Trump Acquitted in Impeachment Trial

After a ten-minute recess, the Trump defense team began its presentation. Trump’s impeachment lawyer Bruce Cantor spoke first. He waxed poetic about U.S. Senators as “extraordinary people” who inspire pride in those who represent them. He remembered how, growing up in suburban Philadelphia, his parents were big fans of Sen. Everett Dirksen. Cantor recalled listening to vinyl records — “Now we know what records are, right?” — of Dirksen describing senators as “gallant men”. (Cantor updated the phrase to “gallant men and women”.) Senators are gallant men and women that do extraordinary things when their country needs them to do it,” Cantor said.

“U.S. Senators are patriots first,” Cantor said. “Senators are patriots first. Patriots first. They love their country. They love their families […] United States Senators have a reputation and it’s deserved. They have a reputation for cool-headedness,” Cantor claimed, for not going along with the whims of the moment. People are proud of their senators. They refer to the senator who represents them as “my senator” because of pride, Cantor said. “That’s not just Pat Toomey from Pennsylvania, that’s my senator from Pennsylvania,” Cantor said, imagining a Pennsylvania constituent.

Pennsylvanians disagreed.

People also wondered what exactly Cantor was talking about:

Cantor framed Donald Trump’s actions as a free speech exercise. He cited an old quote about how a man who trades liberty for security will have neither. “This trial is about trading liberty for the security of the mob?” Cantor asked (rhetorically?). “No. It can’t be.” He implied that the Trump trial sets a “slippery slope” precedent for partisan-based impeachments. “The political pendulum will shift one day,” Trump impeachment lawyer Bruce Castor warns, “and partisan impeachments will become commonplace.”

David Schoen went even further. Attacking House managers as hateful partisans, Schoen implied that they had doctored a video for the audience. “House managers in their wisdom have hired a movie company…to create, manufacture, and splice for you a package designed by experts to chill & horrify you & our fellow Americans,” Schoen charged. “They don’t need to show you movies to show you the riot happened here.”

He accused Democrats of being motivated by personal animus: “This is a process irresponsibly by base hatred by these House managers and those who gave them their charge.” He argued that impeachment “will tear this country apart” and called the trial “a chance by a group of partisan politicians seeking to eliminate Donald Trump from the American political scene and seeking to disenfranchise 74 million-plus American voters.”

Of course, it was Donald Trump who sought to disenfranchise 81 million voters (many Black and brown) by overturning the election. This irony was not lost on CNN anchor Jake Tapper:

Schoen began hammering the House and Democratic leaders for failing to allow Trump due process to protect his rights. He argued that House Democrats were denying Trump due process by not having him testify. (Democrats say the House action is more akin to a grand jury where the defendant would not typically have an opportunity to rebut the case. And Trump recently declined the House Democrats’ request that he deliver testimony at the trial.)

Schoen also claimed the absence of Chief Justice Roberts invalidates the trial. The Chief Justice typically presides over an impeachment trial when a president is on trial. Of course, Trump has left office, so Roberts cannot preside. Instead, the Senate president pro tempore Patrick Leahy is presiding. Schoen insisted that the trial was illegitimate: “The trial in the Senate of a private citizen is not permitted.” He further argued that a Senate trial for an ex-official is essentially an unconstitutional bill of attainder. (A bill of attainder was something that the British Parliament used to do in the late Middle Ages. It would punish a certain disfavored person without a trial, like declaring someone a traitor and seizing his land.)

After Schoen’s lengthy diatribe, a vote was held on whether the trial is constitutional. The Senate voted in favor of the trial, 56-44. This time, one new Republican (Sen. Cassidy, from Louisiana) joined the five Republicans who previously voted affirmatively. They include Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). The trial has been adjourned until noon tomorrow.

UPDATE (Jan. 10): The trial continued today, with several more House managers presenting their case. Raskin and Neguse returned for a second day. House impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) on Wednesday described Jan. 6 as “a day that will live in disgrace,” as he argued that Trump was responsible for inciting the riot that consumed the Capitol when lawmakers gathered to certify the election results. Addressing members of the Senate, Raskin showed tweets from Trump on Jan. 6 praising the rioters and pushing a false claim that he won the election in a landslide.

Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) made the case that Trump planted the seeds for the storming of the Capitol months in advance by telling his supporters that he could not possibly lose a fair election, and then encouraged them to “fight like hell” once it became clear that he had lost. “It was part of a carefully planned months-long effort with a very specific instruction, to get your people to fight this verification,” Neguse said, according to The Hill.

