Opening arguments in the second Senate impeachment trial of former U.S. president Donald Trump will begin the week of Feb. 8.
Trump is charged with incitement of insurrection in relation to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, which claimed the lives of five people, including a Capitol police officer.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced the schedule late Friday after reaching an agreement with Senate Republicans.
“The Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol incited by Donald Trump was a day none of us will ever forget,” Schumer said in the Senate.
“We all want to put this awful chapter in our nation’s history behind us. But healing and unity will only come if there is truth and accountability, and that is what this trial will provide.”
Under the timeline, the House will transmit the impeachment article against Trump late Monday, with initial proceedings Tuesday.
From there, Trump’s legal team will have time to prepare the case before opening arguments begin in February.
Earlier Friday, Pelosi said her nine impeachment managers, or House prosecutors, are “ready to begin to make their case” against Trump.
Trump, who told his supporters to “fight like hell” just before they invaded the Capitol two weeks ago and stopped the electoral vote count, is the first president to be twice impeached and the first to face a trial after leaving office.
A mob marched down to the Capitol and rushed in on Jan. 6. Five people, including a Capitol police officer and three people who suffered medical emergencies, died in the mayhem.
WATCH | Senate majority leader lays out impeachment timeline:
House Democrats who, along with 10 House Republicans, voted to impeach Trump last week for inciting the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot had signalled they want to move quickly to trial as Biden begins his term, saying a full reckoning is necessary before the country — and the Congress — can move on.
Democrats need the support of at least two-thirds of senators present to convict Trump, a high bar in an upper house that is now evenly divided between the parties. While most Republican senators condemned Trump’s actions that day, far fewer appear to be ready to convict.
A handful of Senate Republicans have indicated they are open — but not committed — to conviction. But most have said they believe a trial will be divisive and questioned the legality of trying a president after he has left office.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally who has been helping the former president find lawyers to represent him, said Friday there is “a very compelling constitutional case” on whether Trump can be impeached after his term — an assertion that Democrats reject. Graham also suggested that Republicans will argue Trump’s words on Jan. 6 were not legally “incitement.”
“On the facts, they’ll be able to mount a defence, so the main thing is to give him a chance to prepare and run the trial orderly, and hopefully the Senate will reject the idea of pursuing presidents after they leave office,” Graham said.
Other Republicans had stronger words, suggesting there should be no trial at all. Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso said Pelosi is sending a message to Biden that “my hatred and vitriol of Donald Trump is so strong that I will stop even you and your Cabinet from getting anything done.” Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson suggested Democrats are choosing “vindictiveness” over national security as Biden attempts to set up his government.
Trump assembling legal team
Trump is still assembling his defence team. He began by hiring attorney Butch Bowers to represent him, according to an adviser. Bowers previously served as counsel to former South Carolina Govs. Nikki Haley and Mark Sanford.
“He’s an excellent lawyer with a tremendous reputation who understands the law and politics,” said Jay Sekulow, one of the lawyers who represented Trump when he was last charged with impeachment in 2019.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina helped Trump find Bowers after members of his past legal teams indicated they did not plan to join the new effort.
While the timing of the trial complicates the beginning of Biden’s administration, and his opening message of unity, House Democrats who voted to impeach Trump last week for inciting the deadly riots say a full reckoning is necessary before the country — and the Congress — can move on. They say they can move quickly through the trial, potentially with no witnesses, because most of them were witnesses to the insurrection.
The timing and details of the Senate trial eventually rest on negotiations between Schumer and McConnell, who are also in talks over a power-sharing agreement for the Senate, which is split 50-50 but in Democratic control because Vice-President Kamala Harris serves as a tie-breaking vote.
Trump is at a disadvantage compared with his first trial, in which he had the full resources of the White House counsel’s office to defend him and was easily acquitted of House charges that he encouraged the Ukrainian president to investigate Biden while withholding military aid.
WATCH | Ignoble history made for Trump with 2nd impeachment:
A trial delay could appeal to some Democrats, as it would give the Senate more time to confirm Biden’s Cabinet nominees and debate a new round of coronavirus relief.
Pelosi said Thursday that it would be “harmful to unity” to forget that “people died here on Jan. 6, [during] the attempt to undermine our election, to undermine our democracy, to dishonour our Constitution.
“This year, the whole world bore witness to the president’s incitement,” she said.