WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump's historic second impeachment could go to trial as soon as Inauguration Day, with U.S. senators serving not only as jurors but as shaken personal witnesses and victims of the deadly siege of the Capitol by a mob of his supporters.
Trump is the only president to be twice impeached, and the first to be prosecuted as he leaves the White House, an ever-more-extraordinary end to the defeated president's tenure.
In pursuing conviction, House impeachment managers said Thursday they will be making the case that Trump's incendiary rhetoric hours before the bloody attack on the Capitol was not isolated, but rather part of an escalating campaign to overturn the November election results. It culminated, they will argue, in the Republican president's rally cry to “fight like hell” as Congress was tallying the Electoral College votes to confirm he'd lost to Democrat Joe Biden.
The trial could begin shortly after Biden takes the oath of office Wednesday, but some Democrats are pushing for a later trial to give Biden time to set up his administration and work on other priorities. No date has been set.
Whenever it starts, the impeachment trial will force a further reckoning for the Republican Party and the senators who largely stood by Trump throughout his presidency and allowed him to spread false attacks against the 2020 election. Last week's assault angered lawmakers, stunned the nation and flashed unsettling imagery around the globe, the most serious breach of the Capitol since the War of 1812 and the worst by home-grown intruders.
“The only path to any reunification of this broken and divided country is by shining a light on the truth,” said Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., who will serve as an impeachment manager.
“That's what the trial in the Senate will be about,” she told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Trump was impeached Wednesday by the House on a single charge, incitement of insurrection, in lightning-quick proceedings just a week after the siege. Ten Republicans joined all Democrats in the 232-197 vote to impeach.
No president has ever been convicted in the Senate, and it would take a two-thirds vote against Trump, an extremely high hurdle. Two new senators from Georgia, both Democrats, are to be sworn in, leaving the chamber divided 50-50. That will tip the majority to the Democrats after Kamala Harris takes office. The vice president is the tie breaker.
But conviction of Trump is not out of the realm of possibility, especially as corporations and wealthy political donors distance themselves from his brand of politics and the Republicans who stood by his attempt to overturn the election.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said Thursday, “Such unlawful actions cannot go without consequence.” She said in a statement that the House responded “appropriately” with impeachment and she will consider the trial arguments.
At least four Republican senators have publicly expressed concerns about Trump's actions, but others have signaled their preference to move on. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., issued a statement saying he opposes impeachment against a president who has left office. Trump ally Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is building support for an alternative of launching a commission to investigate the siege.
Ahead of opening arguments, Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, another impeachment manager, suggested that senators will be asked to focus on their own experiences the day of the attack.
“You don't have to tell anyone who was in the building twice what it was like to be terrorized,” Swalwell said.
Under Senate procedure, the trial is to start soon after the House delivers the article of impeachment. The soonest the calendar has senators back in session is Tuesday.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has not said when she will take the crucial next step to transmit the impeachment article to the Senate. After Trump's first impeachment, in 2019, she withheld the articles for some time to set the stage for the Senate action.
Biden has said the Senate should be able this time to split its work, starting the trial and working on his priorities, including swift confirmation of his Cabinet nominees.
Holed up at the White House, watching the impeachment proceedings on TV, Trump released a video statement late Wednesday in which he appealed to his supporters to refrain from any further violence or disruption of Biden's inauguration.
“Mob violence goes against everything I believe in and everything our movement stands for,” Trump said.
FBI briefs Pence on potential violence
WASHINGTON – The FBI is tracking an “extensive amount of concerning online chatter,” including calls for armed protests leading up to next week's presidential inauguration, Director Chris Wray said Thursday.
Wray, in his first public appearance since the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, said in a security briefing for Vice President Mike Pence that the FBI remains concerned about the potential for violence at protests and rallies in Washington and in state capitols around the country.
Those events could bring armed individuals near government buildings and elected officials, Wray warned, while also noting, “One of the real challenges in this space is trying to distinguish what's aspirational versus what's intentional.”