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The second impeachment trial of Donald Trump will begin in the US Senate on Tuesday, with the former president facing a charge of incitement of insurrection after his supporters stormed the US Capitol last month and engaged in clashes that left five people dead.
The prosecution is expected to brandish dramatic footage of the violence at the Capitol on 6 January. The trial is set to strike a sharp contrast of tone with Trumps first trial in early 2020, at which prosecutors used documents, emails and testimony to tell a complicated story about a Trump pressure campaign in Ukraine.
This time the alleged crime scene is much closer to home in the very chamber where the trial will play out, which was invaded by Trump supporters moments after members of Congress and staff had been evacuated.
With a majority of Americans expressing horror and outrage at the attack on the Capitol, the allegations against Trump could land much more powerfully with the public than did the story of his seeking political favors from Ukraine in return for official acts.
Seeking to defuse the incendiary potential of the footage that Democrats are preparing to air on the Senate floor, defense lawyers for Trump on Monday made the extraordinary claim that presenting the events of the attack would amount to a brazen attempt to glorify violence.
The defense team, led by Bruce Castor, a former county prosecutor from Pennsylvania, also argued in a legal brief that the Senate does not have jurisdiction to try Trump, because he has already left office. Additionally they claimed that Trumps speeches and tweets whipping up a frenzy about false election fraud did not amount to incitement and were protected under the first amendment.
The prosecutors sent by the House of Representatives, known as impeachment managers, are led by Jamie Raskin of Maryland and represent an entirely new team from Trumps previous impeachment.
The core of their argument, laid out in an 80-page brief submitted last week, documents statements Trump made and tweeted, from Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild! to Election Rigged & Stolen to theyre not taking this White House. Were going to fight like hell, Ill tell you right now to So lets walk down Pennsylvania Avenue!
Dozens of the nearly 140 people who have been charged so far in relation with the Capitol attack have argued as part of their criminal defenses that they stormed the building because the president told them to.
The trial is expected to last at least through the week, but leaders from both parties are seen as not wanting it to run as long as the prior impeachment trial, which stretched to 15 days over January and February.
An early push by Democrats to call witnesses at the current trial, possibly including police officers who were injured in the attack, lost momentum out of concerns that a longer timeline could interrupt efforts by the Joe Biden administration to pass a $1.9tn Covid-19 aid and economic relief package into law and pursue other policy initiatives.
Dozens of those who have been charged so far in relation with the Capitol attack have said they stormed the building because the president told them to. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
Under rules that were still being settled on Monday, the trial would begin with four hours of debate Tuesday on the constitutional questions of whether the Senate can try a former president in an impeachment proceeding and whether the Senates power to bar an official from seeking office again hinges on the antecedent act of removal.
Each side would then have up to 16 hours starting at noon Wednesday, under draft rules, to make their cases.
In a pre-trial brief filed Monday, lawyers for Trump argued that the former presidents false claims about a stolen election were protected by the first amendment and did not amount to an incitement to violence.
Even taking every one of Mr Trumps prior statements about the election in the most negative light, they were, at most, only abstract discussions that never advocated for physical force, the brief said.
Unlike at his first impeachment trial in early 2020, Trump is at risk this time of suffering multiple defections by Republican senators outraged by the threat to their personal safety and dreaming, perhaps, of a longshot opportunity to jettison Trump from core conservative politics.
But 17 Republicans would need to join Democrats to convict Trump and then bar him from holding office in the future a tally that appears all but unattainable.
Trump is the only president in US history to be impeached twice. There have been impeachment proceedings against three other presidents: Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon and Andrew Johnson. None was convicted at trial.
In 2019, Trump was impeached in the House for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, but he was acquitted in the Senate with only one Republican, Mitt Romney of Utah, voting to convict.