My front row seat at the second Trump impeachment trial

I had not been back to the U.S. Capitol for a year, since the last impeachment trial. I parked my car a few blocks away and walked to a checkpoint. A handful of national guardsman in camouflage, shouldering assault rifles, stood by as I showed my credential to the Capitol Police officers manning the gate, and then passed through the gap in the razor-wire-topped fencing.

I made a point each day of saying hello to the soldiers. I figured they might be missing home. It was a way to signal to each other — a form of trying to reassure ourselves — that we were all in this together or something, or that we’re still all human, that we don’t have to be afraid of one another. We hope. I was grateful they were there, even though it broke my heart that they needed to be.

Once past the razor wire, it was always very quiet. I walked the sidewalks where I’d strolled countless times on sunny days with my kids, or to meet a congressional aide for coffee, past the park where I’d let our dog run free and chase squirrels a few months ago. At lunch time I walked outside into the vast and majestic pavilion on the east front of the Capitol, eating my carryout meal in the chill to reduce the risk of getting COVID inside. I looked around at the space where our children have run free and cruised on their scooters, in the shadow of one of the greatest buildings I’ve ever had the privilege to see with my own eyes, inside and out. Now, it was all a vast emptiness.

The inside of the building was quiet too. The number of reporters were limited. I was fortunate to get a spot. I spent long stretches of the week inside the Senate chamber itself, watching the 100 members of what we once seriously referred to as the ‘greatest deliberative body in the world’ listen to the arguments for and against conviction. Here’s a record of what I saw. Read along if you have the stomach for it.

FEBRUARY 9, 2021

Senate finds impeachment trial is constitutional, but most Republicans still disagree

The U.S. Senate voted Tuesday that former presidents can be convicted in an impeachment trial, even after they leave office, clearing the way for several days of arguments over whether former President Trump should be found guilty of inciting the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.

But notably, most Republicans voted against this motion, just as they did less than two weeks ago. It was another indication that there is little chance that more than a handful of Senate Republicans are open to finding Trump guilty and barring him from holding political office in the future, which requires a two-thirds majority of 67 votes.

Only six Republicans voted to have the trial go forward, which was only one more than the five who voted similarly on Jan. 26. But a number of Republican senators also criticized the performance of Trump’s legal team.

The outcome of Tuesday’s vote was never seriously in doubt, but there was some question about whether more Republicans would vote in favor of the trial’s constitutionality than did last time. A number of conservative legal experts have publicly argued that impeaching a former president is indeed constitutional, and senators have had more time to analyze the legal arguments.

But Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., was the only Republican who switched his vote from January. A total of 44 Republicans voted to support the notion that Congress can do nothing to hold a president responsible for actions taken during office if they resign or leave office.

Lead impeachment manager Jamie Raskin. (U.S. Senate TV/Handout via Reuters)

The Democratic House managers who are prosecuting the case against Trump in the Senate trial focused their energies on this point: that if the Senate decides that a former president cannot be impeached for actions he or she takes while president, then that gives them a blank check to do whatever they want during their final days in office.

“We risk allowing January 6 to become our future,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., the impeachment’s lead manager. He said Trump’s lawyers were arguing for a “January exception” to the Constitution for future presidents. And the final days of a presidency are “when elections get attacked,” he said.

“Presidents can’t inflame insurrection in their final weeks and then walk away,” said Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., one of Raskin’s fellow House managers.

And Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., said that the move to impeach and convict Trump was not a dispute over “forbidden” speech, or an attempt essentially to punish someone for expressing an unpopular political opinion, in this case Trump’s baseless insistence that he somehow won the November election. Rather, he said, it was an effort to censure and block from future power a former president for “inciting armed violence against the government.”

It was noteworthy that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., voted once again to deem the impeachment trial unconstitutional. He had signaled a month ago that he was pleased that Democrats were moving to impeach Trump, and his vote on Tuesday will be read as another step further away from that sentiment, just as the Jan. 26 vote was.

The next few days of arguments will center around whether Trump’s words, in the days and weeks leading up to Jan. 6 and on the day itself, did in fact provoke the mob to sack the Capitol. The attack left at least five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer, while at least 140 other police officers were injured.

Trump’s lawyers argue that the former president’s words were protected under the First Amendment, and that the impeachment is a partisan effort. Bruce Castor, a former prosecutor from Pennsylvania leading Trump’s legal team, said that Democrats “don’t want to face” the former president in the 2024 presidential election.

David Schoen, a civil and criminal attorney who is also part of Trump’s defense team, argued that the impeachment proceedings were “seeking to disenfranchise 74 million voters,” in a reference to the total number of votes Trump received in the 2020 election.

Bruce Castor Jr., a defense lawyer for former President Donald Trump, speaks on the first day of Trump’s second impeachment trial. ( via Getty Images)

The presentations of the two sides stood out for different reasons. Raskin began the manager’s arguments by playing a 13-minute video showing footage from Jan. 6. It began with Trump speaking on the Ellipse that day to supporters and encouraging them to go to the Capitol. It then showed his supporters making their way to the Capitol and storming the building, along with real-time reactions from lawmakers to what was happening.

