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On Tuesday, the nation will begin only its fourth impeachment trial of a president, and Nicholas Fandos, a congressional correspondent for The New York Times, will cover his second. Mr. Fandos, who tracked every beat of the proceedings last year, will be reporting on the second trial of Donald J. Trump, who this time faces the charge of “incitement of insurrection” in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. In an edited interview, Mr. Fandos, who was in the building during that assault, discussed his work last year and the job ahead.
Where will you be for the impeachment?
Well, it’s probably going to work pretty differently than it did a year ago. I remember dozens of us crowding into the Senate press gallery talking about this virus coming out of China that was going to be a big story and nobody was going to care about the impeachment. And it kind of turned out to be true.
This time around, I will probably be watching most of the proceedings from home in Washington because, like other news organizations, we’ve tried to limit our physical presence in the Capitol. Luckily, most of these proceedings are captured on C-SPAN or are livestreamed. Vaccinations are starting to get pretty common among lawmakers, but most reporters still don’t have them.
How did covering the last impeachment prepare you to cover this one?
It’s so wild. There have been three presidential impeachment trials in American history up to this point. So there’s a certain amount of specialized expertise you have to develop to understand the rules of impeachment and the different terms, not to mention the requirement that you have some mastery over a big, complicated political, legal and constitutional story. So, in some ways this time around, I’m lucky because I don’t need to learn the rules again.
The last impeachment also involved a big investigation and learning a lot of esoteric things about Ukraine and actions by the president that happened out of public view. I was in the Capitol on Jan. 6, and I, like everybody else, had been watching as the president was trying to undermine and overturn the election results. In a lot of ways, I can understand the case more readily.
What is it like to cover this trial when you were in the Capitol on Jan. 6?
I have really visceral memories of that day. But as a journalist, I need to set those aside and cover the debates objectively. My own experience doesn’t have a role in that. Our job is always, at its most basic, to bear witness to events and describe what’s happening.
Maybe it helps give me some additional access to the emotion and rawness that everybody that’s involved in this is experiencing. The Senate is the jury, and the members were themselves witnesses and victims, in a sense. Everybody’s in uncharted territory.
What will you be doing during the trial?
I’ll be following it instantaneously and also trying to step back and take a more considered look. That will include tweets, probably live chats and analysis, and short briefing items that we’ll put up on the website. Then at some point on most days, either I or my reporting partners will sit down and distill everything into a comprehensive article that will end up in the print paper the next day.
What have you been doing to prepare?
Both the prosecution and the defense have had to file lengthy written briefs that act as a preview of their arguments. I’m spending a lot of time trying to familiarize myself with those.
I’ve also spent a lot of time going back and reading my own coverage from a year ago. It’s been really fascinating to see how many of the core issues are really the same but also different.
What feels similar?
The core charge against Donald Trump is in many ways the same. Essentially, he was accused of taking extraordinary, abusive steps to stay in office and to maintain his power at the expense of the Constitution and the country. And you’ll hear a lot of similar themes in the arguments this time. The defense of the president also seems similar. Basically, his lawyers are arguing that the charges are unconstitutional and unfair. I also think many of the political questions are the same. Are Republicans willing to punish and cross this figure, who may have committed these acts, but who is also the most popular figure in their party and commands a huge amount of loyalty? That political dynamic is amazingly unchanged.
What feels different?
Last year, this was playing out at the beginning of an election year with that momentous decision lingering. We thought then that if the Senate was a court of impeachment, then the November election was going to be the appeals court that was going to deliver the final verdict on Trump. Now that verdict has been delivered, and in a weird way the Senate is being asked to deliver another one on a slightly different question, which is whether Mr. Trump should be allowed to run for office again. It’s a similar question, but the timing changes the atmosphere and the immediacy of it.