As the trial begins, Trump’s lawyers are also expected to argue that the Senate can no longer constitutionally convict Trump now that he is out of office — and the House impeachment managers are expected to dispute that — in an affair that represents the finale of Trump’s tumultuous first term, even as rumors persist he may run for a second in 2024.
Here’s what you need to know about Trump’s impeachment trial.
Who is on Trumps’ defense team? The two lead lawyers on Trump’s defense team are Bruce Castor, the former district attorney for Montgomery County, Pa., and David Schoen, a longtime civil rights attorney who is the chairman of the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Criminal Justice Subcommittee. Schoen was also honored for his pro bono work in 1995 by the ABA and was honored for public interest litigation in 2018 by Boston College Law School, his alma mater.
Schoen has ties to former Trump associate Roger Stone, who he represented as he was sentenced to 40 months in prison for witness tampering and other charges in early 2020. And he was one of the final people to meet with Jeffrey Epstein before his death.
Schoen said that Epstein planned to bring him onto his legal team and that he does not believe Epstein killed himself.
“I saw him a few days earlier,” said Schoen on Fox Nation’s “Deep Dive” last year. “The reason I say I don’t believe it was suicide is for my interaction with him that day. The purpose of asking me to come there that day and over the past previous couple of weeks was to ask me to take over his defense.”
Castor, according to NBC Philadelphia, recently joined the personal injury firm van der Veen, O’Neill, Hartshorn, and Levin, and joined Trump’s team after getting the permission of the firm’s founding partner, Michael T. van der Veen.
But van der Veen appears to have joined the Trump legal team as well, signing on to the Trump pretrial brief submitted Monday. It’s unclear what role, if any, he may play at Trump’s trial. But the Wall Street Journal reports that van der Veen and Castor will play a larger role in the trial after Tuesday, when Schoen is expected to lead the defense’s case.
Republicans tend to say that the trial is unonstitutional, citing the fact that Trump is now out of office and that impeachment trials Trumpfor presidents need the chief justice of the United States to preside — and Chief Justice John Roberts will not be there.
Democrats say the trial is constitutional, citing the 1876 trial of former Secretary of War William Belknap, which occurred after he left office. Belknap was acquitted. They also say that a trial is constitutional because there is still a consequence the Senate can level even if it can no longer remove Trump from office — a ban on holding office in the future.
Either way, most scholars, regardless of their opinion, say whether the trial is constitutional is still an open question, as there’s never before been a trial of a former president, and no court has ruled on the issue.
“I admit this is, of course, a matter of first impression and so I don’t think the case that Sen. Paul is making is a ridiculous one,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said on “Fox News Sunday” of Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul’s argument that the trial is unconstitutional.
And even if Trump’s defense team asked the federal courts for a ruling on this issue, it’s extraordinarily unlikely any court would step in to tell the Senate how to run its business. So the decision of whether the trial is constitutional is basically up to senators.
What are the chances Trump is convicted?
Paul last month raised a point of order in the Senate claiming that an impeachment trial of a former president is unconstitutional. That forced a vote on the issue, and 45 of the 50 Senate Republicans voted that the trial is unconstitutional.
That means the trial was upheld as constitutional by a vote of 55-45. But it also means 12 Republicans would have to change their minds about whether the trial is even allowed to happen for the Senate to have any shot of convicting Trump.
Besides that, there are political calculations at play. A vote to convict Trump is essentially an invitation for a Trump-backed primary challenge for any Republican. And the general perception within the GOP is that even if Republican elected officials have a distaste for Trump — as shown by Wyoming GOP Rep. Liz Cheney’s resounding victory in a vote of confidence under secret ballot last week — that the party base is still loyal to the former president.
What happens if Trump is convicted?
However unlikely a conviction is at this point, it could still carry some consequences for the former president.
Though the main point of impeachment is to remove a person from office if convicted, a person can also be barred from holding office in the future. If Democrats do get the 67 votes they need to convict Trump of inciting an insurrection, then they plan to hold a subsequent vote on barring Trump from office in the future. That would only need a simple majority to pass.
If this does happen, Trump could theoretically challenge the constitutionality of the Senate trial in court in the future, aiming to get back his right to run for office. An after-the-fact challenge to the consequences of conviction is likely the only way a court would weigh in on this impeachment.