On Tuesday, a split US Senate voted overwhelmingly along party lines to press forward with the impeachment trial of Donald Trump on a charge of inciting the deadly attack on the Capitol, but prosecution seems impossible to bar a significant change within Republicans.
The Senate voted 56-44 to continue with the former president’s first-ever prosecution, denying the claim of his defence attorneys that Trump was beyond the jurisdiction of the Senate after he departed the White House on January 20.
Democrats are aiming to disqualify Trump from taking elected office once again, but the result of Tuesday indicated that they face long odds. Just six Republican senators, well short of the 17 expected to obtain a conviction, joined Democrats to vote in favour of enabling the trial to take place.
In the 50-50 Senate, convicting Trump would require a two-thirds vote.
In the Senate house, the vote capped a dramatic day. With a gruesome video interspersing scenes of the Jan 6 Capitol attack, Democratic senators acting as jurors opened the trial with recordings of Trump’s incendiary address to an audience of supporters moments earlier asking them to “fight like hell” to reverse his Nov 3 election defeat.
Senators, sitting as prosecutors, listened as screens showed the supporters of Trump knocking down hurdles and reaching Capitol police officers. The video featured the moment when police protecting the House of Representatives chamber fatally shot Ashli Babbitt, one of five persons who died in the rampage, including a police officer.
After Trump had spent two months protesting the election results based on unfounded allegations of systematic voter irregularities, the crowd threatened police, sent politicians scrambling for protection and disrupted the official Congressional confirmation of President Joe Biden’s win.
If it’s not an impeachment crime, so there’s no such thing,” said Democratic Representative Jamie Raskin, who led a team of nine house members prosecuting the case, after the video was shown to the assembled senators.”
“He wept as he recounted how relatives he brought to the Capitol that day had to shelter in an office near the house floor to witness the election certification, saying: “They thought they were going to die.
Trump’s attorneys criticised the process in response to the dramatic presentation of the Democrats, claiming that the proceeding was an illegal, partisan attempt to shut down Trump’s political prospects long though he had already left the White House.
David Schoen, one of Trump’s attorneys, told lawmakers, “What they really want to achieve here in the name of the constitution is to bar Donald Trump from ever running for political office again, but this is an affront to the constitution no matter who they are targeting today.”
Before broadcasting his own footage, which stitched together images of numerous Democratic lawmakers calling for Trump’s impeachment dating back to 2017, he condemned the “insatiable lust for impeachment” among Democrats.
House managers’ case ‘compelling, cogent’
Trump, who was impeached by the house headed by the Democrats on January 13, is just the third president to be impeached in US history, and the only one to be impeached twice.
His prosecution argued that he exerted his right to free expression under the First Amendment to the Constitution as he addressed supporters before the attack on the Capitol.
One of Trump’s attorneys, Bruce Castor, said the storming of the Capitol by hundreds of protesters “should be denounced in the most vigorous terms,” but claimed that the attack was the fault of “a small group of criminals,” not Trump.
Most legal scholars have said that holding an impeachment hearing after an official has left office is constitutional.
In their final weeks, presidents can’t spark an uprising and just stroll away like nothing has happened. And yet, that is the law President Trump is telling you to follow,’ the senators were advised by Democratic Representative Joe Neguse.
On January 6, most of the senators at the trial were in the Capitol, where several politicians said they feared for their own defence.
Several Republican senators said they considered Trump’s defence disjointed and vague, particularly Castor’s claim.
A compelling, cogent argument was made by the house managers. And the president’s squad did not,’ said Senator Bill Cassidy of the Nation, who voted to proceed the proceedings.
Cassidy voted last month to block the trial on procedural grounds, a 55-45 Republican attempt that failed. He was the first Republican to turn sides on Tuesday, a development that caused the Republican Party to release a statement repudiating his decision in his home state, Louisiana.
Seeing the television proceedings at his Florida retreat, Trump was disappointed with the production of Castor, said a source familiar with the case.
Castor told reporters after the Senate adjourned for the day: “I thought we had a good day,” and said he did not have to make any changes to his proposed defence in response to the criticism.
Following Trump’s turbulent four-year presidency, the trial could offer hints on the future of the Republican Party. Between Trump loyalists and those looking to drive the party in a different direction, sharp divides have arisen. For their part, Democrats are worried that the trial could delay Biden’s effort to advance an aggressive legislative agenda rapidly.
Yet there seem to be few Republican senators able to split with Trump.
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Senator Josh Hawley, who helped lead the opposition to the presidential election outcome in the Senate, projected that the vote on Tuesday would eventually represent the final judgement of the house.
Hawley told reporters, “That’s probably going to be the result, right there.”
One year earlier, Trump was cleared by the then-Republican-controlled Senate on charges of obstructing Congress and misuse of authority to push Ukraine into opening an investigation in 2019 into Biden and his son Hunter.