Few in Washington want the political spotlight to remain on Donald Trump, as Democrats look to move forward with Joe Biden’s agenda and Republicans seek to put the mayhem of the post-election period behind them.
But the former president’s behaviour leading up to and during the 6 January insurrection at the US Capitol continued dominating the conversation on Sunday in anticipation of his second impeachment trial, which commences on Tuesday.
Battle lines have been drawn mostly along party lines.
Senator Lindsey Graham, who for weeks after the 2020 election actively supported Mr Trump’s baseless claims of voter fraud, has been trying to rewrite his own history by blaming the ex-president for the post-election lies that prompted a mob to storm the Capitol while Congress was certifying Mr Biden’s electoral victory on 6 January.
“Well, I mean, he’s going to have a place in history for all of this,” the South Carolina Republican said on Sunday in an interview with CBS.
“He is the most popular figure in the Republican Party. He had a consequential presidency. January 6 was a very bad day for America, and he’ll get his share of blame in history,” Mr Graham said.
The senator’s comments underscored his and other Republicans’ position that impeachment is an inherently political process — not a legal one — that should reflect the will of the people.
“The point of the matter is that we’re in Congress — we’re not prosecutors. Impeachment was never meant to be a prosecution,” Mr Graham said, echoing the dubious legal theory popular among Republicans that Mr Trump’s post-service impeachment trial is unconstitutional.
He added: “I think I’m ready to move on, I’m ready to end the impeachment trial because I think it’s blatantly unconstitutional.”
Democrats have dismissed that legal theory as both disingenuous (its main proponent, conservative constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley, formerly argued the opposite) and full of logical loopholes.
“Impeachment comes not only with the provision to remove an individual from office but to disqualify them from future office,” Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut said on Fox News Sunday.
“I don’t think our job ends just because the president has left office,” Mr Murphy said.
The House Democratic impeachment managers’ pre-trial brief from last week highlights multiple cases throughout US history where a former official has been tried for impeachment.
“The Constitution does not allow officials to escape responsibility for committing impeachable offences by resigning when caught, or by waiting until the end of their term to abuse power, or by concealing misconduct until their service concludes,” the impeachment managers argue.
What’s more, they point out, the language of the Constitution plainly states in Article I, Section 3, Clause 6: “The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments.”
Legal scholars, including former federal judges appointed by Republican presidents, have written extensively on how that phrase provides standing for this trial and others.
“If provoking an insurrectionary riot against a Joint Session of Congress after losing an election is not an impeachable offence,” the managers conclude, “it is hard to imagine what would be.”
The Senate impeachment trial will commence on Tuesday, the second such proceeding Mr Trump has faced.
No other person in US history has been impeached twice.
Seventeen Republicans must vote with all 50 Democrats and Democratic-caucusing Independents if the Senate is to convict Mr Trump and bar him from ever holding public office again.
The likelihood of such an outcome has become more and more remote as the trial nears.
GOP Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi claimed Democrats were pursuing the impeachment trial as a “meaningless messaging partisan exercise” despite the fact it will actively hamper Mr Biden’s top priorities by slowing the pace of confirming his administrative appointments and distracting from his First 100 Days agenda.
In an interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC, Mr Wicker suggested Mr Trump could face “some criminal charge” — but that impeachment went beyond the pale.
Mr Stephanopoulos drilled Mr Wicker on the logic of foregoing a trial since Mr Trump was still president when was impeached for inciting an insurrection against another branch of government just weeks earlier.
“If being held accountable means being impeached by the House and being convicted by the Senate, the answer to that is no,” Wicker said. “Now if there are other ways in the court of public opinion or if there’s some criminal charge … dawns on some prosecutor, perhaps, there’s another avenue there,” he said.