Whether President Donald Trump is convicted for incitement of insurrection and ultimately disqualified from ever running for office again will largely depend on how House managers approach the trial, a Tulane University constitutional law expert says.
“House managers can help themselves by not being moralistic and sticking to the fact that the Congress itself was put in jeopardy,” said Stephen Griffin, the W. R. Irby Chair and Rutledge C. Clement Jr. Professor in Constitutional Law at Tulane Law School.
Trump was impeached Jan. 13 for inciting the U.S. Capitol riot that killed five and threatened the lives of Vice President Mike Pence, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and dozens of lawmakers who had gathered at the Capitol for the certification of Biden’s victory over Trump on Nov. 3. It was Trump’s second impeachment – a first for any American president.
The trial is scheduled for Jan. 20, and Griffin believes it will go by much faster than Trump’s first trial.
“I think the trial will be shorter because the facts are fairly plain,” he said. “And the focus of the trial has shifted pretty dramatically from removal to future disqualification from office. Although this might lessen the political burden on Republican senators, the reality is their vote will still be watched closely.”
At least 17 Republican senators would have to vote with their Democratic colleagues in order for Trump to be convicted. A simple majority would then be needed to disqualify him from running for office again.
“To the extent they listen to the arguments, it will be about them getting comfortable with saying these circumstances are unique and never should be permitted to happen again,” Griffin said “It’s also a more personal trial in a sense for the senators who believe they were directly under threat as a result of Trump’s actions.”
Although Trump will no longer be president during the trial — which is scheduled to begin the day Joe Biden is sworn in as the nation’s 46th president — many lawmakers recognize the importance of seeing the process through.
“Many people are wondering why impeach Trump at the very end of his term,” Griffin said. “One big part of the answer is right in the Constitution. The result of impeachment need not only be removal from office, but disqualification from ever holding office again.
“This point is on the minds of many members of Congress – that through impeachment and conviction they can ensure that Trump is never again in a position that they believe would threaten American democracy.”