The trial was approved 56 to 44 with six Republicans voting in favour (Picture: AP/Rex)
Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial will get underway after the US Senate rejected Republican arguments that it would be unconstitutional to try him even though he has left office.
House prosecutors had warned that failing to pursue it would create a ‘January exception’ effectively absolving presidents and allowing them to abuse their power as their time in office ends.
The trial was approved 56 to 44, with six Republican senators voting alongside Democrats and independents, and will likely last through the weekend into next week.
Senators, sitting as the jury, were shown graphic 13-minute video of the deadly January 6 attack on Congress, with Trump shown whipping up a rally crowd to march to the Capitol, telling them to ‘fight like hell’ to overturn his election loss to President Joe Biden.
They then saw the mob battling past police to storm the halls with Trump flags waving.
Democrat impeachment managers also referred to Trump’s tweets, including one saying ‘Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done’ which was posted at a time when the former vice president was being held in a secure location to protect him from rioters chanting ‘Hang Mike Pence’.
Trump told supporters during a rally to ‘fight like hell’ to overturn his election loss to President Joe Biden (Picture: Reuters)
Trump supporters in the Capitol Rotunda after breaching security (Picture: EPA)
Another tweet posted the evening of the riot excused participants for their actions while falsely claiming the election was stolen.
Trump posted: ‘There are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long.
‘Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!’
Trump’s lawyers insist he is not guilty, his fiery words just figures of speech.
Senators were asked to vote on the question of whether Trump ‘is subject to the jurisdiction of a court of impeachment’ (Picture: Rex)
They argued that his remarks were protected by the First Amendment and asserted that he cannot be convicted as a former president.
Lead lawyer Bruce Castor said he shifted his planned approach after hearing the prosecutors’ opening and instead spoke conversationally to the senators, saying Trump’s team would do nothing but denounce the ‘repugnant’ attack and ‘in the strongest possible way denounce the rioters’.
He appealed to the senators as ‘patriots first’, and encouraged them to be ‘cool headed’ as they assess the arguments.
Trump attorney David Schoen then turned the trial toward starkly partisan tones, saying the Democrats were fuelled by a ‘base hatred’ of the former president.
The Impeachment Managers file through the Capitol Rotunda to the Senate (Picture: Rex)
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Picture: AP)
Trump declined a request to testify (Picture: AP)
Republicans made it clear that they were unhappy with Trump’s defence, many of them saying they didn’t understand where it was going – particularly Castor’s opening.
Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy, who voted with Democrats to move forward with the trial, said that Trump’s team did a ‘terrible job’.
Maine Senator Susan Collins, who also voted with Democrats, said she was ‘perplexed’, while Senator Lisa Murkowki of Alaska said it was a ‘missed opportunity’ for the defence.
The early struggles underscored the uphill battle that Trump’s lawyers face in defending conduct that preceded an insurrection that senators themselves personally experienced.
Though they will almost certainly win Trump’s acquittal – by virtue of the composition of the Senate with 17 Republicans required for a two-thirds majority to convict – they nonetheless face a challenge of removing the emotion from a trial centred on events that remain raw and visceral.
It appears unlikely that the House prosecutors will call witnesses, in part because the senators were witnesses themselves. Trump has declined a request to testify, instead remaining at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida.
Presidential impeachment trials have been conducted only three times before, leading to acquittals for Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton and then Trump last year.
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, senators were allowed to spread out, including in the ‘marble room’ just off the Senate floor and in the public galleries.
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