Trump's impeachment trial moves to official trial briefs

Illustration of Donald Trump and a security team.

House impeachment managers and former President Trump’s defense attorneys filed briefs on Tuesday, Feb. 2 containing their legal strategies for the Senate impeachment trial that will begin on Feb. 9.

Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives on Jan. 13 for inciting an insurrection, which was the storming of the Capitol Building on Jan. 6. All Democratic members of the House and 10 Republican members voted to impeach. This is Trump’s second impeachment, which makes him the first president to be impeached twice. 

The House impeachment managers delivered the article of impeachment to the Senate on Jan. 25. The February trial date is to allow the impeachment managers and Trump’s defense to form their legal preparations. It is also to allow the Senate to perform other duties, and to move ahead with the nominations of Biden’s cabinet. 

The House impeachment managers, comprised of nine House Democrats, submitted an 80-page brief accusing Trump of being “singularly responsible” for the events of Jan. 6. They also outline specific charges against Trump, such as abusing powers for political benefit, putting the lives of lawmakers and former-Vice President Pence in danger, and threatening national security by inciting the breach of the Capitol. 

The impeachment managers included 23 pages in their brief defending the constitutionality of impeaching a former president. They said that the House is given the power of impeachment and the Senate is given the power of impeachment trials under Article 1 of the Constitution, regardless of whether a president is still serving a term.

Trump’s defense team submitted a 14-page brief. They argue that Trump’s speeches and actions did not cause the storming of the Capitol. Trump’s refusal to accept the election results and maintaining that it was a stolen election is protected by the First Amendment, according to his lawyers, and Trump does not hold any responsibility for the mob at the Capitol. 

The defense lawyers used Article 2 of the Constitution to argue that the impeachment against Trump is unconstitutional. They said that the argument for impeachment is void because Article 2 states that the president “shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction” of various crimes.  Therefore, Trump cannot be removed from office due to the ending of his term, according to his lawyers. 

Five of Trump’s defense lawyers left the team prior to submitting the defense brief. Two lawyers who were expected to lead his team, Butch Bowers and Deborah Barbier, left mutually. Two other lawyers, Johnny Gasser and Greg Harris, left as well, along with Josh Howard, who was just added to the team. The reason for their departures allegedly concerned the defense itself. According to CNN, the lawyers wanted to focus on the constitutionality of convicting a president after they’ve left office, whereas Trump wanted the lawyers to argue that there was mass election fraud. 

Five Republicans in the Senate might potentially vote for conviction: Utah’s Mitt Romney, Maine’s Susan Collins, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, Nebraska’s Ben Sasse, and Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey. However, 17 Republicans would need to vote to convict Trump for the charges against him, as an impeachment conviction requires two-thirds of the Senate’s vote. 

Trump is the first former president to undergo a trial by the Senate. If found guilty, he could be banned from running for office again. 

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