The mood in the chamber was heavy and somber as lawmakers watched the replay of a day in which they were under assault and in physical danger from an out-of-control mob. Most Senators were slack-jawed and transfixed by the footage, although some Republicans — such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio — looked down and flipped through reading material for much of the video presentation.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., held her right hand on her forehead, her elbow on desk, and seemed to sink lower and lower. A young staffer sitting in the back seemed to be breathing heavily. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., wiped something from her eyes.

“That may be the longest time I’ve sat down and just watched straight footage of what was truly a horrendous day,” Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., told HuffPost’s Igor Bobic, who captured the now famous video of Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman leading rioters away from the Senate chamber on Jan. 6.

The last frame of the video was Trump’s tweet at 6:01 p.m. on Jan. 6, as police were still regaining control of the Capitol complex and some lawmakers were still hiding in their offices. “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away,” Trump wrote. “Remember this day forever!” Twitter suspended Trump’s account after this message.

Raskin told the Senate that Trump “was impeached … for doing that.”

“If that’s not an impeachable offense, then there is no such thing,” he said.

After Neguse offered a precise and efficient argument on some of the finer legal points, and Cicilline spoke, Raskin offered a personal plea to the senators. He related how on Jan. 6 he was still reeling from the loss of his 25-year-old son, Tommy, to suicide a week before. The family had buried Tommy one day prior.

Rep. Joe Neguse. (via Reuters Video)

Kind words from colleagues that day, before the riot, gave Raskin “a sense of being lifted up from the agony.” But after the Capitol was breached, Raskin feared for his 24-year old-daughter Tabitha, and his son-in-law Hank Kronick, who had accompanied him to the Capitol that day. Raskin did not have time to reach them, and so Tabitha and Hank were forced to hide in a House office inside the Capitol, under a table in the dark, while Raskin’s chief of staff, Julie Tagen, stood guard holding a fire iron.

“They thought they were going to die,” Raskin said. He began to shed tears as he recounted his daughter’s words to him after he was finally reunited that evening. “Dad, I don’t want to come back to the Capitol,” she said.

“Senators, this cannot be our future,” Raskin said.

After he finished speaking, there was a short break, and numerous senators came forward to offer Raskin their thanks and condolences, including Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who shook Raskin’s hand and grasped his right arm.

In contrast, Trump’s attorneys were blasted by several Republican senators for the quality of their presentation.

Castor, in particular, came in for scathing criticism from Republican senators for an hour-long speech that went many different directions without accomplishing much. Castor “just rambled on and on and on and didn’t really address the constitutional argument,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said. “That was not one of the finest I’ve seen.”

“I was perplexed by the first attorney, who did not seem to make any arguments at all,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said.

As Castor spoke, several Republican senators had the appearance of someone standing outside on a sunny day, looking into the shadows of a darkened room: their brows were furrowed, their eyes squinting. At one point, Castor meandered into a digression about Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., that made little sense to anyone.

Bruce Castor. (via Reuters Video)

Cassidy, the lone Republican to switch his vote from Jan. 26, said he based his vote in large part on the stark contrast between the arguments by the two sides.

“If anyone disagrees with my vote and would like an explanation I ask them to listen to the arguments presented by the House managers and former President Trump’s lawyers. The House managers had much stronger constitutional arguments. The president’s team did not,” Cassidy said.

And while Schoen came across as a far more able litigant, with more command of the issues and a less confusing speaking style, he too veered from legal arguments and assailed the motives of the House managers in biting and personal terms.

“They don’t want unity,” he said, at times shouting. “They are willing to sacrifice our national character to advance their hatred and their fear.”

Raskin ended the day by noting that the Jan. 13 House vote to impeach Trump was “the most bipartisan impeachment in history” and by telling the Senate that he and the managers did not need more time to make their case.

The trial is expected to be finished no later than early next week.

FEBRUARY 10, 2021

An indictment of Trump, and then a horror show: 3 takeaways from impeachment day 2

WASHINGTON — First came the facts, and then the horror.

House impeachment managers gave a clear presentation linking former President Trump to the violent assault on the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6, and then — through a detailed patchwork of maps, security footage and public video — they relived the traumatic events of that day with all 100 U.S. senators in a tense and emotional afternoon session.

They also deconstructed the argument that Trump’s words were constitutionally protected speech, saying that he violated his oath of office to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, and that impeachment and conviction are the constitutionally mandated consequences for that.

Here are the three takeaways from the second day of Trump’s second impeachment trial.

Impeachment manager Stacey Plaskett, D-V.I. (Reuters)

Democracy, and many members of Congress, had a narrow escape on Jan. 6

For 80 minutes before a dinner break, two House managers showed the Senate a series of videos that took the lawmakers, and those watching on TV, back through a moment-by-moment account of the hours after the Capitol was breached. On Tuesday, the first day of the impeachment trial, the multimedia presentation had taken viewers up to the moment when protesters first began to assault the Capitol.

What unspooled in front of Senators’ eyes sent the Senate chamber into a defensive crouch, as those who were there that day — lawmakers, police officers, staff — experienced the trauma all over again. One plain-clothes officer in the Senate chamber bowed his head. Some Senators stood at times from their desks to get a better look. Others appeared tearful.

Most chilling was the forensic approach taken by Del. Stacey Plaskett, D-Virgin Islands, and Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-CA, who used diagrams and never-before seen security footage to illustrate how close many lawmakers came to being apprehended by a mob that showed every intent of doing bodily harm to any member of Congress they could get their hands on.

