What happens next in Trump’s impeachment?

Donald Trump finishes speaking and prepares to depart Joint Base Andrews on his final day in office as president. (Will Newton for The Washington Post)
Donald Trump finishes speaking and prepares to depart Joint Base Andrews on his final day in office as president. (Will Newton for The Washington Post)

Former president Donald Trump in January became the first president in American history to be impeached twice. But being impeached is not the same as being convicted and kicked out of office or barred from ever holding it again.

That’s up to the Senate, which begins its trial of Trump on Tuesday. It’s the first time a former president has been the subject of such a trial.

[Live updates: Day one of Trump's impeachment trial ]

Here’s how we got here, what’s happening and what will happen next.

What’s the schedule for the impeachment trial?

The trial officially begins Tuesday at 1 p.m. Eastern time, when the senators will be sworn in for the trial. That day, they will debate on the constitutionality of the trial, something Republicans and Trump’s legal team have questioned based on Trump’s status as a former president.

On the subsequent days, both sides will get 16 hours each to lay out their arguments. That’s likely to take the trial to Sunday or Monday, depending on how long the Senate stays in session each day and whether it takes any days off over the weekend.

After that, the Senate will debate and then vote on whether to bring witnesses into the trial. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and other impeachment managers have said they want to bring in witnesses, while both Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have expressed a preference for a shorter trial. A simple majority vote against witnesses would put Trump on track for a conviction or acquittal next week.

Why was Trump impeached again?

Impeaching Trump in his final days in office was not on Congress’s to-do list; then Jan. 6 happened. The attempt by Trump supporters to stop Congress from counting the electoral college votes that would make Joe Biden president ultimately failed. But Democrats, and even some Republicans, accused Trump of inciting the attempted insurrection, and on Jan. 13, he was impeached by the House on a single charge to that effect.

[What Trump said before his supporters stormed the Capitol, annotated]

The article the House sent over is short but makes three main points — mainly, that Trump committed “high crimes and misdemeanors,” because:

1. He falsely claimed he won the election: “Shortly before the Joint Session commenced, President Trump addressed a crowd of his political supporters nearby. There, he reiterated false claims that ‘we won this election, and we won it by a landslide.’ ”

2. He encouraged the riot: “He willfully made statements that encouraged — and foreseeably resulted in — imminent lawless action at the Capitol. Incited by President Trump, a mob unlawfully breached the Capitol, injured law enforcement personnel, menaced Members of Congress and the Vice President, interfered with the Joint Session’s solemn constitutional duty to certify the election results, and engaged in violent, deadly, destructive, and seditious acts.”

3. He’d been putting actions to his words to try to overturn his loss: The article mentions a call Trump held with Georgia’s secretary of state urging him to “find” just enough votes to overturn Biden’s win there.

The Constitution says the president can be impeached in the House, tried by the Senate, then removed from office (or in this case barred from ever holding federal office again) if convicted of “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

House Democrats uniformly thought Trump’s words before the attack on the Capitol constituted high crimes or misdemeanors — all 222 of them voted in favor of impeachment. And in a notable change from Trump’s first impeachment, 10 House Republicans voted to impeach, led by Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the No. 3 House Republican.

“The president of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack,” Cheney said in a statement, adding, “There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”

Trump is already out of office. What are the consequences of holding a trial now?

Trump will go down in history as being the first U.S. president to be impeached twice. But because his term ended Jan. 20, when President Biden was sworn in, it’s too late to remove him from office.

Trump potentially being barred from running for federal office again is the big one. That would require conviction by two-thirds of the Senate, then a simple majority vote on a separate measure to bar him from running again. Trump could, of course, still be a force in politics even if he can’t run by doing things like fundraising, making appearances with candidates or appearing in conservative media.

Presidents traditionally get security briefings after their time in office, though not at the frequency current presidents do. They also keep access to classified information. But limiting Trump’s access to security briefings is actually up to the Biden administration — and it’s something Biden’s chief of staff says they’re considering.

“We will certainly look for a recommendation from the intelligence professionals in the Biden administration, once they’re in place,” White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain told CNN’s Jake Tapper, “and we will act on that recommendation.”

As for the other post-presidential benefits, it’s likely that Trump will get to keep them even if he’s convicted. The legislation that first put the presidential pension and other benefits in place essentially says that presidents who leave office as a result of a new president being elected get the benefits. It says former presidents “whose service in such office shall have terminated other than by removal pursuant to section 4 of article II of the Constitution of the United States of America” are eligible — and since Trump is already out of office, having left when Biden was inaugurated, those benefits are already in place.

What happens next?

Schumer and McConnell on Monday were close to announcing an agreement on the trial’s format; because this is a Senate trial and not a court of law, the Senate gets to set its own trial rules.

The agreement calls for up to four hours of debate on Tuesday over the constitutionality of the trial, essentially a repeat of the vote Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) forced on Jan 26. 45 Republican senators voted against holding the trial at that point.

Then on Wednesday afternoon, the serious legal arguments are set to begin. The Democratic house impeachment managers will present their case against the president first, then the former president’s lawyers will present their defense.

The organizing resolution Schumer and McConnell negotiated then allows the impeachment managers to call for a vote on whether to bring in witnesses, if they chose. While the impeachment managers have said they want to bring in witnesses, Democratic leaders are wary of prolonging the trial. It would take a simple majority of senators to include witnesses in the trial.

[Who are the impeachment managers? ]

Raskin and the other impeachment managers sent Trump a letter the week before the trial was to start asking him to provide testimony either before or during the trial. Trump’s team quickly rejected the request, calling it a “public relations stunt” and claiming that the trial itself is unconstitutional, an argument they plan to focus on when presenting their defense.

