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Day 1: IU law professor weighs in on Trump impeachment trial

Former President Donald Trump's second impeachment trial continues Wednesday.

WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump's second impeachment trial continues Wednesday. 

It's playing out in the same chamber where, just a month earlier, an angry mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol.  

"To say Trump was the immediate cause of the riot, the break-in, the violence, that's a high bar,” said IU Bloomington Mauer School of Law Professor Steve Sanders.  

Sanders, who specializes in the Constitution, says that's a big hurdle for house impeachment managers hoping for a conviction. 

"We'll see if they clear it to say Trump actually intended them to engage in violence and to try and shut down the Congress, as opposed to he just intended them to have a protest,” said Sanders. 

To start, the former president's defense team says they shouldn't be there in the first place, because trying a former president is unconstitutional.  

"The text of the constitution refers specifically to a people being subject to impeachment being the president, the vice president and then officers of the federal government,” Sanders explained. “It doesn't say ‘former office holders’ so there's a point for the president.”

On the other hand, the Constitution doesn't say anything about limiting impeachment to only current office holders.  

"At the end of the day, there is no black-and-white, ready-made answer we can pull off the shelf,” said Sanders. 

The former president's lawyers are also looking at a free speech defense for his words at the Jan. 6 rally. 

Credit: AP Photo/Julio Cortez
Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington. As Congress prepares to affirm President-elect Joe Biden's victory, thousands of people have gathered to show their support for President Donald Trump and his claims of election fraud.

"The fact that the government can't punish a private citizen for their particular kind of speech is not to say that the Senate can't decide that it was reckless and irresponsible for a president to engage in a particular kind of speech,” said Sanders.   

Did that speech incite an insurrection? That's what the senators must decide. A two-thirds majority is needed to convict, but that's not the only potential goal of this trial.  

"I think the Democrats know this is for history. This is for the public. This is for making a point,” said Sanders. “And even if he's not going to be convicted, it's still worth going through the exercise to try to say ‘Democracy is important enough that we can't just overlook something like this.'"

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