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Inside Former President Donald Trump's Upcoming Senate Impeachment Trial

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Senators will gather tomorrow for the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump. The former president is accused of inciting the deadly insurrection by his supporters on January 6 at the Capitol. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says the arguments this week will shine a light on Trump's role in that riot.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: You must have all the truth come out and then the accountability once the truth comes out. That's what we aim to do with this trial.

SHAPIRO: Trump's lawyers say the former president can't be blamed for the actions of his supporters. We're joined now by NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell and NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas to talk about what we know and what lies ahead.

Hello there.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hi.

SHAPIRO: To start with you, Ryan, President Trump's legal team filed their pretrial brief today. What did it say?

LUCAS: Well, last week, we got an outline of their defense in the response to the article of impeachment. And then today, we got - it was a 78-page brief. So there is more detail in this. But one thing that stood out is the jabs that they take - Trump's lawyers take at the House managers and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. They argue that the impeachment push is driven by what they call Trump derangement syndrome and a hunger for quote-unquote "political theater." They say Democrats are using impeachment as a tool to silence a political opponent, and they accuse Democrats of taking advantage of what they call the horror and confusion that all Americans felt when watching the violence on January 6 at the Capitol. And they say that instead of trying to heal the nation after this violence, that Democrats, quote, "have callously tried to harness the chaos of the moment for their own political gain."

SHAPIRO: So attacks on Democrats there. In terms of legal arguments, what's the nature of their defense? What are they arguing?

LUCAS: Well, Trump's lawyers, David Schoen and Bruce Castor, are leaning very heavily into the constitutionality argument. They say that the Senate has no jurisdiction to hold a trial of Trump now that he is no longer president. They say a conviction in a Senate trial requires the possibility of removal from office. Since Trump is no longer in office, they say there can't be a trial in this whole process. This whole thing is unconstitutional.

Now, as for the incitement of violence allegation, they say Trump didn't direct the violence and shouldn't be blamed for the crimes of a small group of criminals. They argue that this speech that he gave, as well as the allegations of election fraud - baseless allegations, we should say - leading up to the January 6 - that all of that speech is constitutionally protected. And they say a high crime and misdemeanor can't be something that is protected by the Constitution.

SHAPIRO: And I know we got a response from the members of the House who are going to be managing the impeachment in the Senate. Kelsey, what did they say?

SNELL: Basically, they dismissed everything that Ryan just outlined there. They dismissed the entire argument from the Trump team. They say that evidence against the former president is, as they describe it, overwhelming. And they say what Trump is trying to do is to escape accountability. They also say that, you know - that the arguments that his lawyers are putting up basically don't meet the definition of what is constitutionally protected. They say that they are going to argue that the president should've been held to account for his actions because they happened while he was in office, therefore making him subject to impeachment.

They're basically trying to undermine all Republican attempts to make this an argument about the process, about the constitutionality, about whether or not the Senate could even have the trial. And they want to bring it back to having an argument about the events of that day and Trump's actions leading up to that day.

SHAPIRO: Let's talk about how this is going to play out. Listeners may remember a year ago, the first impeachment trial of President Trump took almost three weeks. The two sides argued late into the night and on the weekends. Kelsey, what's the plan for this one?

SNELL: Well, this time, we expect things to get underway tomorrow. And instead of just jumping right into the trial, we're going to see four hours of debate on the constitutionality question, and then they will revote that question because we have already seen the Senate vote, and the majority of Republicans voted that this is an unconstitutional trial. After that, the trial will begin Wednesday at noon, and each side will have up to 16 hours to present their arguments. After that is when we would get some debate and vote on witnesses if the House managers choose to call witnesses.

SHAPIRO: That is NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell and NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas.

Thanks to both of you.

SNELL: Thanks for having us.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.