The impeachment trial of President Trump has often been compared to a courtroom trial, but there are some differences that are key to understanding the process.
The most important difference between impeachment and the courtroom is who’s in charge. In the courtroom the rules are clear and the judge is in control, but in an impeachment trial, the senators are in control. They decide the rules and even though Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts is presiding, the senators can overrule him with a simple majority. That makes them both judge and jury.
In a standard trial, calling witnesses is normal and jurors are not allowed to ask their own questions. In contrast, the Senate will have to decide whether to allow witnesses at all and the senators will be allowed to submit their own questions in writing for witnesses to answer. Senators can even be called as witnesses themselves.
Finally, there’s the question of a verdict. For a courtroom trial, no matter what decision the jury makes, it must be unanimous. If they choose to convict the defendant, the judge would then decide the sentence. For the impeachment trial, a conviction takes 67 votes.
President Trump is charged with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. In this case, a conviction seems unlikely but if it does happen, President Trump will be automatically removed from office, but if there are fewer than 67 votes the president will stay in office.
President Trump is the third president in U.S. history to face an impeachment trial.