Plaskett detailed the routes taken in the Capitol by officers evacuating former then-Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, and compared it to where clutches of rioters were at the same time. She showed video of those in the mob expressing their desire to “hang Mike Pence” and shared comments from charging documents in which insurrectionists said they would have killed Pence or Pelosi if they had been able to locate them.

“Vice President Pence had the courage to stand against the president, tell the American public the truth, and uphold our Constitution. That is patriotism,” Plaskett said. “That patriotism is also what put [the] vice president in so much danger on January 6 by the mob sent by our president.”

At impeachment trial, new footage shows mob attack on Capitol (via Reuters Video)

There was also security footage of Pelosi staffers fleeing the halls of the Capitol to barricade themselves inside a conference room, and then of members of the mob hurling themselves against an outer door to that room.

Swalwell showed security video of lawmakers themselves being escorted from the Senate chamber, and of them running through the hallways. Senate leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., was shown in another clip being hustled by his security detail through a hallway, then running back the way he came moments later.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who has been a frequent target of Trump’s vicious personal attacks, was shown on another video walking alone away from the Senate in the moments after the chamber recessed, while rioters roamed the building. Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman, already a hero for leading part of the mob away from the Senate chamber, was shown running toward Romney on his way to facing down the rioters, and warning Romney not to go the way he was headed.

Romney told reporters he had never seen the footage before. “I was very fortunate indeed,” he said. “It tears at your heart and brings tears to your eyes. That was overwhelmingly distressing and emotional.”

Trump supporters amassed at the Capitol on Jan. 6. (Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images)

It wasn’t just one speech, Democrats argued, and the words were intended to spark violence.

Trump’s lawyers already have argued that Trump can’t be held accountable for a speech in which he did not explicitly call for violence.

But in the hours before they showed the carnage that occured on Jan. 6, managers made a compelling case that Trump’s hour-long speech on that day wasn’t just an isolated moment. They displayed considerable evidence that the former president spent months inciting his supporters to come to Washington that day and commit acts of violence.

Trump was not an “innocent bystander” whose followers acted on their own volition when they stormed the U.S. Capitol that day in a riot that killed five and injured scores, said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., the lead impeachment manager. Rather, said Plaskett, he “cultivated violence” for months and “deliberately encouraged” it.

The crowd on Jan. 6 was primed for violence, thanks to Trump’s own rhetoric over the previous months, and he would have known it, the managers said. And he took this group of supporters and directed it to march toward the Capitol and “fight like hell,” they said.

The House impeachment managers traced the evolution of Trump’s assault on democracy: his baseless public statements starting in the summer of 2020 that the election would be rigged; his false claims that he had actually won on the night of the election; his disregard for the results of over 60 court cases that dismissed his accusations of a rigged election; his attempts to pressure politicians in multiple states to overturn the results; his harassment of elections officials in Georgia and his veiled threats after they refused to throw out their vote totals; his anger at his own Justice Department’s findings that no significant fraud took place; his pressure on members of Congress to contest the results; and his attempt to have then-Vice President Mike Pence overturn the election.

They showed the way that Trump, after President Joe Biden was declared the winner, stoked the anger of his supporters and deceived them into thinking that their patriotic duty was to “stop the steal,” which of course had not in reality happened.

Swalwell said that Trump’s campaign spent $50 million on paid ads to amplify and spread the message of a rigged election with targeted advertisements online and elsewhere.

Impeachment manager Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif. (Reuters)

And Plaskett shared a significant detail. A group called Women for America First had organized a Trump rally on Dec.12 in Washington. And on Dec. 19 — the same day that Trump first told his supporters to come to Washington on Jan. 6 for what he said would be a “wild” day — this same group changed its permit for another rally from Jan. 22 to Jan. 6.

Trump was “directly involved” in planning the Jan. 6 rally, Plaskett said, and noted that the rally was planned so that it would take place just before Congress certified the election results, with Pence presiding over the process.

In addition, the Democratic managers demonstrated that Trump would have known violence was likely for weeks before Jan. 6, and that he kept turning up the temperature in the nation despite growing episodes of violence. As street battles broke out in D.C. on Dec. 12, and Trump supporters tried to run a Biden campaign bus off the highway, and state election officials came under death threats and physical intimidation, Trump applauded the violence, continued to lie about the election results, and told his supporters they had to “fight” to “stop the steal.”

“He assembled the mob. He summoned the mob and he incited the mob,” said Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., another manager. “He knew when he took that podium on that fateful morning that those in attendance had heeded his words and they were waiting for his orders to begin fighting.”

Plaskett hammered on the abundant evidence that the violence was easily foreseeable.

“Donald Trump knew the people 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 said. “This was months of cultivating a base of people who were violent, praising that violence and then leaving that violence, that rage, straight at our door. … He had every reason to know that they were armed … and that they would actually fight.”

Trump told the crowd several times that he wanted them to march to the Capitol. He told them “if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” He lied that he would be walking with them to the Capitol. He used the word “peacefully” once. He used the word “fight” or “fighting” 20 times.

After speaking for roughly an hour, Trump’s last words to the crowd on Jan. 6, at 1:10 p.m. — as some Trump backers were already violently clashing with police at the Capitol — were this: “So let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue. I want to thank you all. God bless you and God bless America. Thank you all for being here, this is incredible.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, told reporters that the evidence against Trump was “pretty damning.”