Also present was Rep. Joaquin Castro, who noted Trump’s repeated refusals last year to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he lost the election. Castro also cited a tweet from Trump in May stating that the election would be “the greatest Rigged Election in history,” and another from the former president in July claiming that “2020 will be the most inaccurate and fraudulent election in history” due to an increase in mail-in votes. “This is clearly a man who refuses to accept the possibility or the reality in our democracy of losing an election,” Castro said.

“All of us in this room have run for election. And it’s no fun to lose. I’m a Texas Democrat. We’ve lost a few elections over the years,” Castro added, drawing laughter from senators. “But can you imagine telling your supporters that the only way you could possibly lose is if an American election was rigged and stolen from you?” he asked.

Castro argued that Trump’s false claim on election night that he did win — and calls for states to stop counting votes — sowed the seeds for the Jan. 6 insurrection. Trump’s actions, Castro argued, riled up his supporters in a way that was uniquely dangerous. “All of us know and all of us understand how dangerous that is for our country. Because the most combustible thing you can do in a democracy is convince people that an election doesn’t count. That their voice and their vote don’t count,” Castro said.

Eric Swalwell (D-CA) pointed to Trump tweets after the election claiming, without evidence, that dead people voted and people voted illegally.  “He didn’t even try to pretend that he had evidence for that,” Swalwell said. “It was about dramatizing the election to anger his supporters.” Swalwell later played a clip of Trump supporters chanting “stop the steal!” outside the Michigan secretary of state’s home in December.

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) said: “Behind closed doors, President Trump applied significant pressure to second-in-command. Multiple reports confirmed that President Trump used his personal attorneys and other officials to pressure the vice president. Trump reportedly told almost anyone who called him to also call the vice president. According to reports, when Mike Pence was in the Oval Office, President  Trump would call people to try to get them to convince the vice president to help him.” Lieu showcased a Washington Post headline and excerpt.

“And President Trump kept repeating the myth — that Pence could stop the certification — to his base to anger them, hoping to intimidate Mike Pence. On the morning of the rally on Jan. 6th, President Trump tweeted, “All Mike had to do is send them back to the States AND WE WIN! Do  it, Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!”

“President Trump went on to attack Mike Pence nearly a dozen times in his speech at the safe America March,” Lieu said. “Privately, in person, before Pence headed to oversee the joint session on January 6th, President Trump again threatened Pence.” He cited a New York Times report of a confrontation between the two. “You can either go down in history as a patriot,” Mr Trump told him, per two people briefed on the conversation, “or you can go down in history as a pussy.” 

“As a veteran, I find it deeply dishonorable that a former president and Commander in Chief equated patriotism with violating the Constitution and overturning the election,” Lieu said.

Lieu highlighted an Axios report about how Trump eventually turned on then-Attorney General Bill Barr after the election. “Bill Barr, the highest law enforcement offical in the land, told President Donald Trump to his face that his theories of election fraud were ‘bullshit’.”

“Donald J. Trump ran out of nonviolent options to maintain power,” Lieu concluded. “I began today by raising the question of how we got here. What you saw was a man so desperate to cling to power that he tried everything he could to keep it, & when he ran our nonviolent measures, he turned to the violent mob that attacked your Senate chamber on January 6.”

Rep. Raskin introduced Delegate Stacey Plaskett (D-VI), noting that she was his law student at American University. She is the first delegate to ever serve on a team of impeachment managers. “She was an A student then and an A-plus student now,” Raskin said.

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Del. Stacey Plaskett commanded attention with a compelling presentation. Photo via Twitter (@247LC)

Delegate Stacey Plaskett represents the United States Virgin Islands’ at-large congressional district. As if anticipating viewer questions, she shared a bit of her personal story before detailing the Democrats’ arguments against former President Trump:

“I’ve learned throughout my life that preparation and truth can carry you far. Can allow you to speak truth to power. I’ve learned that as a young black girl growing up in the projects in Brooklyn, housing community on St. Croix, sent to the most unlikeliest of settings and now as an adult woman representing an island territory speaking to the US Senate,” she said.

“And because of truth, I am confident today speaking before you, because truth and facts are overwhelming, that our president, the President of the United States incited a mob to storm the capitol, to attempt to stop the certification of a presidential election,” she continued.

Plaskett argued in her remarks that the violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6 was “foreseeable” based on past violence displayed by some of former President Trump’s supporters, as well as Trump’s continued resistance to condemning their actions.

