Photo courtesy of NowThis.
By Terrance Turner
Feb. 9, 2021 (Updated Feb. 13)
The impeachment trial is over. The Senate has voted to acquit Donald Trump of incitement of insurrection charges for his role in the Capitol riot on Jan. 6. The Senate voted 57-43 in favor of acquittal. Seven Republicans joined Democrats in voting to acquit. They are: Sens. Richard Burr (R-North Carolina), Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) and Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania). But the Senate ultimately fell short of the two-thirds majority needed for acquittal.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) spoke after the verdict. “The former president inspired, directed and propelled a mob to violently prevent the peaceful transfer of power, subvert the will of the people and illegally keep that president in power,” Schumer said. He declared that Jan. 6 would live on as “a day of infamy”.
Schumer also pointed out that today’s impeachment vote was the most bipartisan vote for an impeachment trial in American history. Schumer added: “I pray that while Justice was not done in this trial. It will be carried forward by the American people who above any of us in this chamber determine the destiny of our great nation.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also spoke.
“Jan. 6 was a disgrace,” McConnell began. “Fellow Americans beat and bloodied our own police. They stormed the Senate floor. They tried to hunt down the Speaker of the House. They built a gallows and chanted about murdering the vice president. They did this because they had been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on Earth because he was angry he’d lost an election.”
McConnell squarely blamed Trump for the events of Jan. 6: “There’s no question — none — that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day. No question about it. The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president,” he said. These criminals were carrying his banners, hanging his flags, and screaming their loyalty—to him. It was obvious that only Pres. Trump could end this.” But he still insisted that there was no constitutional basis to convict Trump because he is now a private citizen. But he added a telling caveat:
The impeachment trial of Donald John Trump commenced earlier this week. Led by Senate president pro tempore Patrick Leahy, the trial began with a warning. The Acting Sergeant of Arms proclaimed that all senators are required to remain silent “on pain of imprisonment” during the trial.
Rep. Jamie Raskin began by noting that there would not be a lengthy civics-class explanation about the Federalist Papers. “I know there are a lot of people who are dreading endless lectures about the Federalist Papers here. Please breathe easy, OK? I remember well W.H. Auden’s line that a professor is someone who speaks while other people are sleeping,” Raskin wryly noted. “Our case is based on cold, hard facts.”
As noted by New York Times correspondent Paul Hulse, “The fundamental argument of the House managers is that if trying a president or any official once they are out of office is unconstitutional, a person could act with impunity in the last stages of their tenure and not be held accountable.” Accordingly, Raskin argued that excusing Trump from impeachment simply because he left office on Jan. 20 would create a “January exception”. Raskin called that move dangerous: “It’s an invitation to the President to take his best shot at anything he may want to do on his way out the door, including using violent means to lock that door, to hold on to the Oval Office at all costs,” Raskin said.
What came next was video evidence. The House managers played an exhibit: scenes from the violent uprising on the Capitol on January 6, intercut with scenes of the orderly Electoral College vote inside. There’s footage of the crowd reacting to Trump’s speech in real time. There’s a clip of Sen. James Langford (R-Oklahoma) being interrupted by the clearing of the House floor. There’s a moment where one insurrectionist says they need “30,000 guns up here”. There’s footage of the mob storming the Capitol, chanting “Traitor Pence!” and fighting the police. “Fuck these pigs,” one of the rioters says.
“If that’s not an impeachable offense, then there is no such thing,” said House manager Jamie Raskin. “The Senate has the power — the sole power — to try all impeachments.” He further stated that the vast majority of constitutional scholars — including Reagan’s solicitor general and the president of the Federalist Society — agree that this impeachment is legitimate.
Rep. Joe Neguse took the stage next. Elected to the House in 2018, he was once a litigator in private practice. He, too, noted the broad consensus among scholars about the legitimacy of the impeachment trial. Over 150 constitutional scholars — conservative and liberal — agree that the Senate can try, convict, and remove, Neguse said. He then presented historical precedent: the case of former Secretary of War William Belknap.
“In 1876, the House discovered that he was involved in a massive kickback scheme,” Rep. Neguse said. Belknap literally rushed to the White House to resign to avoid being impeached. But that was unavoidable. “The House moved forward and immediately impeached him,” Neguse noted. And when they did? Belknap “made the exact same argument that President Trump is makign today: that you all lack jurisdiction any power to try him because he’s a former official.” Belknap was ultimately not convicted, but only after a full trial. “The trial served important constitutional purposes,” Neguse said.
Rep. Neguse displayed an excerpt of the Constitution” “Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor,” the Constitution says. Disqualification obviously applies to both former and current officers. Neguse countered the Republican argument that disqualification must follow removal from office (which is now impossible, since Donald Trump has left office). Sen. George Edmunds said, “A prohibition against doing more than two things cannot be turned into a command to do both or neither.”
Sen. David Cicilline (D-RI) said that the argument about impeaching a former official was “a purely fictional loophole, designed to allow the former president to escape accountability for conduct that is truly indefensible.” He noted that the rioters “could have killed all of us” and chided Trump for inciting them to riot. “This was a disaster of historic proportion,” Rep. Cicilline said. “It was also an unforgivable betrayal of the oath of office by President Trump, the oath he swore, an oath he sullied and dishonored to advance his own personal interest…”
Rep. Cicilline countered the Trump team’s deflection: playing videos of incendiary language by Democrats like Rep. Maxine Waters or Rep. Cory Booker. “Let me be crystal clear: President Trump was not impeached because the words he used, viewed in isolation without context, were beyond the pale. Plenty of other politicians have used strong language, but Donald J Trump was president of the United States,” Rep. Cicilline said. “President Trump was not impeached because he used words that the House decided are forbidden or unpopular. He was impeached for inciting armed violence against the government of the United States of America.”
“After a betrayal like this, there cannot be unity without accountability,” Rep. Cicilline said.
Rep. Raskin returned to the mic. He grew emotional as he remembered having his son-in-law and daughter at the Capitol with him on Jan. 6. (Raskin had just buried his son the day before. His son Tommy committed suicide on New Year’s Eve.) He’d invited his daughter Tabitha and her husband to join him. They asked him whether it would be safe to do so. “They asked me directly, ‘Would it be safe?’ Would it be safe? I said, ‘Of course it should be safe. This is the Capitol,” Raskin recalled.
He had no idea that an angry mob would descend on the Capitol. But they did. While rioters besieged the Capitol and stormed the halls, the congressman and his family took shelter, fearing the worst. A day after burying his son in a graveside service, Raskin huddled under a desk with one of his two daughters and his son-in-law.
“They thought they were going to die,” Raskin said. “My son-in-law had never even been to the Capitol before. And when they were finally rescued, over an hour later by Capitol officers, and we were together, I hugged them and I apologized and I told my daughter Tabitha — who’s 24 and a brilliant algebra teacher in Teach for America now — I told her how sorry I was, and I promised her it would not be like this again the next time she came back to the Capitol with me. You know what she said? She said, ‘Dad, I don’t want to come back to the Capitol.’ Of all of the terrible, brutal things that I saw and that I heard on that day, and since then, that one hit me the hardest.”
Raskin reminded his colleagues of the toll from a day in which five people died and one was nearly crushed to death by the mob. “People died that day. Officers ended up with head damage and brain damage. People’s eyes were gouged. An officer had a heart attack. An officer lost three fingers that day. Two officers have taken their own lives. Senators: This cannot be our future. This cannot be the future of the America. We cannot have presidents inciting and mobilizing mob violence against our government and our institutions because they refuse to accept the will of the people,” Raskin concluded.