Managers seek to make GOP think twice about Trump acquittal

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Democratic impeachment managers wrapped up their impeachment case against former President Trump on Thursday, seeking to make it as difficult and uncomfortable as possible for GOP senators to vote for his acquittal.

In two days of arguments on the Senate floor, the nine House Democrats prosecuting the case portrayed the ex-president as the primary driver of a deadly pro-Trump mob that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 to block the vote certifying President Biden’s victory in the presidential election. 

The long and haunting narrative was designed to sway public opinion and the history books as much as the Senate jurors.

No more than five or six Senate Republicans are expected to vote to convict the former president, who continues to have enormous power over his party. That is far less than the 17 needed to secure a conviction.

Yet many Republican senators over the past few days have complimented the arguments of the prosecutors, and while Democrats are signaling unity on the trial, the GOP has been badly divided. If Democrats do win several Republican votes, it will be the most bipartisan presidential conviction vote in the nation’s history.

The managers, led by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a constitutional law expert, received high marks for a meticulous exhibition of the case, which sought to connect the dots directly between Trump’s bellicose refusal to concede defeat and the violence that visited the Capitol last month. 

Their strategy included the liberal use of harrowing video footage and victim testimony, and served up the emotional equivalent of a Mike Tyson gut punch, forcing senators to revisit the trauma of the day through never-before-seen security footage.

“That was a pretty emotional — emotional — presentation,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said heading into Thursday’s trial. “Because obviously, none of us were able to see all of that.”

“They put forward a good case from their perspective. Obviously it was their side, their perspective,” added Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), a vocal Trump defender and the past chair of the Homeland Security Committee, which is investigating the attack.

Much of Thursday’s presentation focused on the frightened victims of the Jan. 6 insurrection — and included a warning that if senators did not vote to convict and bar Trump from future office, he could unleash more violence on the country.

“President Trump’s lack of remorse shows that he will undoubtedly cause future harm if allowed,” one of the prosecutors, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), told the senators. “I’m not afraid of Donald Trump running again in four years. I’m afraid he’s going to run again and lose, because he can do this again.”

The managers played video clips of House lawmakers — including Reps. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) and Jason Crow (D-Colo.), a former Army Ranger — describing how they called their loved ones to say goodbye and grabbed sharp objects to prepare to fight their way out as the mob descended on the lower chamber.

They shared personal accounts from Hill staffers and reporters who said they fled and barricaded themselves in rooms, cowering as rioters pounded on the doors.

And the prosecution described the unfathomable toll the attack has taken on the thousands of Capitol Police and D.C. Metro Police officers who battled the insurgents that day. One, Officer Brian Sicknick, was killed; two others took their own lives in the days that followed.

The officers who survived are suffering from both physical and emotional scars. Officers have brain and spinal injuries, one lost an eye, another lost three fingers, one was impaled by a metal fence stake. One police officer voluntarily turned in her gun because she thought she might do harm to herself. 

To add insult to injury, rioters repeatedly screamed, “f—king traitor!” and racist slurs at officers protecting the Capitol, according to video and news accounts shown to senators.

“These people matter. These people risked their lives for us,” Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I), one of the managers, told senators. “So I ask you respectfully to consider them, the police officers, the staff of this building, when you cast your vote … remember them, and honor them, and act in service of them, as they deserve.”

To hammer home that point, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday she was introducing a resolution to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the brave officers who defended the Capitol on Jan. 6. 

“They are martyrs for our democracy,” said Pelosi, a target of some of the rioters.  

If there was a common theme, it was to humanize the violent attack with scenes from a Capitol building where senators spend countless hours and images of victims they might just recognize. It marked a strategic attempt to contrast the Democrats’ linear allegation — that Trump incited an insurrection and should not go unpunished — from the esoteric constitutional arguments of Trump’s defense team, which is scheduled to make its presentation in the same chamber Friday. 

“We need to exercise our common sense about what happened,” Raskin said in closing. “Let’s not get caught up in a lot of outlandish lawyers’ theories here.”

To augment their case, the prosecutors leaned heavily on the words of the rioters, many of whom had invoked Trump as their inspiration for storming the Capitol. 

“We were invited by the president of the United States,” says one rioter, in a video clip aired on the Senate floor. 

Trump’s attorneys on Friday are expected to focus their defense on two central arguments: first, that Congress has no power to impeach a president who is no longer in office; and second, that Trump’s fiery calls for his supporters to march on the Capitol to protest the election outcome were protected by the First Amendment rights to free speech. 

David Schoen, one of Trump’s defense lawyers, dismissed the Democrats’ arguments Thursday, saying they were merely “making a movie” — and a fictional one, at that. 

“They haven’t in any way tied [the attack] to Donald Trump. And it I think it’s offensive, quite frankly,” Schoen said. “It’s antithesis of the healing process to continue to show the tragedy that happened here that Donald Trump has condemned, and I think it tears at the American people.”

Many Republicans are privately appalled by Trump’s conduct leading up to the insurgency, but also fear his wrath if they publicize that displeasure, either rhetorically or with floor votes. The focus on legal process has allowed those same Republicans to oppose Trump’s conviction without the discomfort of weighing in on the merits of the allegations against him.  

“I voted that this was unconstitutional, and so it makes it difficult to back up out of that,” said Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.). He was referring to a pair of earlier votes challenging the legality of impeaching a former president. Only a handful of Republicans in each case voted that the Senate trial should proceed. 

Democrats have roundly rejected those legal challenges, arguing that granting presidents immunity from impeachment once they leave office would effectively empower them to commit any offense in the final weeks of their tenure — a phenomenon the Democrats have termed the “January exemption.”

Though they face long odds in winning a conviction, Democrats have additional goals in mind as they’ve pursued Trump’s second impeachment, even after the former president has moved on to Florida.

Not only have they branded Trump with the distinction of being the only president in the nation’s history to be impeached twice, they’re also forcing GOP senators to go on record defending Trump’s actions surrounding a deadly siege of which they themselves were victims.

Public opinion polls indicate that voters favor Trump’s conviction, and that vote may haunt vulnerable senators, who will likely be targeted by countless Democratic attacks in 2022, when control of both chambers is up for grabs.

“He struck a match and he aimed it straight at this building. At us,” said Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), making Democrats’ closing arguments. “Because this isn’t about politics; it’s about his refusal to accept the outcome of the election and his decision to incite an insurrection. And there is no serious argument that the First Amendment protects that.”

“It would be extraordinarily dangerous for the United States Senate to conclude otherwise,” Neguse continued, “to tell future presidents that they can do exactly what President Trump did and get away with it, to set the precedent that this is an acceptable, now a constitutionally protected, way to respond to losing an election.”




Tags Capitol breach Dan Kildee David Cicilline Donald Trump Impeachment Jamie Raskin Jason Crow Joe Biden Joe Neguse John Boozman John Cornyn Nancy Pelosi Ron Johnson Ted Lieu

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