In January 2021, Donald Trump became the first US president to be impeached twice. But what exactly is the meaning of an impeachment trial and could Trump be convicted? We give you the most important information about the impeachment process.
What does “impeachment” mean and how does it work?
In the United States, impeachment is the process that starts once the House of Representatives accuses the president, the vice president or a federal officer of misconduct. The basic rules of how an impeachment works are written in Article One (Sections 2 and 3) of the United States Constitution.
- According to the Constitution, a person can be impeached for “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors” – without defining “high crimes and misdemeanors”. Amongst others, Congress considers abusing the powers of the office or misusing the office for personal gain as being reasons for an impeachment.
- The impeachment process is not punitive, meaning that its role is just to remove a person from office (or to prevent someone from holding any other office in the future), without any further punishment. For that person to be convicted under the law (and pay a fine or serve in prison, for example) a criminal or civil trial is needed.
- To start the impeachment process, Congress must first of all investigate. If there are enough reasons to start the impeachment process, formal allegation(s) will be formulated.
- In order for someone to be impeached, the House of Representatives must pass the articles of impeachment, by a simple majority of those present and voting.
- The Senate has the sole power to try all impeachments. If the impeached person is the US president, the Chief Justice of the United States will be the presiding officer, according to the Constitution. For a person to be convicted, a two-thirds supermajority of the votes cast is needed.
The second impeachment of Donald Trump – timeline
On January 13, 2021, Donald Trump became the first US president to be impeached twice (and the first whose trial began after leaving office). The impeachment came after his false claims of election fraud and after his attempts to overturn the 2020 US presidential election. He also incited his supporters to come to Washington D.C. on January 6, 2021, to stop the Congress from counting the electoral votes. Five people died following the riots at the Capitol.
- January 11th: U.S. Representatives charged Trump with “incitement of insurrection” and asked for his impeachment.
- January 13th: The House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump.
- January 25th: The Articles of Impeachment were transmitted to the Senate
- January 26th: Senators were sworn in.
- February 2nd – February 8th: Trump’s answer to the Article of Impeachment and pretrial brief.
- February 9th: The impeachment trial begins. As Trump will no longer president during the trial, the Chief Justice of the United States, John Roberts, won’t preside over the proceedings. The president pro tempore of the US Senate, Patrick Leahy, will be the presiding officer instead. During the trial, the Senate will meet six days a week.
- When to expect the verdict? For the time being, it’s not possible to determine the duration of the trial. According to CNN, the Senate “wants a speedy trial”, which would last a week or two. But there are many factors that could lead to a longer process. Trump’s first impeachment trial lasted 20 days.
- The Senate has asked Donald Trump to provide testimony (before or during the trial), but Trump’s legal team denied the request.
What are the consequences and will Trump be convicted or acquitted?
Donald Trump is no longer president of the United States – so was the impeachment trial necessary at all?
- The House of Representatives considered the impeachment important even if Trump had left office by the time of the trial. Not to remove him from office, but to prevent him to hold any other office in the future.
- To convict Trump, two thirds of the votes have to be against him. If he is convicted, the Senate could organize a second vote, where a simple majority is needed to disqualify the former president from public office. If that happens, he can’t be a presidential candidate again.
- A convicted Trump would also lose the benefits given to former presidents, including a pension and protection by the Secret Service.
- During his first impeachment trial (January 2020), Trump was acquitted. Since then, the political situation has changed – but it’s still difficult to reach the two-thirds majority needed for conviction. Assuming that all Democrats vote against Trump, at least 17 Republicans must do the same.
- In January 2020, there was an attempt to declare the impeachment unconstitutional. The Senate voted against this motion – but only five Republicans did so. It’s unlikely that 17 Republicans will join the Democrats in convicting Trump.
- If Trump is acquitted, he won’t be restricted from running again for public office. And he would be entitled to benefit from the Former Presidents Act (including a monetary allowance).