Democrats press their incitement case against Trump

 

Democrats press their incitement case against Trump

At Donald Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate, Democratic House managers this week offered vivid evidence to prove their charge that the former president “deliberately encouraged” a violent insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6. Impeachment managers screened a wrenching 13-minute video that showed violent scenes from the uprising—including a bleeding Capitol Police officer screaming as he was crushed in a doorway and rioters taunting and punching overwhelmed police— interspersed with Trump’s admonitions at a rally that day to “fight like hell” and “stop the steal” or “our country will be destroyed.” After Trump told supporters, “You’ll never take back our country with weakness,” the video showed, the crowd began chanting, “Invade the Capitol!”

The assault that followed was “the Framers’ worst nightmare come to life,” said Rep. Joe Neguse of Colorado. Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, who’d buried his 25-year-old son the day before the uprising and was with his daughter during the siege, broke down as he described hearing rioters “pounding on the door like a battering ram” as petrified lawmakers called their loved ones to say goodbye. “Senators, this cannot be our future,” he told a riveted gallery. Trump, Raskin later said, “watched the insurrection on TV like a reality show. He reveled in it,” while ignoring pleas to call in the National Guard.

Trump attorney David Schoen argued that the trial was driven by “pure, raw, misguided partisanship.” He and co-counsel Bruce Castor contended that Trump’s use of the word “fight” was not literal and that it was unconstitutional to convict him now that he’s out of office. Their meandering, convoluted presentation was widely panned—and reportedly had Trump yelling at his TV at Mar-a-Lago. “I ain’t no lawyer, but I know enough to know that was some bad stuff,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.). After the opening arguments, six Republicans joined Democrats in a 56-44 vote affirming the constitutionality of the trial. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly told his members to go with their consciences in the final verdict, and said he was undecided. Still, with 17 Republican votes needed, a conviction remained highly unlikely. “President Trump will be acquitted,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

“We stand at a moment that will shape the future of our democracy,” said the Chicago Sun-Times. After watching the “chilling” Capitol footage—the Confederate flags flying, the chants of “Pence is a traitor,” police being mercilessly beaten—Republican senators must ask themselves how they can honestly vote “not guilty.” They can “send a message to future presidents that assaults on democracy will not be tolerated”—or they can “spinelessly turn their backs on democracy.”

“This is a needless partisan exercise that will further polarize America’s political factions,” said The Wall Street Journal. Trump’s speech was “disgraceful,” but he did tell the marchers to behave “peacefully.” Given the certainty of an acquittal, the trial won’t produce “the deterrent or censuring effect that Democrats claim to want.” Their real goal is to stoke their greatest unifying principle: “hatred for Donald Trump.”

Raskin “did a masterful job” of proving Trump’s guilt, said Jennifer Rubin in The Washington Post. He drove home the horror of the event in “heart-wrenching,” personal terms, using video and Trump’s own words to show that Trump committed an unprecedented “betrayal of office.” Raskin also used history, law, and logic to demolish the notion that outgoing presidents “get a free pass to commit high crimes” in their last weeks in office. For Republicans who won’t hold Trump responsible, “the verdict is already in.”

Meanwhile, “Trump’s lawyers made My Cousin Vinny look like Clarence Darrow,” said Charlie Sykes in TheBulwark.com. After the Democrats’ powerful, passionate offense, the Trump team’s incoherent performance “seemed to underline in the most cartoonish way possible the reality that Donald Trump really has no good defense.” So it is Republican senators who are actually on trial.

The trial was “a dud,” said Michael Goodwin in the New York Post. Trump’s angry Jan. 6 speech “was reckless,” but he never called for violence, and he’s now “a private citizen in Florida” while Joe Biden is president. The only reason Democrats are staging this trial is to keep Trump off the ballot in 2024. “Neutralizing him as a political force and dividing the Republican Party are the ultimate aims.”

Republicans will give Trump an undeserved pass, said David Frum in The Atlantic.com, but that doesn’t make the trial a pointless exercise. While none of history’s four presidential impeachments led to removal, they all “had seismic consequences.” This one emphasizes “the gravity” of Trump’s efforts to overturn the election and will “do severe and possibly lethal damage” to Trump’s hope to position himself for a 2024 comeback and to remain the GOP’s “dominant force.” The trial will leave him and his defenders “exposed and weakened.” That won’t be justice, but “it may be enough.”

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