Yet some Republicans seemed determined to avoid grappling with the reality of what Trump and his movement have wrought.

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., who for long portions of the trial paid no attention and sat at his desk reading through material in a three-ring binder, said that the trial is a “complete waste of time.”

“He never said someone should break in,” he said.

Lead impeachment manager Jamie Raskin. (U.S. Senate TV/Handout via Reuters)

Trump violated his oath of office, and that is why this is not a free speech issue, Raskin argues.

Early in the day, Raskin addressed the notion that Democrats are engaged in a partisan effort to punish someone for political speech.

He used the analogy of shouting “fire” in a crowded theater.

“This case is much worse than someone who shouted fire in a crowded theater,” Raskin said. “It’s more like a case where the town fire chief, who is paid to put out fires, sends a mob, not to yell fire in a crowded theater but to actually set the theater on fire. And who then, when the fire alarms go off and the calls start flooding into the fire department, does nothing but sit back, encourage the mob to continue its rampage and watch the fire spread on TV.”

Raskin went further and pointed out that free speech does give the right to an average citizen to walk down the street and yell about vowing allegiance to a foreign country or overthrowing the government.

But, Raskin said, a president does not have the right to say such things. A president, like other federal officials, is bound by an oath taken when he assumes the office. And if he violates the oath, the constitutional solution is impeachment.

“If you’re president of the United States, you’ve chosen a side with your oath of office, and if you break it, we can impeach, convict, remove, and disqualify you permanently from holding any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States,” Raskin said. “As Justice Scalia once said memorably, you can’t ride with the cops and root for the robbers.”

“Trump was the president of the United States and he had sworn to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. He had an affirmative binding duty, one that set him apart from everyone else in the country, to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, including all the laws against assaulting federal officers, destroying federal property, violently threatening members of Congress and the vice president, interfering with federal elections, and dozens of other federal laws,” Raskin said.

“When he incited the insurrection on January 6, he broke that oath … He has no credible constitutional offense.”

FEBRUARY 11, 2021

Learning from their mistakes, Democrats close their 2nd case against Trump

House impeachment managers rested their case on Thursday, with a plea from lead manager Rep. Jamie Raskin for the Senate to rely on common sense in assessing whether to find former President Trump guilty of inciting an insurrection on Jan. 6.

Trump’s lawyers are expected to begin and end their arguments on Friday, setting the trial up for a finish on Saturday or Sunday after closing arguments and a vote by the Senate. A two-thirds majority, or 67 votes, is required to convict Trump and bar him from holding any future office, and while it appears that some Republicans are likely to vote with Democrats and find Trump guilty, it is believed that their numbers will fall short of the 17 needed to meet that threshold.

But Raskin, D-Md., stressed that one of the meanings of “common sense” was “the sense that we all have in common as a community.”

That reference to community, in the final moments of Raskin’s presentation to close out two days of arguments, said a lot. Everything feels different this impeachment, because Democrats have taken a very different approach than the last one.

The first time Trump was impeached, the Senate trial was a highly partisan affair, and Republicans were visibly angered at different times by the Democratic house managers.

Rep. Jamie Raskin. (Reuters)

This trial is taking place in a vastly different context. An election is not around the corner, but rather just passed. And emotions are still raw — among everyone, Republicans and Democrats — from the violent assault on the Capitol by Trump supporters just over a month ago.

The House impeachment managers have seized on this reality. They have emphasized the bipartisan nature of the threat posed by the Jan. 6 insurrection attempt, and have stressed that the danger has not subsided.

“Senators, you were here. You saw this with your own eyes. You faced that danger,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas.

“They could have killed all of us,” said Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., who was actually quoting Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., from the day after the attack.

“This must be our wake up call … because the threat is not over,” Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., said.

The Democrats have made the trial about a common identity under threat from an outside force, rather than pointing the finger at the many Republican lawmakers in the Senate who at first opposed Trump in 2015 and 2016, but have since capitulated and helped him take over the party. Rather than indicting the Republican senators who promotedTrump’s lies about a stolen election, such as Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, there were many mentions of “we” and “us.”

On several occasions, the impeachment managers praised former Vice President Mike Pence for his courage and patriotism in upholding his constitutional duty to certify the election results, and emphasized the way that Trump directed a mob to target him with threats on his life on Jan. 6.

After the Capitol was cleared of rioters, Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., said, “I remember us finishing our task at four in the morning, and as I walked off the floor, I was so grateful — so grateful — for the opportunity to thank the Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence, for his actions, for standing before us and asking us to follow our oath and our faith and our duty.”

Pence’s example also served as a reminder that anyone who stood in Trump’s way has been targeted with harassment, intimidation and even violence, regardless of prior loyalty.

“The president wasn’t just coming for one or two people or Democrats like me. He was coming for you, for Democratic and Republican senators. He was coming for all of us, just as the mob did at his direction,” Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., said.

Rep. Ted Lieu. (via Reuters Video)

Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., drove this point home by using the example of Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who has said publicly that he voted for Trump and donated money to his campaign. But when Raffensperger refused to bow to Trump’s pressure to corrupt his state’s election results — despite death threats against him and his family — Trump called Raffensburger an “enemy of the people,” a phrase used in history by genocidal dictators.

“Let that sink in,” Dean said. “A Republican public servant doing his job, whose family had just received death threats, and the president of the United States labeled him ‘an enemy of the people.’”

