WASHINGTON (AP) — Opening arguments will begin in Donald Trump's impeachment trial after an emotional first day ended with the Senate voting to hear the case for convicting the former president of inciting the riot at the U.S. Capitol even though he is no longer in office.
On Wednesday, House Democrats prosecuting the case and the former president’s attorneys will lay out their opposing arguments before the senators, who are serving as jurors. The defense lost the vote seeking to halt the trial on constitutional grounds, 56-44, leaving Trump fuming over his lawyers' performance and allies questioning the defense strategy. Some called for yet another shakeup to his legal team.
House prosecutors on Tuesday wrenched senators and the nation back to the deadly attack on Congress, showing a graphic video of the Jan. 6 mob violence that stunned the the world as hundreds of rioters ransacked the building to try to stop the certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s victory. Five people died.
That detailed and emotional presentation by Democrats was followed by meandering and occasionally confrontational arguments from the Trump team, which insisted that his remarks were protected by the First Amendment and asserted that he cannot be convicted as a former president. Even Trump’s backers in the Senate winced, several saying his lawyers were not helpful to his case.
Senators, many of whom fled for safety themselves the day of the attack, watched and listened, unable to avoid the jarring video of Trump supporters battling past police to storm the halls, Trump flags waving. More video is expected Wednesday, including some that hasn't been seen before.
The heavy emotional weight of the trial punctuates Trump’s enduring legacy as the first president to face impeachment trial after leaving office and the first to be twice impeached. While many minds are made up, the senators will face their own moment to decide whether to convict or acquit Trump of the sole charge of “incitement of insurrection.”
“That’s a high crime and misdemeanor,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., declared in opening remarks. “If that’s not an impeachable offense, then there’s no such thing.”
At one pivotal point, Raskin told his personal story of bringing his family to the Capitol that day to witness the certification of the Electoral College vote, only to have his daughter and son-in-law hiding in an office, fearing for their lives.
“Senators, this cannot be our future,” Raskin said through tears. “This cannot be the future of America.”
The House prosecutors had argued there is no “January exception” for a president to avoid impeachment on his way out the door. Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., referred to the corruption case of William Belknap, a war secretary in the Grant administration, who was impeached, tried and ultimately acquitted by the Senate after leaving office.
If Congress stands by, “it would invite future presidents to use their power without any fear of accountability," he said.
It appears unlikely that the House prosecutors will call witnesses, and Trump has declined a request to testify.
The trial is expected to continue into the weekend.
Trump's second impeachment trial is expected to diverge from the lengthy, complicated affair of a year ago. In that case, Trump was charged with having privately pressured Ukraine to dig up dirt on Biden, then a Democratic rival for the presidency.
This time, Trump's “stop the steal” rally rhetoric and the storming of the Capitol played out for the world to see.
The Democratic-led House impeached the president swiftly, one week after the attack. Of the five who died, one was a woman shot by police inside the building and another a police officer who died the next day of his injuries.