Trump's impeachment trial starts; constitutional challenge in spotlight

David Morgan and Richard Cowan, Reuters

Posted at Feb 10 2021 04:05 AM | Updated as of Feb 10 2021 07:03 AM

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WASHINGTON - Donald Trump's historic impeachment second trial, on a charge of inciting last month's deadly storming of the US Capitol, began on Tuesday, making the Republican the first former US president to be tried in the Senate.

"The Senate will convene as a court of impeachment," said Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, who is presiding, at the outset of the proceedings.

Trump was impeached by the Democratic-led House of Representatives last month for his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by a mob of his supporters. He made a fiery speech to a crowd of supporters in Washington that day, repeating false claims that his Nov. 3 presidential election defeat was the result of widespread voting fraud and encouraged supporters "to fight like hell."

Defense lawyers plan to argue on Tuesday that only a sitting president can face an impeachment trial. But a majority of legal experts say it is constitutional to have the trial after an official has left office, said Michigan State University law professor Brian Kalt, a leading impeachment scholar.

Democrats look unable to garner the two-thirds majority needed to convict Trump in the 100-member Senate, which is split 50-50.

In the Jan. 6 attack, the mob attacked police, sent lawmakers scrambling for safety and interrupted the formal congressional certification of President Joe Biden's victory after Trump had spent two months challenging the election results. Five people died, including a police officer.

The trial is being held with extraordinary security around the Capitol in the wake of the siege including armed security forces and a perimeter of fencing and razor wire.

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