after leaving office – the Senate resumes negotiations against the Republican this Tuesday. As things stand, the result seems clear – regardless of the question of guilt.
What is Trump being accused of?
In the House of Representatives indictment, which was passed by the Democrats and ten Republicans in the Chamber, Trump is accused of “inciting a riot”. The background is that The Capitol was stormed by supporters of the then president on January 6th. The riots sent shock waves across America and the world. Immediately before the attack on Congress, which at the time wanted to make the victory of Democrat Joe Biden official, Trump had repeated his unsubstantiated claims at a rally that the victory was “stolen” from him by election fraud – and he had unequivocally called on his supporters to fight.
From the Democratic perspective, the matter is clear: Trump is a threat to national security, democracy and the constitution, according to the indictment. Therefore, he must not only be condemned by the Senate, but in future be banned from all offices at the federal level – a possible candidacy in the presidential election in 2024 would be denied him. The Republicans found themselves in a delicate situation: leading party representatives in Congress have given Trump joint responsibility for the attack they witnessed on their own body. But they shy away from openly opposing Trump – because that should alienate his many supporters and reduce their own chances of re-election.
Why is this becoming a problem for Republicans?
Many Republican senators are now on a balancing act: the vast majority of them argue that the process itself is not permissible because Trump is no longer in office. You should hope to be able to avoid a substantive dispute with the allegations. Forty-five of the 50 Republicans in the Senate recently backed a motion from their own ranks to declare the process unconstitutional. That was not enough to prevent its progress. The voting behavior made it clear, however, that the two-thirds majority in the Senate necessary for a conviction is not foreseeable – 17 Republicans would have to vote with the 50 Democrats in the Senate.
Is the process lawful at all?
In fact, there is some dispute among lawyers as to whether the proceedings against an ex-president are in accordance with the constitution. The Congressional Science Service, however, concludes that most scholars believe it is permissible. Last but not least, there is a precedent: US Secretary of War William Belknap resigned in 1876 just before the vote to open impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives to avoid the process. The Senate started the proceedings anyway.
House prosecutors are now arguing that it could not have been in the interests of the authors of the constitution to leave the nation defenseless “against the treason of a president in his last days”. “A president must answer comprehensively for his behavior in office from his first to his last day,” it says in their 80-page statement. The prosecutors also point out that the opening of the trial was decided while Trump was still in office.
How does Trump want to defend himself?
Trump’s defense attorneys in the proceedings were only confirmed last Sunday. CNN reported that the originally intended team had thrown out because Trump had demanded that lawyers focus on his unsubstantiated election fraud allegations – instead of questioning the legality of the process. The time for the statement of the new defense attorneys Bruce Castor and David Schoen was therefore limited, which may also be indicated by a spelling error (“Unites States Senate”) right at the beginning of the 14 pages.
Castor and Schoen also argue that the procedure against an ex-president – and thus against a private person – is unconstitutional. But they also deny that Trump incited the mob at all, which contradicts statements by leading Republicans. Among other things, Trump said at the rally: “If you don’t fight like the devil, you won’t have any more land.” The lawyers now argue that Trump only emphasized the need to “fight for the security of elections in general”. You also see Trump’s address covered by the right to freedom of speech enshrined in the constitution.
Trump’s election fraud allegations have now also found their way into the defense of his new lawyers, even if they do not adopt them as their own. “There is not enough evidence from which a reasonable lawyer could conclude that the 45th President’s statements were correct or not, and he therefore denies that they were wrong,” they write in their statement. From the lawyers’ point of view, Trump is not a threat to American democracy, but the impeachment process initiated by the Democrats – they call it “political theater”.