Unclear who presides at Trump trial if he’s out of office

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WASHINGTON (AP) – The Constitution says the chief justice must preside over the impeachment trial of a president. But what about a former president?

Like so much else about the Constitution, the answer is subject to interpretation.

Whether the trial of President Donald Trump begins after January 20, it is not clear whether Chief Justice John Roberts would make his way to the Senate like he did last year for Trump’s first trial.

Prosecutors, law professors, and political scientists offer different perspectives.

The choices appear to be Roberts, Kamala Harris, who will then be vice-president, or Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Who will be the interim president of the Senate once the Democrats take control of the Senate.

The issue is “pending, totally unprecedented and unspecific in existing Senate rules and precedents,” political scientist Keith Whittington wrote at Princeton University in an email.

One of the reasons the Constitution specifies that the chief justice conduct the president’s trial is that the person who otherwise presides over the Senate is the vice president – the very person who would assume the presidency if the chief executive is convicted. It’s a little inappropriate.

But if the stakes change and the incumbent vice-president is no longer able to land the top job, why not have Harris, who will have succeeded Mike Pence then, as president?

Whittington said he believed it could happen, “as with the removal of any officer other than the president.” But he said he “can imagine the Senate could go the other way and treat a former president the same as a sitting president.”

University of Texas law professor Steven Vladeck said the chief justice was the better choice. The House impeached the president on Wednesday, not the former president, Vladeck wrote on Twitter.

“Indeed, if Trump resigned (or his term expired) in the middle of the trial, it would be more than a little odd for the Chief Justice to give way to the Vice President. The question should be whether the impeached officer was president at the time of the impeachment. Here he was, so Roberts presides, ”Vladeck wrote.

Another factor in Roberts’ favor is that “a lawsuit against a president (even a former president) is a momentous event and presiding over the chief justice seems more compliant, or more appropriate, on occasion,” he said. said Neil, law professor at Georgia State University. Kinkopf wrote in an email.

If it isn’t Roberts or Harris, who may wish to avoid the appearance of a conflict that Trump’s trial presidency could ignite, the next choice would be Leahy, the top Senate Democrat, Norm Eisen said on CNN. Eisen was legal adviser to the Democrats during Trump’s first impeachment.

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