“If you decline this invitation, we reserve any and all rights, including the right to establish at trial that your refusal to testify supports a strong adverse inference regarding your actions (and inaction) on January 6, 2021,” Raskin wrote.

One key change from the last trial — at the request of Trump’s legal team, the Senate will recess as an impeachment court from 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday morning, likely setting up Sunday afternoon arguments.

Trump’s first trial began Jan. 16, 2020, and he was acquitted three weeks later on Feb. 5. It’s unclear how long Trump’s second trial will last, especially if Democrats are able to call witnesses this time.

Who will represent Trump?

The lawyers who made up Trump’s defense team in his first impeachment either declined to represent him this time or were White House attorneys no longer in Trump’s employ now that he’s out of office.

That means Trump had to hire a new team of private lawyers — and it hasn’t gone smoothly.

The former president parted ways with a team led by Butch Bowers, a South Carolina lawyer, on Jan. 31, due to differences over legal strategy. Trump hired two new lawyers, Bruce Castor and David Schoen, shortly thereafter.

Castor is the former district attorney for Montgomery County, Pa. He also happens to be the cousin of Steve Castor, a lawyer for House Republicans who featured prominently in their defense of Trump’s first impeachment. In 2005, Bruce Castor declined to charge comedian Bill Cosby after a Temple University employee accused him of sexual misconduct — and later said he’d made a secret deal with Cosby not to charge him. The Fix’s Aaron Blake looks at that decision more in-depth here.

Schoen, a defense lawyer based in Atlanta, has ties to controversial defendants as well: former Trump adviser Roger Stone and accused child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. Schoen has said he thinks his link to Stone got him a recommendation for the job.

Schoen told The Washington Post’s Katie Shepherd that the new team will not focus on Trump’s claims of election fraud, but instead on an argument that the trial itself is unconstitutional because Trump is out of office.

“I am not a person who will put forward a theory of election fraud,” Schoen said. “That’s not what this impeachment trial is about.”

Will there actually be enough votes in the Senate to convict Trump?

Convicting Trump requires support of two-thirds of the Senate, more than the Democratic majority. Seventeen Senate Republicans would have to vote to convict.

On Tuesday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) forced a procedural vote on whether it was even constitutional to hold a trial of a former president. All but five of the Senate’s 50 Republicans voted to say it wasn’t, a number that seems to indicate that there’s little chance of Trump ultimately being convicted.

“I think there will be enough support on it to show there’s no chance they can impeach the president,” Paul told reporters before the vote. “If 34 people support my resolution that this is an unconstitutional proceeding, it shows they don’t have the votes and we’re basically wasting our time.”

The Post’s Ashlyn Still and JM Rieger have a running tracker of where both Democrats and Republicans stand. So far, about a dozen Republican senators have expressed openness to the impeachment trial, though which way they will vote remains uncertain.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had previously blamed Trump for the events of Jan. 6, without explicitly saying how he’d vote in a trial.

“The mob was fed lies,” McConnell said in the Senate’s first session back after certifying Biden’s win. “They were provoked by the president and other powerful people, and they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government which they did not like. But we pressed on, we stood together and said an angry mob would not get veto power over the rule of law in our nation.”

A conviction is necessary to hold the second, arguably more consequential vote to bar Trump from ever holding federal office again. That action only takes a majority vote.

Answering your questions on impeachment

Does Trump have to appear in person at the Senate trial?

Not only does he not have to, it’s unlikely he will. Remember, Trump just went through an impeachment trial a year ago, and he was only a couple of miles away in the White House at the time. He didn’t make an appearance then, despite at one point saying he would “strongly consider” testifying either in writing or in person. Now he lives in Florida, and there’s no indication that he’s coming back to Washington for the trial.

What is the origin of Trump’s claim of election fraud? Did he ever present any tangible evidence in any court filing?

Trump had been hinting that he might not accept election results as far back as his 2016 run — it’s a consistent part of his playbook. But when it comes to specific allegations about the 2020 results, Trump first claimed a win (without results having come in) in a tweet at 12:45 a.m. Nov. 4. A few minutes later, he alleged, “We are up BIG, but they are trying to STEAL the Election. We will never let them do it.”

That seems to be the first time after election night that Trump alluded to stopping the process in some way. Democrats have indicated that they plan to use Trump’s tweets against him when they present their case to the Senate.

Trump and his lawyers lost more than 50 lawsuits contesting results, which The Post goes more in depth on here. The Justice Department took the unusual step of using department resources to investigate election fraud claims, but then-Attorney General William P. Barr said Dec. 1 that “to date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.” In other words, Trump was unable to present any real evidence of voter fraud.

Could the Senate hold a secret ballot so senators don’t feel political blowback for their votes?

The Senate sets its own rules for the trial, and since Democrats hold a slim majority (including Vice President Harris’s tiebreaking vote) they could, in theory, make the vote private. But, as The Post’s Philip Bump writes, the Constitution makes it pretty easy for Republicans to object — if just 20 of the 50 Republicans in the Senate voted for a public vote, they’d get it, making a private vote very unlikely.

What other questions do you have?

Submit them here, and we’ll update this post with answers.

Amber Phillips analyzes politics for The Washington Post's nonpartisan politics blog and authors The 5-Minute Fix newsletter, a rundown of the day's biggest political news. She was previously the one-woman D.C. bureau for the Las Vegas Sun and has reported from as far away as Taiwan.
Peter W. Stevenson is The Post's senior political video producer. He's been at The Post since 2015 and previously covered national politics for The Fix. He was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize for climate change coverage in 2020, and won Edward R. Murrow awards for Investigative Reporting and Excellence in Social Media in 2017.