Donald Trump has been impeached for his role in using lies and incendiary language, over a period of months, to subvert the 2020 election, obstruct the business of the nation, and “gravely endanger the security of the United States and its institutions.” Those articles of impeachment have been forwarded to the Senate, along with supporting documents, to show that Donald J. Trump is uniquely responsible for the Jan. 6 assault on the United States Capitol, and that his behavior on that day “was not an isolated event.”
Unsurprisingly, House impeachment managers intend to focus on exactly these issues: Trump’s words, actions, and inactions as they relate to violence on Jan. 6. That includes how Trump encouraged the presences of white nationalist militias, lied repeatedly about the outcome of the election in ways meant to inflame his supporters, drove the whole mass toward the Capitol, and stood aside in pleasure as insurgents swarmed the halls of Congress.
Just as expected is the response from Trump’s legal team and from Republicans in the Senate. Because they want to Trump’s second impeachment trial to be about anything other than the subject of his impeachment.
What Republicans would enjoy most, would be to spend the entire trial arguing technical points about 19th century cases to prove that Trump can’t be tried now that he’s out of office. Two or three days of debating the impeachment of Judge Mark Delahay (who resigned in 1873 in an effort to avoid being impeached for repeatedly showing up in court drunk) or Secretary of War William Belknap (resigned in 1876 to get ahead of an impeachment for selling a government appointment) would suit them right down to the ground. Republicans would sincerely love to spend a few days putting America to sleep with the inside story of the Grant administration.
That tactic has already been on display in the vote forced by Sen. Rand Paul, in which all but five Republicans voted to just skip the entire trial. It also forms three-quarters of the response to the House impeachment from Donald Trump’s legal team, which would clearly love to spend their time talking about What Would Jefferson Do?
That’s because, as Politico reports, talking about the actual events of Jan. 6, and Donald Trump’s actions that led to men in paramilitary garb searching through the House chamber for hostages could be deeply embarrassing to Republicans. As eternal Trump advisor Steve Bannon notes, “The Democrats have a very emotional and compelling case. They’re going to try to convict him in the eyes of the American people and smear him forever.”
Yes. Because showing Trump’s words next to the results is “very emotional and compelling.” And there’s absolutely no doubt that the House impeachment managers will be pitching their case directly to the public, perhaps even more than to the senators seated in the chamber. After all, barring the discovery of Donald Trump’s fingerprints on the pipe bomb left outside the RNC, it’s highly unlikely that 17 Republican senators will suddenly recover their morality. The best thing that the House team might be able to do, in the sense of preventing Trump from continuing to be a source of divisiveness and damage for the nation, is to give the public a powerful reminder of just how Trump created the insurgency.
That’s why House impeachment managers are working to assemble a video presentation that will put together words and events on Jan. 6. Rather than working with producers who have done documentaries or political ads, the team has been reportedly working with producers of videos used at criminal trials.
As The Washington Post reports, exactly how the trial will play out remains unclear. In Trump’s first impeachment, Republican control of the Senate allowed Mitch McConnell to define most of the proceedings, that included holding a vote to cut off the possibility of hearing from any witnesses. But Sen. Chuck Schumer is not bound by any of those past decisions. House impeachment managers could well choose to call witnesses, in spite of various “threats” from Republicans that calling any witnesses could lead to a drawn-out proceeding. A drawn-out proceeding that keeps hammering at Trump’s efforts to undermine democracy doesn’t seem like something that should concern Democrats.
And, as much as Trump’s attorney’s would love to keep the Senate buried in old citations and out of context statements from the constitutional convention, their own response opens the door to exactly the kind of pounding that Senate Republicans don’t want to see—one in which every one of Donald Trump’s false statements about the election gets hauled out for review. That’s because the response to the House managers included a statement from Trump saying that not only could no one prove he had lied, but he claimed to have won the election.
When it comes to the case that the impeachment managers would like to make, Law & Crime details exactly the points they need to hit to make their case. Key among the things that the managers need to emphasize is this point from the articles of impeachment: “[Trump’s] belief that he won the election—regardless of its truth or falsity (though it is assuredly false)—is no defense at all for his abuse of office.”
It doesn’t matter if Trump believes his own lies. That doesn’t excuse his actions in undercutting American institutions or encouraging violent action. Trump can be as upset by his defeat as he likes—many other election losers were also upset. But whether it was Andrew Jackson or Al Gore, “all of these Presidential candidates accepted the election results and acquiesced to the peaceful transfer of power required by the Constitution.”
Trump’s situation is unique. And his despicable actions deserve to be uniquely punished. If the Senate Republicans have already stopped their ears to the truth, that case will be made to the public.
If Republicans are embarrassed, it’s because they should be.