Raskin, on Thursday, used the example of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, who was the target of an alleged kidnapping plot by militia members. He detailed Trump’s verbal assaults on her and Trump’s jokes at a rally in Michigan about the way he could influence his supporters to take action.

Trump has shown no remorse for anything he did and has called his actions on Jan. 6 and the months leading up to it “totally appropriate.” Raskin argued that this was yet more proof that Trump, should he be allowed to run for office again, would continue to incite his supporters against his opponents.

“If we don’t draw the line here, what’s next? What makes you think the nightmare with Donald Trump and his … violent mobs is over? If we let him get away with it, and then it comes to your state capitol, or comes back here again, what are we going to say?” Raskin said. “My dear colleagues, is there any political leader in this room who believes that if he is ever allowed by the Senate to get back into the Oval Office, Donald Trump would stop inciting violence to get his way?”

A frame from the House Manager’s presentation. (via Reuters Video)

“Would you bet the lives of more police officers on that? Would you bet the safety of your family on that? Would you bet the future of your democracy on that?” he asked.

And Lieu warned the Senators that convicting Trump wouldn’t just prevent him from holding office. It would prevent him from even running for office again. Because, of course, Trump wreaked the havoc of the last few months after an election in which he lost.

“I’m afraid he’s going to run again and lose, because he could do this again,” Lieu said.

But the Democratic managers also appealed to a sense of hopeful idealism in the GOP psyche, despite the many signs — such as some Republican senators meeting with Trump’s lawyers on Thursday to advise them on legal strategy — that many Republicans have no intention of judging the case on the merits.

After his tribute to Pence on Wednesday, Neguse related that the next day he called his father and told him that “the proudest moment, by far, of serving in Congress, for me, was going back on to the floor with each of you to finish the work that we had started.”

“I am humbled to be back with you today. And just as on January 6, when we overcame that attack on our Capitol, on our country, I am hopeful that at this trial, we can use our resolve and our resilience to, again, uphold our democracy by faithfully applying the law, vindicating the Constitution, and holding President Trump accountable for his actions,” he said.

This was one of the most vibrant and clear calls to unity during the first three days of the trial so far, but there were echoes of it everywhere in the way the Democrats approached their task.

“This has been the most bipartisan impeachment in American history,” Raskin said, referring to the 10 House Republicans who joined Democrats in voting to impeach Trump last month. “And we hope it will continue to be so in the days ahead.”

Democrats have learned from the first impeachment, in which Senate Republicans took umbrage at the way lead manager Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and his team made their case. Schiff, although respected for his intelligence, had already become a polarizing figure long before the trial began, and Republicans saw him as preening and hyper-partisan.

Republicans resented the sense that they were props in a performance for TV cameras, rather than Schiff’s intended audience, even if many of them had already signaled before the trial began that their minds were made up and they were not persuadable.

Adam Schiff with other impeachment managers during the first impeachment trial of Donald Trump, Jan. 22, 2020. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

A Democratic source familiar with the impeachment team’s preparations said that “the managers and the lawyers working for them were all very aware of the complaints levied against the previous impeachment team’s presentation.”

This time, Raskin and his team have set a different tone. He’s a constitutional lawyer whose faults tend to be delving too deeply into the finer points of the law, more so than sharpening rhetorical jabs on cable TV.

“Raskin is talking to the Senate. Schiff was talking to MSNBC,” one Senate Republican aide told Yahoo News.

Another senior GOP Senate aide told Yahoo News that “Raskin isn’t talking down to senators.”

“And unfortunately he has a far more compelling case. This one tugs at your heartstrings in ways that a phone call with Ukraine can’t,” the aide said, referencing the issue at the heart of the last impeachment.

The current impeachment is dealing with “something senators know and felt. It’s not some abstract thing.”

Raskin’s opening presentation on Tuesday drew praise from Senate Republicans, who were impressed with his precision, grateful that he was efficient and did not prolong his arguments. Many of them were also moved by his restrained retelling of his son’s recent death, and how he feared for the lives of his daughter and son-in-law on Jan. 6, as they hid inside the Capitol from a mob of violent Trump supporters.

“They came in well prepared. I’m at odds with them on where to go with the impeachment trial but I thought the quality of their presentation was impressive,” Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., told Yahoo News about Raskin and his co-managers. “I think it was stylistically very different [from last year].”

“I have to compliment the impeachment managers just in terms of their presentation preparation. I thought it was excellent. I don’t agree with everything. But I think they set the standard pretty high,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told CNN’s Manu Raju.

There were other attempts to persuade the GOP rather than to castigate them. Neguse, in his opening remarks on Tuesday, countered constitutional arguments from Trump’s lawyers by noting that they didn’t “square with history, originalism, textualism” — the hallmark foundational concepts in conservative legal thought.

Rep. Joe Neguse. ( via Getty Images)

Raskin argued that the impeachment was not motivated in any way by partisanship or ideology. “It makes no difference what the ideological content of the mob was,” he said. And he noted that numerous conservatives had been among the 144 legal scholars who signed a letter saying it was constitutional for the Senate to hold a trial for a former president.

The deference exhibited by the Democratic managers to the Senate extended to their use of time. Last year, House managers used almost all of their 24 hours over three days to make their case, and their arguments became redundant. Republicans cited this as an example of the Democrats playing to the TV cameras rather than speaking to the audience in the chamber.

