President Trump has only hours left in the White House – and the first few months of his time as a former president seem likely to be very different than any of his predecessors’. That’s not just because his popularity is plummeting and his party is splintering over whether to support or condemn him. He’s also leaving office with an impeachment trial and a host of other legal problems on the horizon – not exactly what you’d call a post-presidency glow.
The impeachment trial, in particular, seems likely to ensure that Trump, and his role inciting the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, remain in the headlines even after he’s left the presidency. Trump won’t be the first president to leave the White House in a cloud of legal liability, of course. But he is likely to have the dubious honor of being the first former president to be tried by the Senate. And the newness of that situation means that there’s a lot of uncertainty about what the trial will look like – and what it will mean for Trump’s personal and political future.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to send the article of impeachment to the Senate tomorrow or Friday, which would officially start the trial at 1 p.m. Eastern the following day and set the stage for opening arguments next week. The details of how the trial will proceed are still being worked out, and Republicans could try to contest its legitimacy because Trump will no longer be president when the trial begins. But even though removal from office will no longer be a viable threat, the result could still be very serious for him. If a two-thirds majority of senators votes to convict him, it would likely take just a simple majority to disqualify him from holding federal office again, dashing any hopes of a Trump comeback in 2024.
Disqualification, of course, hasn’t been used very often as a remedy in the history of impeachment – nor is it common for an impeachment trial to continue after the defendant is no longer in office. But there are historical precedents for both. Three people – all federal judges – have been disqualified from holding future federal office after being impeached and convicted. And in several cases, including one in 1797, just ten years after the Constitution was written, the Senate conducted an impeachment trial after the defendant was no longer in office. In the late nineteenth century, while contemplating a Senate trial for William Belknap, a former Grant administration official mired in a corruption scandal, the Senate voted on whether they actually had jurisdiction to try a former federal officer – and a majority concluded that they did.
Why 10 Republicans voted for impeachment | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast
Of course, that doesn’t mean that an impeachment trial of a former president will be a simple thing. Trump could still try to challenge the constitutionality of the trial itself, or try to overturn its outcome if he’s ultimately convicted and disqualified. And some Democrats have expressed concern about the prospect of an impeachment trial that stretches into the early months of Biden’s presidency, potentially overshadowing his agenda and eating up time that the Senate could be using to confirm Biden’s Cabinet appointees or to pass legislation like the massive coronavirus stimulus bill that is likely to be one of Biden’s first priorities as president. At one point in the past month, high-ranking House Democrat Jim Clyburn even suggested