WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — Donald Trump’s historic second impeachment trial began in the Senate Tuesday, with the opening debate focusing on the constitutionality of trying a former president after he’s left office.
Trump was impeached by the Democratic-led House of Representatives last month on a charge of inciting insurrection in the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of his supporters.
House Democrats, who are serving as prosecutors in the trial, opened their case Tuesday by showing a video of what unfolded on Jan. 6, from the perspectives of rioters storming the Capitol to try to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s victory, as well as police responding to the attack and lawmakers trapped in the building. It also included snippets of the speech Trump made to his supporters shortly before the siege.
Graphic content warning: House impeachment managers’ video of the Capitol assault is provided below:
Democratic U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, the lead House prosecutor, introduced the video, and told senators Tuesday that the case would present “cold, hard facts” against Trump. Senators sitting as jurors, many who themselves fled for safety that day, watched the jarring video that showed rioters pushing past police to storm the halls, throwing down barriers and waving flags.
Trump is the first president to face impeachment charges after leaving office and the first to be twice impeached.
Raskin said in his opening remarks that presidents would create a “January exception” that allowed them to break the law with impunity in the last month of their term if senators did not convict Trump.
“The January exception is an invitation to our founders’ worst nightmare,” Raskin said.
“We risk allowing Jan. 6 to become our future,” he added.
The defense lawyers argued Trump is not guilty of inciting an insurrection and that only a sitting president can face an impeachment trial.
During the Trump defense team’s opening arguments, they spoke on the importance of freedom of speech along with issues of partisan divides in Congress.
Bruce Castor Jr., one of the lawyers representing former President Trump, when arguing why the trial was unnecessary, said, “The people are smart enough, in the light most favorable to them, they’re smart enough to pick a new administration if they don’t like the old one. And they just did.” He also said Democrats don’t want to face Trump as a political rival in the future.
Defense lawyer David Schoen argued the former president’s impeachment trial should be dismissed, both because he says it is unconstitutional and will “tear this country apart.”
Among his points, he argued it violated the constitution to hold a trial without the Chief Justice present. Schoen also said Trump could not face an impeachment trial because he is a private citizen now instead of president.
“Presidents are impeachable because presidents are removable. Former presidents are not,” he argued.
He described the process as a “weaponization of the impeachment process,” arguing that Democrats are fueled by “hatred” of Trump and fear they will lose power.
One of the legal arguments used by Schoen is that this impeachment trial is “an unconstitutional bill of attainder.” Bill of attainder is a reference to a practice used by the British Parliament in the Middle Ages that would punish a specific disfavored person without a trial.
Trump’s attorneys have argued in a brief filed before the trial that he was exercising his First Amendment rights, and that the case against him is an act of “political theater.”
The defense team has said it plans to counter with its own cache of videos of Democratic politicians making fiery speeches.
“We have some videos up our sleeve,” Senior Trump adviser Jason Miller said on a podcast Monday.
The Senate voted 56-44 to uphold the constitutionality of trying Trump on impeachment charges. Six Republican senators — Sens. Cassidy, Toomey, Sasse, Romney, Collins, and Murkowski — all voted with the Democrats.
A similar question was posed late last month when Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky forced a vote to set aside the trial because Trump was no longer in office. At that time, 45 Republicans voted in favor of Paul’s measure. Just five Republicans joined with Democrats to pursue the trial: Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
Presidential impeachment trials have been conducted only three times before, leading to acquittals for Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton and then Trump last year.
Under an agreement between Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Republican leader Mitch McConnell, the opening arguments will begin at noon Wednesday, with up to 16 hours per side for presentations.
After that, there are hours for deliberations, witnesses and closing arguments. The trial is expected to continue into the weekend and next week.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that Biden will be busy with the business of the presidency and won’t spend much time watching the televised proceedings.
“He’ll leave it to his former colleagues in the Senate,” she said.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report. Reporting provided by AP’s Lisa Marscaro, Eric Tucker, Mary Clare Jalonick and Jill Colvin; as well as Reuters’ David Morgan and Richard Cowan.