On Jan. 13, Donald Trump was impeached for inciting the insurrection that occurred at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. The impeachment came one week before the inauguration of President Joe Biden.
There have only been four presidential impeachments in U.S. history: Andrew Johnson in 1868, Bill Clinton in 1998, and Donald Trump twice–first in December 2019 then again just thirteen months later.
“The most recent impeachment comes from essentially the charge that he was leading an insurrection against his own government,” said Professor of Political Science Sandy Hulme.
“I don’t think there are more serious charges that have ever been leveled against a president.”
Hundreds of Trump supporters from across the country stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 as Congress was set to begin the process of confirming Biden’s win of the presidential race. Trump has been vocal about believing the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent and led a rally just an hour prior to Congress meeting where he told attendees, “We will never give up. We will never concede. We will stop the steal!”
As Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, many politicians from both sides urged Trump to make a statement to condemn the violent behavior. In a tweet, Trump said, “I am asking for everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful. No violence! Remember, WE are the Party of Law & Order–respect the Law and our great men and women in Blue. Thank you!”
He wrote after reminding everyone to support the Capitol Police and law enforcement. However, he still did not condemn the actions that took place. In the insurrection, five people died–including a Capitol police officer–and multiple others were injured.
One week following the attack on the Capitol, the House voted 232 to 197 in favor of impeaching Trump. In that initial vote on Jan. 13, ten Republicans voted for impeachment.
“The vast majority of Republicans did not vote to support impeachment, which I think is troublesome, because if what Trump was accused of doing actually is the truth–and if the charge of inciting an insurrection is not an impeachable offense–then literally there is no such thing as an impeachable offense,” said Hulme.
“It is very problematic that only ten Republicans supported impeachment.”
In fact, on Jan. 26, all but five Republican senators backed the former president, which might lead to the second acquittal for Trump since 2019.
Trump’s impeachment trial isn’t set to begin until Feb. 9, but proceedings began on Jan. 26. Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul objected to the charges against Trump, arguing that impeachment is for removal from office, and Trump’s presidency has already ended.
Others also question whether impeaching the former president would do good at this point.
“My initial thoughts were that it was a ridiculous waste of time and money that the House would consider impeachment,” said Brenden Kurtze (‘24).
“It [would be] a waste of money and time because the only thing impeachment will accomplish is furthering the party divide in this country.”
Although he has already left office, Trump being charged with impeachment could still affect him and his potential future in politics. If the Senate votes to convict him–which requires 67 votes, or
two-thirds of the Senate–he will not lose his security detail because his term of office was terminated by the election and swearing in of Joe Biden, not by a conviction of an impeachment.
If convicted, however, the Senate could disqualify him from holding any federal elective office in the future, which means it would prevent him from running for president again in 2024.
“In 2016, Trump [brought] in people to vote who had never participated [before]. If Trump is effectively removed from the Republican party, those people are at risk of never voting for the Republicans,” said Hulme.
In 2020, voter turnout was at an all-time high. People went to polling locations who had never voted before. Many people who voted for Trump in either election weren’t previously affiliated with the Republican party; they voted for Trump, not the party. If Trump is unable to run again because he is convicted of inciting the insurrection at the Capitol–or he just chooses not to run again–many of those voters may not ever vote in a presidential election again.
A lot of information will be brought to the forefront in the coming weeks as the trial approaches.
“How [the Senate] chooses to [conduct the trial] will be based on the type of information that is developed between now and the beginning of the trial,” said Hulme.
“My sense is that if investigators begin to find connections in relationships between Trump and the insurrectionists between now and then, you are going to see an actual trial.”
Whether Trump ends up getting convicted or acquitted, this trial is an opportunity for the American public to learn information about the insurrection that is unknown at this point.