“Some of you have said there’s no way the president could have known how violent the mob would be. That is false, because the violence, it was foreseeable,” Plaskett said. She argued that “the violence that occurred on Jan. 6, like the attack itself, did not just appear.” It had been foreshadowed, she asserted — and incited by the former president. “Donald Trump knew the people that he was inciting, he saw the violence that they were capable of, and he had a pattern and practice of praising and encouraging that violence, never ever condemning it.” Plaskett then advanced her argument that Trump not only foresaw the Jan. 6 violence, but “deliberately encouraged it.”

Del. Plaskett introduced evidence that had never been seen before. That included information that the Trump administration was monitoring pro-Trump posts on the Dark Web. It included information about how Trump’s half-hearted condemnation became a slogan. It also included new footage of Officer Goodman saving a senator’s life during the Capitol riots.

One of the far-right groups that Plaskett cited was the Proud Boys, which she noted the FBI since 2018 has classified as an “extremist organization.” That group formed was responsible for some of the most damning evidence of the presentation. In clear, cogent language, Plaskett made her case.

Plaskett showed video from the first debate between Trump and then-Democratic nominee Joe Biden, in which moderator Chris Wallace asked if Trump was “willing to condemn white supremacy and militia groups.” After Trump asked for the name of a specific group to condemn, to which Biden said, “the Proud Boys,” Trump responded, “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.”

“When asked to condemn the Proud Boys and white supremacists, what did our president say? He said, ‘stand back and stand by’. His message was heard loud and clear. The group adopted that phrase, stand back and stand by as their official slogan. They created merchandise with their new slogan, which they wore proudly across their backs at Trump’s rallies,” as the House team displayed pictures of group members at pro-Trump events with the phrase displayed on clothing.

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Proud Boys memorabilia with the president’s phrase.

“So, as election date neared his supporters were frustrated, and they were angry. And they were prepared to ensure his victory by any means necessary. One of these violent acts was on October 30 and sometime after 12:30 p.m., a caravan of more than 50 trucks covered in pro-Trump campaign gear confronted and surrounded cars carrying Biden-Harris campaign workers and a Biden-Harris campaign bus as they were traveling down interstate 35 from san Antonio to Austin. According to witnesses, this caravan repeatedly tried to force the bus you saw and you see in that video to slow down the middle of the highway and then to run it off the road.”

“What that video you just saw does not show is that the bus they tried to run off the road was filled with young campaign staff, volunteers, supporters, surrogates, people,” Plaskett continued. “And as the Trump supporters closed in on the bus, a large black pickup truck adorned with Trump flags suddenly and intentionally swerved and crashed into a car driven by a Biden-Harris volunteer. News of the event went viral on social media. The President of the United States, in a campaign, saw his own supporters trying to run a bus carrying his opponents campaign workers off the highway and to physically intimidate people in this country campaigning and here was his response the next day.”

Perhaps most damningly, Plaskett noted Trump’s tweet promoting the “Save America” rally that he said would be on Jan. 6. “Be there, will be wild!” he tweeted. That tweet altered the plans of the organizers, Plaskett revealed.

And perhaps most chillingly, we learned that Officer Goodman saved Mitt Romney’s life. During the House managers’ presentation, a video was shown of Officer Eugene Goodman running down a hallway. He encounters Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who’s coming from the other direction. Goodman tells Romney to turn around, re-directing him away from the mob. Without Goodman’s help, Sen. Romney would’ve likely run into the rioters he was trying to escape:

“I was very fortunate indeed that Officer Goodman was there to get me in the right direction,” Romney acknowledged to reporters. He said he didn’t know it was Officer Goodman who had helped him escape. But “I look forward to thanking him when I next see him,” Romney said. (Jake Tapper tweeted this scoop that came courtesy of C-SPAN reporter Craig Caplan:

UPDATE (Feb. 11): Romney elaborated on the matter today. “I don’t think my family or my wife understood that I was as close as I might have been to real danger,” Mr. Romney told reporters on Thursday, one day after the video showed Officer Eugene Goodman aiding him. “They were surprised and very, very appreciative of Officer Goodman, in his being there and directing me back to safety.” Goodman also protected other members that day by diverting the mob away from the Senate chamber and up the stairs, towards waiting police.

Today, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi singled out Officer Goodman for his courage when she introduced legislation to award the Capitol Police and other law enforcement personnel, including Goodman, with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor of Congress. Goodman will receive the nation’s highest congressional honor for his bravery on Jan. 6.

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