Raskin, as he brought his case to a close on Thursday afternoon, boasted of the “disciplined and focused” work of his managers that allowed them to finish four-and-a-half hours early. After all, he had noted on Tuesday that “nothing could be more bipartisan than the desire to recess.”

Castro, on Thursday afternoon, spoke to the senators about the damage done by Trump to America’s reputation around the world. Hostile foreign governments, Castro said, are mocking and ridiculing America, and dismissing the ability of the U.S. to show global leadership on behalf of democratic freedoms.

“We get to define ourselves by how we respond to the attack of January 6,” Castro said. “The world is watching to see whether we are who we say we are. … This is why we have a Constitution. … The rule of law doesn’t just stand up for itself.”

“There’s a lot of courage in this room, a lot of courage that has been demonstrated in the lives of people in this room,” Castro said. He noted that some senators had put their reputations and safety on the line to stand up for civil rights, and others had “risked their lives in service for our country in uniform, in fighting in the jungles of Vietnam and controlling the mountains of Afghanistan.”

“You have served our country because you are willing to sacrifice to defend our nation as we know it, and as the world knows it,” Castro said. “And although most of you have traded in your uniform for public service, your country needs you one more time.”

FEBRUARY 12, 2021

Trump lawyers dismiss context of Jan. 6 insurrection to claim Trump’s innocence

Lawyers for former President Trump put forward a narrow defense of his actions on Jan. 6, ignoring the broader context that formed the majority of the case against him.

Much of the three hours Trump’s lawyers spent before the Senate on Friday was taken up with lengthy and repetitive videos set to cartoonish music which simply showed Democratic politicians saying the word “fight” over and over.

It was a heavy-handed way of arguing that when Trump used the word “fight” numerous times on Jan. 6, it did not mean anything malicious or nefarious.

Michael van der Veen, lawyer for former President Donald Trump. (via Reuters)

Perhaps more significant, it was also an attempt to ignore the way that Trump lied to his supporters for months about a stolen election and summoned them to Washington at the same time that Congress was scheduled to certify the results of the election.

After the Trump team finished, senators asked questions of the two sides for four hours. The trial is expected to conclude on Saturday after up to four hours of closing arguments evenly divided between the two sides.

The House Democratic managers spent much of their time over two days of arguments illustrating the ways in which Trump fomented and encouraged violence at different times during his presidency rather than tamping it down; how he deceived his supporters that the election had been stolen from them; how he would have known that his supporters had already engaged in violence in the weeks leading up to Jan. 6; how he had been warned by Republicans in Georgia that his rhetoric was going to cause further violence and death; and how he continued to incite his supporters against Mike Pence even after the vice president had been evacuated from the Senate chamber after rioters had invaded the Capitol.

And they showed how the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol repeatedly said they were doing so because Trump had told them to.

Yet Trump’s lawyers insisted he had done nothing wrong. “No thinking person could seriously believe that the president’s Jan. 6 speech on the Ellipse was in any way an incitement to violence or to insurrection,” said Michael van der Veen, a Philadelphia attorney who had not spoken at any point in the trial until Friday.

But this revisionist history has been dismissed by some of those who worked most closely with and for Trump during his presidency.

“[W]hat happened on Capitol Hill … was a direct result of [Trump] poisoning the minds of people with the lies and the fraud,” said John Kelly, Trump’s former White House chief of staff.

“He did incite this mob with the clear intention of having them disrupt the Electoral College certification and delay it to give him more time. I don’t think there’s any question about it,” said John Bolton, Trump’s former national security advisor.

“There are many reasons for this assault on the Capitol, but foremost among them was the president’s exhortations, was the president’s sustained disinformation,” said H.R. McMaster, a retired lieutenant general who served as another one of Trump’s national security advisers.

Senior Republican senators have also pointed the finger directly at Trump.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

“The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people, and they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government, which they did not like,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

“The president bears responsibility for today’s events by promoting the unfounded conspiracy theories that have led to this point,” said Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., on Jan. 6.

“The call to march down to the Capitol — it was inciting,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. “It was pouring fuel on a spark. … So, no, he does bear some responsibility.”

“We witnessed today the damage that can result when men in power and responsibility refuse to acknowledge the truth,” Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., said on Jan. 6. “We saw bloodshed because a demagogue chose to spread falsehoods and sow distrust of his own fellow Americans.”

And there were 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump last month. Among them was Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., who said that “the president of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob and lit the flame of this attack.”

“None of this would have happened without the president. The president could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence. He did not. There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution,” Cheney said.

Despite all this, Trump’s lawyers claimed that the impeachment was being driven only by Democrats, and purely out of irrational animus.

“We would like to discuss the hatred, the vitriol, the political opportunism that has brought us here today,” said Trump lawyer David Schoen.

The Trump lawyers largely ignored the actual merits of the case, choosing instead to play and replay videos of Democrats saying “fight.”

Maxine Waters. (via Reuters)

After one of these videos, van der Veen pointed to the Democrats in the chamber and at the House managers. “Every single one of you, and every one of you,” he said, apparently indicating that his team had shown each Democrat saying the word “fight” at some point. “Please stop the hypocrisy.”

