Democrats agree to delay Donald Trump's impeachment trial so he can prepare a defence

Nick Allen
·3-min read
Trump - AFP
Trump - AFP

Joe Biden will have two weeks to get nominees to his cabinet confirmed and push through a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package after Republicans and Democrats agreed to delay opening arguments in Donald Trump's impeachment trial for two weeks.

The deal also gives Mr Trump time to assemble his legal team and prepare a defence to the charge of incitement of insurrection over the US Capitol riots on Jan 6.

Signs of fissures in the Democrat approach to the trial emerged. Nancy Pelosi, the Democrat Speaker of the House of Representatives, still intends to transmit the article of impeachment to the Senate on Monday evening.

That will trigger the start of proceedings, meaning senators will be sworn in as jurors on Tuesday. Ms Pelosi has said prosecutors are "ready to begin to make their case".

But an agreement to delay opening arguments until the week of Feb 8 came after Mr Biden said publicly: "The more time we have to get up and running the better."

Biden - AP
Biden - AP

Chuck Schumer, the Democrat leader in the Senate, then agreed to part of the three-week delay that had been requested by his Republican opposite number Mitch McConnell.

Mr Schumer said: "We all want to put this awful chapter in our nation's history behind us, But healing and unity will only come if there is truth and accountability. And that is what this trial will provide."

Mr Biden still only has a smattering of his cabinet nominees confirmed by the Senate.

An impeachment trial would take priority over all other Senate business, leaving him reliant on acting officials. He also wants the Senate to quickly consider his coronavirus bill.

Republicans were keen to delay the trial as it will offer more distance between the events of Jan 6 and the moment they have to vote on the guilt or innocence of Mr Trump, who still commands widespread support among Republican voters.

A spokesman for Mr McConnell welcomed the deal.

Democrats would need the support of at least 17 of the 50 Republican senators to convict Mr Trump. At this time only half a dozen Republicans are considered potential conviction votes.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll on Friday found less than two in 10 Republican voters believe Mr Trump should be convicted.

To defend him Mr Trump has turned to Butch Bowers, a South Carolina lawyer little known outside his own state.

Mr Bowers has advised Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor, and was recommended by South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham.

Meanwhile, reports emerged that, after the election, Mr Trump considered replacing his acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen who he felt was not investigating his allegations of voter fraud.

Mr Trump reportedly wanted to replace him with another justice department lawyer who would help him overturn the election result in the key state of Georgia.

After a three-hour meeting between Mr Trump and the two officials, which the New York Times described as like an episode of Mr Trump's reality show "The Apprentice," Mr Trump decided against the plan.

Senior officials at the justice department had reportedly threatened to resign en masse if it went ahead.

Mr Trump spent the first days of his post-presidency at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, including playing golf.

He gave little away in his first comments since leaving office on Jan 20.

Asked about his future plans he told the Washington Examiner: "We’ll do something, but not just yet."