Two impeachment trials in less than two years. Here's how we got here

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Former President Donald Trump’s second Senate impeachment trial will commence on Tuesday, setting up a week (or two) that will be equal parts historic and divisive.

The outcome of the trial is really not in doubt. Trump is poised to be acquitted by the Senate, where it would take a two-thirds vote to convict him. At least 17 Republicans would need to join all of the Senate Democrats to convict.
However, the trial will still bring drama. Trump is not expected to appear, after his lawyers rejected a Democratic request to testify.
His lawyers are expected to argue that the Senate cannot impeach a former president and that Trump’s January 6 speech at the White House Ellipse preceding the US Capitol insurrection was protected by the First Amendment.
    The House impeachment managers will argue that Trump is “singularly responsible” for inciting the insurrection, and that he should be barred from holding future office.
    • Read the pre-trial brief from Trump’s legal team here.
    • The House impeachment managers’ brief is here.
    How long will the trial last? That’s an open question at this point. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and their aides have been engaged in extensive discussions about the trial’s organizing resolution, which the Senate will pass before arguments begin.
    Both sides hope to reach a bipartisan agreement on the trial’s parameters, which will include how long the impeachment managers and defense team get to make their arguments, how witnesses could be called and other matters.
    What you need to know. For a complete walkthrough of the trial process, the key players, and what the results could mean for the country, listen to the latest CNN Political Briefing hosted by David Chalian here.

    Two impeachments in two years

    Trump became only the third US President to be impeached — ever — when the House convicted him in 2019 of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress over his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and Biden’s son Hunter. The Senate vote to acquit Trump of those charges came a little more than a year ago, on February 5, 2020.
    Trump made history as the only impeached President to run for reelection, and then last month — after his loss to Biden was sealed — became the only President in US history to be impeached twice.
    Let’s review exactly how we got here.

    ‘Stop the Steal’

    The road to Trump’s second impeachment began in earnest during an election night address when he falsely claimed that he had already won reelection. Read what CNN’s Daniel Dale wrote that night — that it was the “most dishonest speech” of Trump’s presidency.
    The conspiracy theory Trump laid out then metastasized into the defining message of Trump’s final weeks in office as he and his allies in conservative media and Congress sought to sow doubt not just over Biden’s win but over the integrity of the US election system.
    Beyond an endless stream of tweets claiming victory, Trump’s legal team launched an effort to disenfranchise millions of voters with the goal of overturning the results of key battleground states. The lawsuits, though, were roundly dismissed for lacking evidence and states began to certify Biden’s win, which was affirmed by the Electoral College in December without so much as one faithless elector.
    But Trump remained undeterred by that reality. Instead of accepting his loss and moving toward a transition, he and his allies set their sights on Congress’ largely ceremonial role in certifying Electoral College votes on January 6 as a final stage where the will of the voters could be subverted.
    This culminated in Trump’s speech near the White House. The President told a crowd of supporters to march to the Capitol building, where Congress was set to formalize his loss in a gathering presided over by Vice President Mike Pence.
    “We’re going to walk down to the Capitol. And we’re gonna cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women. And we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them, because you’ll never take back our country with weakness, you have to show strength and you have to be strong,” he said at that rally, less than an hour before the certification was due to begin.
    After he spoke, Trump returned to the White House in an armored SUV and hunkered indoors. But his supporters, emboldened by Trump’s call to action, marched east to the seat of the legislative branch, where they climbed over scaffolding already in place for Biden’s inauguration to launch an unprecedented breach of the Capitol that engulfed DC in chaos.
    Only after pleading from aides and congressional allies inside the besieged building did Trump release a video urging the rioters to “go home,” while still fanning their baseless grievances about a stolen election. “We love you,” Trump said. “You’re very special.” Later, he seemed to justify the actions in a tweet, writing, “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away.”
    The insurrection left five dead, including an officer with the US Capitol Police.
    Congress reconvened later that night to complete its task, and Biden’s win was certified in the early hours of January 7 — a step delayed by the decision of Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley to proceed with an objection to counting Biden’s victory in Pennsylvania.

    Democrats act fast

    Democrats moved quickly after the insurrection to organize an impeachment effort over Trump’s role in whipping up the mob.
    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced just two days after the episode that her party was prepared to move forward with impeachment if Trump didn’t resign immediately.
    “It is the hope of Members that the President will immediately resign. But if he does not, I have instructed the Rules Committee to be prepared to move forward with Congressman Jamie Raskin’s 25th Amendment legislation and a motion for impeachment,” Pelosi said at the time.
    “Accordingly, the House will preserve every option — including the 25th Amendment, a motion to impeach or a privileged resolution for impeachment.”
    Trump didn’t resign and his Cabinet didn’t invoke the 25th Amendment to remove him from office. The following Monday, Democrats formally introduced their impeachment resolution, charging Trump with “incitement of insurrection.”
    The single impeachment article specifically points to Trump’s repeated false claims that he won the election and his speech to the crowd on January 6 before the rioters breached the Capitol. It also cited Trump’s January 2 call with Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, where the President urged him to “find” enough votes for Trump to win the state.
    “In all this, President Trump gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of Government,” the resolution said.
    “He threatened the integrity of the democratic system, interfered with the peaceful transition of power, and imperiled a coequal branch of Government. He thereby betrayed his trust as President, to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.”
    The House voted to impeach Trump 232 to 197 two days after their resolution was formally introduced, and exactly one week after rioters forced lawmakers to flee from the very chamber in which they cast ballots.

    Senate trial delay

    The blazing House impeachment process prompted a push among Democrats for an immediate Senate trial, potentially before Trump left office on January 20. McConnell rejected those calls and ultimately struck a deal with Schumer that allowed some formal steps in late January before the trial formally begins this week — a delay that allowed the Senate to confirm some key Cabinet members as well as time for Trump’s defense team to prepare.
    The delay also — critically — allowed the immediate shock to subside and gave Republicans a window to get a sense of support for impeachment within their party.
    Initially several Republicans claimed they were keeping an open mind, but as more time has passed, GOP leaders have become increasingly bullish that Trump isn’t at risk of conviction.
    The clearest indicator came when GOP Sen. Rand Paul raised a point of order that the trial of an ex-president was unconstitutional. Only five Republicans split from the party.
    Democrats and Republicans alike have pointed to the vote on Paul’s point of order as a measure for how the trial’s final vote will likely land. And McConnell sided with Paul in the vote — suggesting his initial signals that he might be open to convicting Trump are not likely to result in him voting that way.

    The current reality

    That brings us to now.
      Given the way GOP lawmakers have aligned behind Trump in recent weeks, the trial for Democrats will be as much about holding him accountable in the public eye than securing a conviction — a reality that the House impeachment managers’ fiery pre-trial briefs signal they’re prepared for.
      “President Trump’s effort to extend his grip on power by fomenting violence against Congress was a profound violation of the oath he swore,” the House impeachment team wrote. “If provoking an insurrectionary riot against a Joint Session of Congress after losing an election is not an impeachable offense, it is hard to imagine what would be.”

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