23 Jan 2021

Trump impeachment trial delayed until next month

1:18 pm on 23 January 2021

Former US president Donald Trump's impeachment trial in the US Senate will begin during the week beginning 8 February, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor on Friday (US time).

US President Donald Trump boards Air Force One before departing Harlingen, Texas on January 12, 2021. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP)

Donald Trump's actions ahead of the 6 January riot at the Capitol are at the heart of the impeachment case. Photo: AFP

The Democratic-controlled US House of Representatives will deliver an impeachment charge against Trump to the Senate on Monday. It was reported earlier that this meant Democrats had rejected Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's request for a delay.

Schumer emphasised the need to move quickly on confirmation of President Joe Biden's Cabinet and other key administration officials. Schumer said House impeachment managers - serving as prosecutors in the Senate trial - and Trump's defence team would have time to prepare between the time the single article of impeachment accusing Trump of inciting an insurrection is delivered on Monday and the start of the trial.

"During that period, the Senate will continue to do other business for the American people, such as Cabinet nominations and the Covid relief bill which would provide relief for millions of Americans who are suffering during this pandemic" Schumer said on the Senate floor.

Schumer became the chamber's leader this week after Democrats won two Georgia US Senate runoff elections earlier in the month.

The timeline was a compromise after McConnell had asked the Democratic-led House to delay sending the charges until next Thursday, and called on Schumer to postpone the trial until mid-February.

A McConnell aide said the trial could begin as soon as 9 February - and that McConnell was pleased Democrats had given Trump's defence team more time.

"This is a win for due process and fairness," said Doug Andres, a McConnell spokesman.

Schumer promises a fair trial

"The House will deliver the article of impeachment to the Senate. The Senate will conduct a trial of the impeachment of Donald Trump. It will be a full trial. It will be a fair trial," Schumer said earlier in the day.

That announcement in the Senate came the morning after McConnell's request for a delay.

"This impeachment began with an unprecedentedly fast and minimal process over in the House," McConnell said.

"The sequel cannot be an insufficient Senate process that denies former president Trump his due process or damages the Senate or the presidency itself."

The moves come as Schumer and McConnell are struggling to assert control in a 50-50 chamber where Democrats now hold a razor-thin majority thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris' tie-breaking vote.

US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks at a press conference on US President Donald Trump's Impeachment trial on January 21, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer Photo: AFP

The trial could distract from Biden's efforts to push an ambitious legislative agenda through Congress, including nearly $US2 trillion in fresh Covid-19 relief for Americans and US businesses, as well as the need to confirm his Cabinet nominees.

Trump last week became the first president in US history to be impeached twice, and when the Senate convenes for his trial will be the first president to be tried after leaving office, for his alleged role in urging his supporters to storm the Capitol in an attack that left five dead.

Trump's actions ahead of the riot are at the heart of the case. The then president told protesters near the White House to "peacefully and patriotically" make their voices heard as they prepared to march towards the US Capitol building. He also told them to "fight like hell".

Ten House Republicans joined Democrats on 13 January in impeaching him. The support of at least 17 Senate Republicans would be needed to convict him; a separate vote would then be needed to ban him from running for office again.

Such a vote could signal that senior Republicans were eager to remove Trump as the de facto leader of their party; he has said he may seek to run again in 2024.

Trump's fate ultimately could depend on McConnell, whose position is likely to influence other Republican lawmakers. The Kentucky Republican said this week that the mob was "fed lies" and "provoked by the president and other powerful people".

LEXINGTON, KY - NOVEMBER 04: U.S. President Donald Trump stands with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell during a campaign rally at the Rupp Arena on November 4, 2019 in Lexington, Kentucky.

Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell during a campaign rally in Kentucky last November. Photo: Getty Images

Impeachment: The basics

  • What is impeachment? Impeachment is when a sitting president is charged with crimes. In this case, former president Trump is accused of having incited insurrection
  • What has already happened? The House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump for a second time on 13 January, shifting the process to the Senate for a trial - but that trial could not be carried out before he left office on 20 January
  • So what does it mean? A trial can still happen although Trump's term has ended, and senators can vote to bar him from holding public office again

Who will defend Trump?

Trump has hired South Carolina-based lawyer Butch Bowers to represent him in his Senate impeachment trial, according to Senator Lindsey Graham.

According to his website, Bowers was a special counsel on voting matters at the US Department of Justice under President George W Bush.

He also served as counsel to two former governors of South Carolina, Nikki Haley and Mark Sanford.

- Reuters / BBC

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