Impeachment Briefing: Trump’s Trial Starts Tomorrow

By Maggie Astor

This is the Impeachment Briefing, The Times’s newsletter about the impeachment investigation. Sign up here to get it in your inbox.

What happened today

Mr. Trump’s lawyers submitted a 78-page brief to the Senate outlining the arguments they plan to make. You can read the full document here. (You can also read the 80-page brief the House impeachment managers — i.e., the prosecution — filed last week.)

The defense brief describes the trial as “political theater” ungrounded in constitutional law. It argues that the Senate has no jurisdiction to try a former president, and that even if it did, it would be wrong to blame Mr. Trump for the behavior of a “small group of criminals” — the rioters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 in an effort to undo his electoral loss.

The House impeachment managers filed a five-page response asserting that “each and every allegation in the Article of Impeachment is true, and that any affirmative defenses and legal defenses set forth in the Answer” — meaning the defense brief — “are wholly without merit.”

Senate leaders reached an agreement on the rules of the trial, which could turn out to be extremely short.

Let’s catch up

Exactly two weeks ago, the House delivered its article of impeachment to the Senate.

Senators were sworn in as jurors the next day and voted, 55 to 45, to reject a Republican attempt to dismiss the trial as unconstitutional. This was technically a victory for Democrats, but the narrow margin suggested that there would not be enough Republican support to convict Mr. Trump.

Lawmakers then voted for a two-week postponement, endorsed by Senators Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell, the Democratic and Republican leaders.

The Senate mostly turned to other business, including confirming several of President Biden’s cabinet nominees, but there was still some impeachment-related action behind the scenes: The House managers filed their prosecutorial brief on Tuesday and then asked Mr. Trump to testify under oath. He refused.

The arguments

The House impeachment managers argued in their brief last week that Mr. Trump — through his two-month campaign to delegitimize the results of the election, culminating in a speech on Jan. 6 in which he exhorted his supporters to fight — was “singularly responsible” for the riot at the Capitol.

They also argued that Mr. Trump’s behavior was exactly the sort of thing that the founders had in mind when they created the impeachment process.

The Trump Impeachment ›

What You Need to Know

    • A trial is being held to decide whether former President Donald J. Trump is guilty of inciting a deadly mob of his supporters when they stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, violently breaching security measures and sending lawmakers into hiding as they met to certify President Biden’s victory.
    • The House voted 232 to 197 to approve a single article of impeachment, accusing Mr. Trump of “inciting violence against the government of the United States” in his quest to overturn the election results. Ten Republicans joined the Democrats in voting to impeach him.
    • To convict Mr. Trump, the Senate would need a two-thirds majority to be in agreement. This means at least 17 Republican senators would have to vote with Senate Democrats to convict.
    • A conviction seems unlikely. Last month, only five Republicans in the Senate sided with Democrats in beating back a Republican attempt to dismiss the charges because Mr. Trump is no longer in office. On the eve of the trial’s start, 28 senators say they are undecided about whether to convict Mr. Trump.
    • If the Senate convicts Mr. Trump, finding him guilty of “inciting violence against the government of the United States,” senators could then vote on whether to bar him from holding future office. That vote would only require a simple majority, and if it came down to party lines, Democrats would prevail with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tiebreaking vote.
    • If the Senate does not convict Mr. Trump, the former president could be eligible to run for public office once again. Public opinion surveys show that he remains by far the most popular national figure in the Republican Party.

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