Democrat Senator Patrick Leahy, the president pro tempore of the Senate, has been tasked with presiding over the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump. The trial, which is scheduled to start on the week of Feb. 8, is based on the House allegation that Trump incited the Jan. 6 violence on the U.S. Capitol. The decision has sparked controversy, as some lawmakers question whether Leahy is qualified to oversee the trial.
According to the U.S. Constitution, the Supreme Court Chief Justice should preside over an impeachment trial of an American president. However, Trump has already left office, which makes him a private citizen.
Chief Justice John Roberts, who constitutionally should preside over the trial, has abdicated himself from fulfilling this responsibility. Trump’s first impeachment trial was presided over by Roberts.
Senate Majority Leader Democrat Chuck Schumer tried to fend off any concerns stating that the next person to preside over a presidential impeachment after a Supreme Court Chief Justice is the Senate pro tempore, Democrat Senator Leahy.
Leahy announced that he will maintain strict impartiality during the trial. Some lawmakers have said that Roberts’ decision to not act as the presiding judge of the impeachment is significant. Republican Rand Paul tweeted that the impeachment shouldn’t even be considered legitimate.
Republican Senator Josh Hawley, who calls the impeachment unconstitutional, questioned how Trump’s trial can move forward given that Roberts has refused to preside over it.
“There’s only one constitutional process for impeachment and it is of the president, not a president… It requires the chief justice to preside,” he told The Hill.
The impeachment is unconstitutional
Legal scholar Alan Dershowitz, who defended Trump in his first impeachment trial last year, said that impeaching Trump, who has already left office, is something that the Senate should not proceed with since it is an unconstitutional act.
Ever since the United States was established, there has never been a single instance of an impeachment trial being held for an ex-president. The Constitution is vague on the issue and never directly explains whether Congress has the right to try a former president for the actions he took while in office. According to the nonpartisan group Congressional Research Service, the decision of impeachment has primarily been governed by a need to remove a current president from office.
President Biden fully supports Trump’s impeachment, saying that it is something that “has to happen.” At present, Democrats have 50 seats in the Senate. Even if all 50 Democrat Senators vote to convict Trump, they still need an additional 17 Republicans to vote in favor.
According to an estimate by The Epoch Times, 15 Republican senators have openly declared the possibility of supporting the Democrats in impeaching Trump.
Trump has meanwhile set up an “Office of the Former President” in Florida that seeks to promote the interests of the United States.
“The Office will be responsible for managing President Trump’s correspondence, public statements, appearances, and official activities to advance the interests of the United States and to carry on the agenda of the Trump Administration through advocacy, organizing, and public activism… President Trump will always and forever be a champion for the American People,” the office stated. The announcement was made shortly before the House sent the impeachment charge to the Senate.