Van der Veen also accused Democrats of condoning violence during nationwide protests in the summer of 2020 after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. And even though Democratic then-candidate Joe Bidenrepeatedly condemned the riots and looting that occurred in cities last year, van der Veen also accused Democrats of stoking violence.

“Many Democrat politicians endorsed and encouraged the riots that destroyed vast swaths of American cities last summer,” van der Veen said. And he claimed Trump had told his supporters “we’re not going to do what they did all summer long.”

Van der Veen made his presence felt in the Senate chamber, attacking Democrats in hostile terms and tones. He mocked one of Raskin’s arguments as “less than what I would expect from a first-year law student.”

He and the other Trump lawyers also played video clips of Democrats in the House objecting to the certification of the 2016 election results, including Raskin. Raskin sought to explain why he did this, although it was one of the more substantial criticisms of the Democrats by Trump’s attorneys.

But it was muddled by the many inaccurate statements that Trump’s attorneys made, along with their inclusion of provably false conspiracy theories. At one point, van der Veen alleged that the people who assaulted the Capitol were actually “extremists of various different stripes and political persuasions” rather than uniformly in support of Trump. He offered no evidence for this claim, or for his insistence that there were members of Antifa present. This has become one of the conspiracy theories popular among Trump supporters to shift blame for the insurrection away from the former president.

As the day went on, Trump’s lawyers avoided legal questions and leaned more heavily on bizarre accusations about what Schoen alleged were “manipulated evidence and selectively edited … video.” The only evidence they provided was two tweets. In one, they made a confusing claim about the time stamp on a tweet, and then admitted that the mistake was not even presented to the Senate during the trial, but was corrected by House managers. In another, they accused House managers of essentially Photoshopping a blue check mark denoting Twitter verification next to the name of a person whose tweet they displayed.

David Schoen, defense attorney for Donald Trump. (Jabin Botsford/Washington Post/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

By the end of the day, this was being referred to as a scandal by Trump’s attorneys. “They got caught doctoring the evidence and this case should be over,” van der Veen said.

They also accused Democrats of misinterpreting Trump’s words, and used that allegation to springboard into a discussion of the media’s treatment of Trump’s comments about the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017, in which he said there were “very fine people on both sides.”

Trump and his supporters have long complained that his comments condemning white supremacists and neo-Nazis at that time are rarely mentioned, and when Schoen blasted the media for this, Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., nodded his head vigorously.

The Charlottesville example is instructive to the way that Trump has tried to retrofit reality in the days after the Jan. 6 insurrection. Trump’s own allies castigated him for his “both sides” comments back in 2017. Sen. Tim Scott, the only Black Republican senator, said Trump had “compromised” his moral authority with his comments.

All of this came down on Trump because he repeatedly tried to defend people who, based on first-hand evidence and reporting, were clearly in Charlottesville to promote racism and extremism. Trump’s own allies were offended and angered by this, and did not put much stock in the fact that Trump had said a few words condemning white supremacists.

At trial, Trump’s lawyers pointed to Trump’s single use of the word “peaceful” in his Jan. 6 speech as evidence that he was not inciting violence. The House managers, meanwhile, provided the context that led so many Republicans to condemn Trump and find him directly responsible.

At one point, van der Veen said, “we agree with the House managers, context does matter.”

But then he played a video again — one already shown — of Democrats saying the word “fight.”

FEBRUARY 13, 2021

Senate acquits Trump for 2nd time, as 7 Republicans join Democrats in guilty vote

The U.S. Senate voted Saturday to acquit former President Trump on a charge of “incitement of insurrection” in connection with the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol by his supporters, concluding the second impeachment trial of his term in office. A majority of senators found Trump guilty, but the vote fell short of the two-thirds margin required to convict.

A total of 57 Senators voted to convict Trump of the impeachment article brought by the U.S. House of Representatives, with seven Republicans joining all 48 Democrats in the chamber and independent Sens. Bernie Sanders and Angus King. It was the most bipartisan impeachment vote of the five in the nation’s history. Trump claimed in a statement that it was another phase of “the greatest witch hunt in the history of our country.”

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., issued a blistering speech on the Senate floor just after the vote in which he lashed out at Trump and said he held him directly and uniquely responsible for the riotous insurrection.

“There is no question — none — that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day. No question about it,” McConnell said. “The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president. And having that belief was a foreseeable consequence of the growing crescendo of false statements, conspiracy theories and reckless hyperbole which the defeated president kept shouting into the largest megaphone on planet Earth.”

McConnell went through the defenses mounted by Trump’s attorneys, dismissing each. He expressed agreement with many of the House manager’s arguments.

McConnell also dismissed the Trump attorneys’ claim that impeachment was an attempt, as David Schoen put it, “to disenfranchise 74 million-plus American voters” who voted for Trump in the 2020 election.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., speaks after the Senate acquitted former President Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021. (Senate Television via AP)

“That’s an absurd deflection,” McConnell said. “Seventy-four million Americans did not invade the Capitol. Hundreds of rioters did. Seventy-four million Americans did not engineer the campaign of disinformation and rage. … One person did. Just one.”

But in the end, after “intense reflection,” McConnell said he ended up concluding the Constitution did not allow the Senate to convict a former president. The irony is that McConnell on Jan. 13 rejected the notion of beginning the Senate trial immediately while Trump was still president. His office said the issue was that “the Senate would not be able to reach a ‘final verdict’ before Donald Trump left office.”

