Donald Trump could face a trial in the Senate starting an hour after he leaves office.
Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, sent a memo to colleagues setting out the timings for a trial if Mr Trump is impeached.
The Democrat-led House of Representatives may move to impeach the president for “incitement to insurrection” as soon as early next week, after Mr Trump encouraged crowds to march on the Capitol, which was later stormed and desecrated, leaving five people dead.
Mr McConnell, the most powerful Republican in Congress, said the Senate is scheduled to begin attending to business after its January recess on Jan 19.
According to its rules the Senate “must proceed to their consideration” at 1pm the day after that. That would mean an hour after Joe Biden is inaugurated.
Mr McConnell said: “The Senate trial would therefore begin after President Trump’s term has expired…one hour after its expiration on Jan 20.”
It came as Republicans in Congress began to turn against Mr Trump. Two-thirds of the Senate need to vote to convict Mr Trump. When Mr Biden takes office the chamber will be evenly balanced 50-50 between Republican and Democrat senators.
Lisa Murkowsk from Alaska became the first Republican senator to call on him to resign. She said: “I want him to resign. I want him out. He has caused enough damage. I think he should leave. He said he’s not going to show up. He’s not going to appear at the inauguration. He hasn’t been focused on what is going on with covid.
“He’s either been golfing or he’s been inside the Oval Office fuming and throwing every single person who has been loyal and faithful under the bus.”
Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska added: “I will definitely consider whatever articles [of impeachment] they might move because I believe the president has disregarded his oath of office.”
A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted on Thursday and Friday found 57 per cent of Americans want Mr Trump to be removed immediately from office. Nearly 70 per cent also disapproved of Mr Trump’s actions in the run-up to the Capitol riot.
BREAKING: We are moving forward with introducing Articles of Impeachment against President Donald J. Trump. He is a real danger to our country. He must be removed from office immediately and barred from ever holding an elected office again. pic.twitter.com/zncFXwEFjg
— Rep. Diana DeGette (@RepDianaDeGette) January 8, 2021
Articles of impeachment, which are formal charges of misconduct, have been drafted by several Democrat members of Congress.
A draft copy charges Mr Trump with “inciting violence against the government of the United States” in a bid to overturn his loss to Biden in the 2020 presidential election.
The House previously impeached Mr Trump in December 2019 over accusations he pressured the Ukrainian president to investigate Mr Biden, but the Senate acquitted him.
Democrats want to pursue impeachment, even after Mr Trump leaves office if necessary, in an attempt to ban him from ever standing for public office again.
There is division among experts over whether a Senate trial could be held after he is no longer president. Cass Sunstein, a Harvard law professor, said: “I tend to believe it is only for current office holders.”
But Michael Gerhardt, law professor at the University North Carolina, said: “Once an impeachment begins in the House, it may continue to a Senate trial. I don’t see any constitutional problem with the Senate acting fast or slowly.”
Alan Dershowitz, the prominent lawyer, said he would be happy to represent the president. He said: “Impeaching this president for making a speech would do more damage to the Constitution than the rioters, horrible as they were, did last Wednesday.”
Senate impeachment trial could begin one hour after Trump leaves office, says top Republican Congressman The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ The Telegraph.