WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump’s historic second impeachment trial starts next month, but the process really begins Monday, when the House sends the article of impeachment to the Senate and both sides begin preparing for a trial with many unknowns.
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The House swiftly impeached Trump Jan. 13, charging him with inciting an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol the week before. In the trial, senators will vote to convict or acquit Trump.
The trial is unprecedented in nearly every way possible. No president had been impeached twice, and no president has been tried by the Senate after he left office — a question that divides constitutional scholars over what is legally permissible.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced the trial will begin the week of Feb. 8 after both sides have had time to file briefs. But much remains unclear on what happens next, including what the trial will look like and when it might conclude. Some have questioned whether the chamber even has the authority to hear the impeachment case, because Trump is no longer in office.
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Here’s what we know:
When will the trial actually start?
The first step is the House officially transmitting its article — similar to a charge — to the Senate. That is expected to happen Monday at about 7 p.m. EST.
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On Tuesday, senators will be sworn in as members of the “Court of Impeachment.” A summons would then be issued to Trump. The president has a week — until Feb. 2 — to answer the article, and the House faces the same deadline to submit its pretrial brief.
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By the following Monday, Feb. 8, the president must submit his pretrial brief, and the House must submit its response to the president’s answer filed the previous week. On Feb. 9, the House must submit its pretrial rebuttal brief. At that point, the trial can begin.
More:Trump impeachment trial to begin week of Feb. 8, Senate leaders announce
Will Justice John Roberts, or someone else, preside over the trial?
Another question that could affect the trial is whether Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts presides. Though the Constitution dictates Roberts would preside over an impeachment trial of a president, as he did during Trump’s first trial, it doesn’t address the case of a former president — another question that has left constitutional scholars divided.
Some experts believe Roberts would be able to decide whether to preside over the trial, while others say it would be up to the Senate.
Suzanna Sherry, constitutional law expert at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, who is an authority on impeachment, called it an “open question” and something on which the Senate should try to agree on.
Kent Greenfield, a constitutional law professor at Boston College, argued it could go either way. “The reality is that the text isn’t clear that it would be required of him,” he said.
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If the chief justice doesn’t preside, which is laid out in the Constitution to avoid the political conflicts of a vice president or senator overseeing the arguments, either Vice President Kamala Harris or Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Senate pro tempore, would oversee the trial.
How long could the trial last?
Lawmakers and experts agree it’s likely this trial will be shorter than Trump’s last year, which went on for nearly three weeks.
The case against Trump is considered more open-and-shut than the charges he faced a year ago where he was accused of abusing his power and obstructing Congress after allegations he improperly sought Ukraine’s help to investigate then-candidate Joe Biden’s family.
Biden said Friday that he wouldn’t mind if the impeachment trial started after the Senate was able to confirm more of his Cabinet nominees, given the coronavirus pandemic and other challenges his new administration faces, a position some Democratic senators have backed.
“The more time we have to get up and running to meet theses crises, the better,” he said.
House impeachment managers, who will act as prosecutors arguing the case before the Senate, have largely kept their plans close to the vest, refusing to say whether witnesses might be called, which could extend the trial.
What are the consequences for Trump?
If the Senate voted to convict Trump — which requires support from at least two-thirds of the Senate, or 67 votes — it would not lead to immediate consequences, mainly because Trump already has left office.