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On 13th January 2021, Donald Trump once again made history by becoming the only President of the United States to ever be impeached twice. What’s even more interesting is that both the impeachments happened within his first term in office. His second impeachment was for ‘incitement of insurrection’ and it passed the House of Representatives with 232 members – including 10 House Republicans – voting in favour of it. Trump was first charged with impeachment back in 2019 for ‘Abuse of Power’ and ‘Obstruction of Congress’ relating to the Trump-Ukraine scandal.
However, this second impeachment charge comes after violent Trump supporters marched on Washington on the 6th of January – the day on which Congress ratified Biden’s electoral victory – and violently stormed the US Capitol in an attempt to stop the ratification. In the ensuing chaos, a woman was shot inside the capitol by a police officer who discharged his weapon when that woman attempted to enter a restricted area. Furthermore, apart from thousands of dollars in property damage, four other people also died including a police officer who lost his life after being struck on the head by a fire extinguisher.
The rioters marched on the Capitol building following a Trump-led “Save America” rally where he continued his claims of falsification of election results and urged his supporters to “fight like hell” and show some strength. The former president also commented, “We will never give up, we will never concede.” His provocative statements are being used as a rationale for his impeachment.
He was therefore accused of “incitement of insurrection,” with the impeachment article stating that his actions, “encouraged and foreseeably resulted in lawless action at the Capitol,” he “repeatedly issued false statements asserting that the presidential election results were fraudulent and should not be accepted” and “gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of government.”
So what does this mean and what’s next for Trump?
Impeachment is a political charge against a sitting President which if convicted in a Senate trial result in removal from office.
Trump’s Senate trial is set to begin on 8th February after the current Senate Minority Leader and the Senate Majority Leader struck a deal to delay Trump’s Impeachment trial in order to give him more time to prepare for his defence. Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi has already formally transmitted the articles of impeachment to the Senate.
In the Senate, as per the U.S. Constitution, the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court would preside over the trial, and a two-thirds majority is required to convict and remove Mr Trump from office. With Democrats only controlling 50 seats in the Senate at this point, this would mean that it would require 17 Republican Senators to vote in favour of convicting Trump.
If convicted, Trump would be barred from running for any public office and therefore wouldn’t be able to pursue his prospective plans of running for President in the 2024 election cycle.
However, no ex-President has ever faced an impeachment trial and this poses the question of whether Trump could actually be convicted, especially considering that impeachment is merely a political trial and not a criminal charge.
Back in the 1970’s President Richard Nixon’s impeachment process was stopped he infamously resigned from office in 1974. Such a situation would suggest that Trump could challenge the validity of his Senate trial in the Supreme Court, claiming it as unconstitutional.
However, even if the Supreme Court declares the trial as unconstitutional, this does not rule out the fact that he could face legal consequences for his role in the riots: inciting rebellion or violence against the authority of the United States, is a federal crime and if convicted in a criminal trial carries a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a permanent ban from holding any public office. Therefore, he may face prison time and could still be barred from office following a criminal trial.
There is the possibility that the former president could ask Joe Biden for a presidential pardon Although, this is highly unlikely as it appears to clash with Biden’s policies and has only ever happened once in 1974 when President Gerald Ford gave Richard Nixon blanket pardon against any and all criminal charges associated with the Watergate scandal. This move stained Ford’s presidency and was a leading cause of his 1976 defeat to Jimmy Carter.
At the very least, the legacy of being the only president in history to be impeached twice will most probably ruin Trump’s chances of re-election in the future