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., one of the seven Republicans who voted to convict, addressed this constitutional question directly in a statement.

“This trial is constitutional because the president abused his power while in office, and the House of Representatives impeached him while he was still in office,” Sasse said. “If Congress cannot forcefully respond to an intimidation attack on Article I instigated by the head of Article II, our constitutional balance will be permanently tilted. A weak and timid Congress will increasingly submit to an emboldened and empowered presidency. That’s unacceptable.”

McConnell was not the only Republican who cast a “not guilty” vote and then issued a statement condemning Trump’s actions and holding him responsible for the insurrection.

“The actions and reactions of President Trump were disgraceful, and history will judge him harshly,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., said: “My vote to acquit should not be viewed as exoneration for [Trump’s] conduct on January 6, 2021, or in the days and weeks leading up to it. What former President Trump did to undermine faith in our election system and disrupt the peaceful transfer of power is inexcusable.”

Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., leaves the chamber as the Senate voted to consider hearing from witnesses in the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, at the Capitol in Washington, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Saturday’s vote marked the second time Trump was both impeached in the House and then acquitted in the Senate, with the first occurring one year and one week ago.

A month ago, however, Congress had moved ahead with the second impeachment on the assumption that there was a real possibility the Senate would convict Trump and bar him from holding future office. The events of Jan. 6 were unspeakably horrific, and many Republicans openly blamed Trump for sparking the insurrection.

At that time, McConnell signaled he wanted an impeachment and that he was open to voting to convict. McConnell was one of just many Republicans who minced no words in holding Trump directly responsible for the violent and deadly attack that left five people dead, including one police officer, and injured scores of others, including around 150 police.

Trump lied for months to his supporters that the election was stolen, disregarding over 60 court cases that found no evidence of cheating, and summoned his supporters on Jan. 6

But within days, political considerations began to push their way back into the minds of many Republican members of Congress. And it dawned on many of them that Trump and right-wing media organizations that support him still controlled the way many Republican voters view reality. Their conclusion: Many of them would lose their jobs if they voted to hold Trump accountable.

Trump lawyer Bruce Castor referred to this reality on Friday. “Nobody in this Chamber is anxious to have a primary challenge. That is one truism I think I can say with some certainty,” Castor said.

And so just a week after the vicious and unprecedented assault on democracy, only 10 House Republicans voted to impeach Trump, rather than the flood that appeared ready to do so in the hours after Jan. 6, when lawmakers of both parties feared for their lives as the mob ransacked the Capitol.

McConnell, who holds significant sway over other Senate Republicans, began to waffle, and on Jan. 26 he voted that it was unconstitutional for the Senate to hold a trial for a former president.

U.S. Senate votes during former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial. (Reuters Video)

Still, other Republicans and the public remained in suspense over what McConnell might do, even if it appeared increasingly unlikely he would vote to convict. And then on Saturday morning, the Kentucky Republican confirmed it: He would vote to acquit, even though he did say it was a “close call.”

For roughly two hours on Saturday morning, it appeared that the trial would extend for more than one day, and possibly for weeks or longer. House managers proposed calling witnesses, and the Senate approved the request by a vote of 55 to 45.

But after it became clear that it would require 60 votes to actually approve the rules for calling witnesses, the managers backed off. Hardline Trump loyalists such as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., had made it clear they would seek to bring the Senate to a grinding halt and not allow It to do any other business other than the trial, turning it into a partisan circus and blocking any progress on a COVID-19 relief bill.

During closing arguments, Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., gave a stirring speech in which he dismissed the defense of Trump’s attorneys as a collection of “distractions and excuses” and pleaded with Republican senators to put the country’s welfare above their own political interests.

“The consequence of not doing so is just too great,” Neguse said.

He also responded to the barrage of accusations from Trump’s attorneys that the impeachment was motivated by irrational animus for Trump.

“This trial was not born from hatred. Far from it. It is born from love of country,” Neguse said. “It is our desire to maintain it, our desire to see America at its best.”

And he warned the senators that if they did not repudiate Trump and hold him accountable, the horrors of Jan. 6 could be repeated.

Rep. Joe Neguse. (via Reuters Video)

“The cold hard truth as to what happened on January 6 can happen again. I fear, like many of you do, that the violence that we saw on that terrible day may be just the beginning,” Neguse said. “We have shown you the ongoing risks and the extremist groups that grow more emboldened every day. Senators, this could not be the beginning. It can’t be the new normal. It has to be the end, and that decision is in your hands.”

The Republican senators who found Trump guilty were Richard Burr of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Sasse of Nebraska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

Burr and Cassidy were the big surprises. Burr, who is retiring in 2022, voted that the trial was unconstitutional but then voted guilty anyway. Cassidy was the surprise Republican vote in favor of constitutionality, but then earlier this week he was photographed with notes suggesting he was leaning toward a not guilty vote.

The guilty vote was the biggest political risk for Cassidy, Murkowski, Sasse and Romney, who all represent conservative states and have not indicated any intent to resign. But Cassidy and Sasse were just reelected last fall, and will not be up for reelection until 2026.

Cassidy’s statement explaining his vote was just two sentences. “Our Constitution and our country is more important than any one person. I voted to convict President Trump because he is guilty,” he said.

Thumbnail Credit: (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: AP, Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images)

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