WASHINGTON (AFP) — The US House of Representatives presented a single article of impeachment to the Senate on Monday accusing Donald Trump of inciting the storming of the Capitol, setting in motion the first-ever impeachment trial of a former president.
In a solemn procession, the nine House impeachment managers silently walked the article through the same ornate halls of Congress overrun by Trump supporters on January 6 and delivered it to the Senate.
Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland then read out the charge against Trump on the Senate floor, where the former president continues to enjoy significant support from Republican senators.
The Senate trial of the 74-year-old Trump, who was impeached by the Democratic-majority House on January 13 for an unprecedented second time, is to begin the week of February 8.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the 100 members of the Senate, who will act as jurors, will be sworn in on Tuesday and a summons issued to the former president.
Democrats and Republicans agreed to delay the start of the trial for two weeks to allow Trump to prepare his defense against the charge of “incitement of insurrection,” and for the Senate to confirm President Joe Biden’s cabinet appointees.
US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts presided over Trump’s previous Senate trial — which ended with his acquittal — but presiding this time will be the Senate president pro tempore.
The president pro tempore is the senior senator of the party with the majority in the Senate, currently the Democrats. Patrick Leahy, 80, who was elected to the Senate in 1974, holds the position.
Republican senator John Cornyn said having a senator serve as both judge and juror raised a conflict of interest, but another Republican senator, Lindsey Graham, dismissed his concerns.
“I’ve known Pat a long time,” Graham said. “I believe and hope he’ll be fair.”
Leahy said he would take an oath to be impartial.
“The president pro tempore has historically presided over Senate impeachment trials of non-presidents,” Leahy said in a statement.
“When presiding over an impeachment trial, the president pro tempore takes an additional special oath to do impartial justice according to the Constitution and the laws,” he said. “It is an oath that I take extraordinarily seriously.”
– ‘Must be held accountable’ –
Biden, 78, eager to put Trump in the rear-view mirror and make progress in fighting the coronavirus pandemic and reviving the economy, has taken a hands-off approach to the impeachment.
Democratic representative Jerry Nadler, the House Judiciary Committee chairman, said Monday that Trump “must be held accountable.”
“We must not give Donald Trump a pass for inciting a deadly insurrection on our Capitol,” Nadler said.
“The House has done its job by impeaching Trump, and now the Senate must complete the task by ensuring that he is never again in a position to directly harm the United States.”
Ten Republicans joined their Democratic colleagues in the House in voting to impeach Trump for inciting the crowd that stormed the Capitol while Congress was certifying Biden’s November 3 election victory.
Five people died in the mayhem, including a police officer and a protester who was shot by Capitol police.
The House also impeached Trump a year ago for seeking to dig up political dirt on Biden from Ukraine, but he was acquitted by the Senate, where only a single Republican senator, Mitt Romney of Utah, voted for conviction.
– ‘Get out of jail free card’ –
While more Republican senators may vote to convict Trump this time, it seems unlikely at least 17 of them will do so.
Democrats control 50 seats in the 100-seat chamber, and a two-thirds majority is needed to convict Trump, who remains a powerful figure in the Republican Party.
If Trump is convicted, the Senate could bar him from holding office again, a move that would prevent him from running for president in 2024.
A number of Republicans have denounced the plans to try Trump in the Senate, and some have argued that the body has no authority to put a private citizen — as Trump now is — on trial.
Schumer dismissed that argument in remarks on the Senate floor on Monday.
“It makes no sense whatsoever,” he said. “The theory that the Senate can’t try former officials would amount to a constitutional ‘get out of jail free card’ for any president who commits an impeachable offense.”
Trump repeatedly and falsely claimed he had won the election and summoned his supporters to Washington on January 6 for a rally that coincided with the certification of the results by Congress.
Following a speech by Trump, thousands of his supporters stormed the Capitol, fighting pitched battles with police and sending lawmakers into hiding.
Trump is facing potential legal jeopardy on numerous fronts, but he got welcome news on Monday when the Supreme Court shut down lawsuits claiming he had violated laws barring a president from accepting income from foreign sources.
© Agence France-Presse