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Preview Of Trump's 2nd Impeachment Trial

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to start by looking ahead to the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, which is scheduled to get underway in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday. This trial is historic. Trump is the first president ever to be impeached twice by the House, which took that step last month. And now he is set to become the first impeached president to be put on trial after leaving office.

Trump is charged with inciting a mob of his supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol in Washington on January 6 in an attempt to overturn the legal outcome of the presidential election. Five people died as a result of the violence at the Capitol that day. So we wanted to ask NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro to give us a preview of what is to come. Domenico, welcome back. Thanks for joining us.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Glad to be here.

MARTIN: So both sides have begun to outline their arguments, so I want to start with the House impeachment managers. What's their case for Donald Trump's conviction?

MONTANARO: Well, they're expected to accuse him of being singularly responsible, as they say, for inciting the insurrection on January 6, not just based on his language at that rally outside the White House, but more importantly, perhaps, for laying the groundwork for what happened with two months of false claims about widespread election fraud that cost him the election. And they're expected to make an emotional case, bringing in lots of personal anecdotes - possibly some video we might see, including a rioter saying on tape that they were there for Trump, and they're there because he told them to be there.

MARTIN: And if they did win, what recourse would they seek? I think most people think about impeachment as a matter of removing somebody from office. And in this case, the president in question is no longer in office.

MONTANARO: Yeah, definitely. I mean, these cases are incredibly rare, so we have to dive into the Constitution for what it says. And this is the key part of the debate between the Republicans and Democrats. The Constitution says there are two potential penalties for an impeachment conviction - one, removal from office, and two, disqualification from holding public office again. Trump's legal team argues that when the Constitution says the penalties for impeachment, quote, "shall not extend further than to removal from office and disqualification," they stress that word and. They say removal has to come first. Forty-five Republicans, by the way, apparently already agree with that because that's how many of them voted to say it's unconstitutional for the Senate to bring this trial in the first place because the president's no longer in office.

MARTIN: So there's been some turmoil on Trump's legal team. I think many people might remember that. A couple of lawyers left the team late last month. New lawyers were brought in. They quickly had to file their response to the impeachment article last week. What did we learn from that?

MONTANARO: Well, you know, they mostly make this constitutional argument. They submitted these answers to this impeachment document. They focus on, again, that definition of and. Most legal scholars disagree with that and say that if you take away disqualification as a penalty, then anyone could just resign and not face the penalty of being barred from public office later. But Trump's team also does defend Trump's rhetoric on the election to an extent. They make two points - one, that he has the First Amendment right to say what he wants, and two, even so, his claims, they say, can't be proved true or false. And therefore, he denies that what he said is a lie. That's pretty novel, considering his claims have been disproved by dozens of courts.

MARTIN: So I take it that the chances that Trump gets convicted are slim. Given that, why are the Democrats going forward? And why aren't Republicans, who presumably lived through the same terror that the Democrats did - why aren't more of them willing to convict him?

MONTANARO: Trump himself is a double-edged sword for Republicans. I mean, there's a lot of them who privately don't like the way he's conducted himself in public, but they are scared of his base. They know that he can sort of sic a primary opponent on any of them anywhere. And we've seen him actually do that, and they're worried about that. You can argue whether they should or shouldn't be able to stand up for what they actually believe.

On Democrats' side, they believe, look; just because he's not going to be removed from office, they need to be able to hold the line and set the precedent that just because someone does something in January, there's no January exception for someone to, you know, not uphold their oath of the Constitution to the presidency. And they say that that line has to be held.

MARTIN: That was NPR's senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, thank you.

MONTANARO: You're so welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.