Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who serves as president pro tempore and is presiding over the impeachment trial, said on Tuesday he would conduct the proceedings “with fairness to all.”
“My intention and solemn obligation is to conduct this trial with fairness to all,” Leahy wrote in a letter (pdf) addressed to his colleagues. “I will adhere, as have my predecessors in the Senate who have presided over impeachment trials, to the Constitution and to applicable Senate rules, precedent, and governing resolutions.”
Leahy was asked to preside over the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump after Chief Justice John Roberts refused to do so. The U.S. Constitution requires the Chief Justice of the United States to preside over the impeachment trials of U.S. presidents.
Roberts presided over Trump’s first impeachment trial last year but did not give reasons for his decision not to preside over the second trial. Legal scholars have surmised that his not presiding is because Trump is no longer president.
In a statement in January, Leahy acknowledged that the Senate impeachment trial will be conducted against a “non-president,” while adding that he will take an additional special oath to “do impartial justice according to the Constitution and the laws.”
Roberts’s decision to not preside had also added to the debate on whether the proceedings were constitutional, given that the Senate was trying Trump for his alleged conduct as president.
The Senate on Tuesday voted 56-44 to approve the impeachment trial against Trump following a 4-hour debate on the constitutionality of the proceedings. Republican Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Mitt Romney (Utah), Ben Sasse (Neb.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), and Pat Toomey (Pa.) joined Democrats to say that the trial was constitutional, which has allowed the proceedings to move forward to its next stage.
The debate surrounding constitutionality stems from the fact that Trump is no longer in office. The U.S. Constitution does not explicitly say impeachment is not for former officials, which has prompted discussion over whether the impeachment provisions can be read to only apply to sitting officers.
Trump’s lawyers have argued that the Senate has no jurisdiction to try a former official, that the charge against the 45th president is deficient, that their client was deprived of due process and had his right to free speech violated by the article of impeachment, according a memorandum released by the defense team on Monday.
The lawyers have also denied claims that Trump had “incited” violence that Democrats claim led to the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol.
Meanwhile, Democrats are arguing that the Constitution gives the Senate full authority to preside over the impeachment of Trump.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), argued during the debate on Tuesday that discontinuing the trial because Trump has left office would create a “January exception,” during which future presidents could abuse their power without fear of being convicted and barred from holding future office.
But Trump’s attorney Bruce Castor refuted the argument saying that the idea of a “January amnesty is nonsense.”
“If my colleagues on this side of the chamber actually think that President Trump committed a criminal offense … after he’s out of office, you go and arrest him. So there is no opportunity where the president of the United States can run rampant in January at the end of his term and just go away scot-free. The Department of Justice does know what to do with such people,” Castor said.
The vote on Tuesday has signaled that 44 Republican senators are likely to vote against convicting the former president. The Senate requires 67 votes to convict, according to the Constitution.
Ivan Pentchoukov contributed to this report.