Georgia plays key role in Trump’s second impeachment trial

Pro-Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump on Jan. 6. Trump's second impeachment trial will begin Tuesday, and Georgia will figure in the proceedings. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images/TNS)
Pro-Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump on Jan. 6. Trump's second impeachment trial will begin Tuesday, and Georgia will figure in the proceedings. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump’s attempts to pressure state elections officials to reverse his election defeat in Georgia will help shape the second U.S. Senate impeachment trial that opens Tuesday.

The trial, which begins at noon, is expected to be a speedy process that requires members of an evenly split U.S. Senate to decide whether to convict Trump on charges that he incited the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol that left five people dead.

It will also focus on his actions leading up to the insurrection, including a Jan. 2 phone call with Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. The audio of the call, first reported by The Washington Post and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, provided tangible evidence that Trump tried to reverse his Electoral College defeat, the House said in its latest impeachment brief.

For Trump to be convicted of the charge he faces — incitement of insurrection — two-thirds of senators must agree. That means if all 100 members are present and all 50 Democrats are in favor, they would still need 17 Republicans to vote with them.

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That is unlikely to happen. Forty-five Republicans cast votes last month indicating they believe the trial itself is unconstitutional because Trump is no longer in office, and the former president’s legal team has repeatedly raised the question of whether the proceedings are even legitimate.

Unlike the first impeachment trial, which was overseen by U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts, this trial will be helmed by Senate President Pro Tem Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

The proceedings will start with four hours of debate on the constitutionality of the trial. A majority of senators is expected to vote to allow the trial to continue.

Each side will then receive 16 hours spread over two days to lay out its case. If the House managers decide they want to call witnesses, they can request a Senate vote to allow that.

Georgia U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock said last week that he would “absolutely” be in favor of calling witnesses during the trial, characterizing the potential testimony as evidence that would help members in rendering a verdict.

Raffensperger could be among the names on the witness list, if there is one. His office would not comment on whether he is willing to testify.

There will also be time for senators to ask questions and for each side to make its closing argument. Senators will have time to deliberate before voting on whether to convict the former president and, if that happens, to vote on whether to bar him from holding office again.

One of Trump’s attorneys, David Schoen, who lives in Atlanta, will affect the pace of the trial. He is an observant Jewish man, meaning he does not work on the Sabbath. To accommodate him, the trial will pause Friday afternoon and pick back up on Sunday afternoon.

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The nine House Democrats who will serve as impeachment managers on Monday filed their rebuttal to a document Trump’s team filed last week responding to the charges against him. In it, they outline key points in their case. They will argue that Trump repeated false claims that the general election was “rigged” and that he encouraged supporters during his Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally to march to the Capitol while Congress was in joint session to tally the Electoral College votes.

They also will characterize Trump’s call with Raffensperger as a blatant attempt by the then-president to overturn the election.

“When the President of the United States demanded that Georgia Secretary of State Raffensperger ‘find’ enough votes to overturn the election — or else face ‘a big risk to you’ and ‘a criminal offense’ — that was obviously a threat, one which reveals his state of mind (and his desperation to try to retain power by any means necessary),” the brief says.

Trump’s three-person legal team filed a pretrial brief Monday that sheds light on his defense. His attorneys will argue that Trump’s words on Jan. 6 were twisted and that the violence at the Capitol was put in motion by people who had been radicalized before hearing from the president directly.

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When it comes to Georgia, Trump’s lawyers wrote that his conversation with Raffensperger lends nothing to the argument on whether he incited the Capitol insurrection. They say any threats of death or violence toward Raffensperger were made not by Trump but by people on social media.

“Examining the discussion with the Georgia secretary of state under the standard of ‘incitement,’ leads to the same conclusion as the January 6, 2021 statements of Mr. Trump: there is nothing said by Mr. Trump that urges ‘use of force’ or ‘law violation’ directed to producing imminent lawless action,” the defense brief says.

Trump’s lawyers are expected to attempt to end the trial quickly by arguing that a former president is not eligible to stand trial before the U.S. Senate. Legal scholars have said that the Constitution gives Congress broad authority under impeachment and there is precedent for former government officials to face charges.

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Why is the trial paused on Friday?

One of Trump’s attorneys, David Schoen, who lives in Atlanta, will affect the pace of the trial. He is an observant Jewish man, meaning he does not work on the Sabbath. To accommodate him, the trial will pause Friday afternoon and pick back up on Sunday afternoon.

FILE -- The Capitol in Washington, Jan. 27, 2021. The second Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump will open on Tuesday, Feb. 9, just over a month after the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol the House has charged him with inciting. (Oliver Contreras/The New York Times)
FILE -- The Capitol in Washington, Jan. 27, 2021. The second Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump will open on Tuesday, Feb. 9, just over a month after the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol the House has charged him with inciting. (Oliver Contreras/The New York Times)

Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this article.

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