News World US US Senate votes Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial is constitutional
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US Senate votes Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial is constitutional

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The US Senate has voted that the second impeachment trial against former president Donald Trump is constitutionally valid and should continue.

The vote passed 56 votes to 44, meaning six Republicans voted in favour of the motion.

Impeachment managers had argued that Mr Trump incited insurrection in January, and that a former president must be held to account for all conduct in office, regardless of whether that conduct occurred in his final week.

Mr Trump’s defence lawyers said the impeachment must be ruled unconstitutional, because it was not a power that could be used against a former president who is now a private citizen.

Prosecutors started Mr Trump’s trial with a graphic video of the former president’s supporters storming the US Capitol.

The mob attacked police, sent lawmakers scrambling for safety and interrupted the congressional certification of President Joe Biden’s victory after Mr Trump had spent two months challenging the election results based on false claims of widespread voting fraud.

“If that’s not an impeachment offence, then there is no such thing,” Democratic Representative Jamie Raskin, who led the prosecution, told the assembled senators after showing the video.

He wept as he recounted how relatives he brought to the Capitol to witness the election certification had to shelter in an office near the House floor, saying: “They thought they were going to die.”

Mr Trump’s lawyers attacked the process, arguing the proceeding was an unconstitutional, partisan effort to close off the former president’s political future even after he had departed the White House.

“What they really want to accomplish here in the name of the Constitution is to bar Donald Trump from ever running for political office again, but this is an affront to the Constitution no matter who they target today,” lawyer David Schoen told senators.

He denounced the “insatiable lust for impeachment” among Democrats before airing his own video, which contained clips of Democratic lawmakers calling for Mr Trump’s impeachment going back to 2017.

Mr Trump was impeached by the Democratic-led House on January 13 on a charge of inciting an insurrection. His conviction remains unlikely.

Finding him guilty would require a two-thirds majority, meaning at least 17 Republicans would need to join the Senate’s 48 Democrats and two independents in voting against Mr Trump, who remains his party’s most powerful figure even out of office.

Mr Trump is the only president to go on trial in the Senate after leaving office and the only one to be impeached twice. He is just the third president in US history to be impeached at all.

Mr Trump’s defence argued he was exercising his right to free speech under the Constitution’s First Amendment when he addressed supporters before the Capitol attack.

“We can’t possibly be suggesting that we punish people for political speech in this country,” Bruce Castor, one of Mr Trump’s lawyers, said.

Mr Castor said the Capitol attack “should be denounced in the most vigorous terms”, but argued “a small group of criminals”, not Mr Trump, were responsible for the violence.

  • Want to know what to expect in this second trial? Click here 
House impeachment managers walk into the Senate for the start of the trial. Photo: Getty

Most legal experts say it is constitutional to have an impeachment trial after an official has left office.

Republican Senator Bill Cassidy called the Democrats’ speeches “a very good opening”. He joined five of his Republican colleagues in finding the proceeding constitutional, reversing his vote from last month.

One year ago, the then-Republican-controlled Senate acquitted Mr Trump of obstructing Congress and abuse of power for pressuring Ukraine to investigate Mr Biden and his son Hunter in 2019.

The House managers showed the footage juxtaposed with the speech given by then US president earlier on January 6, in which he encouraged supporters to “fight like hell”.

The political arguments were unfolding in the same place where politicians were forced to duck for cover when violent right-wing rioters broke into the building in what turned into a deadly assault on democracy.

Mr Trump’s lawyers have said he is not guilty of the sole charge of “incitement of insurrection” and that his fiery words were just a figure of speech as he encouraged a rally crowd to “fight like hell”.

Prosecutors have argued Mr Trump “has no good defence” and have promised to present new evidence.

“Presidents can’t inflame insurrection in their final weeks and then walk away like nothing happened,” Colorado Democrat Joe Neguse said.

-with AAP