Lawmakers use video to make the case for convicting Trump
Members of the national guard patrol the area outside of the U.S. Capitol during the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump at Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021. | Jose Luis Magana/AP

WASHINGTON—Using horrifying video of the Jan. 6 Trumpite invasion of the U.S. Capitol, with the mayhem inside and extensive excerpts of Donald Trump’s speech that day egging them on, impeachment managers from the U.S. House mustered a strong case that senators should put Trump on trial and convict him of violating the U.S. Constitution and his oath of office.

And they won that point, on a 56-44 vote, on the first day of what may be a week-long drama. Six Republicans joined all 48 Democrats and both independents in voting to try Trump.

Technically, the trial’s opening day was devoted to the issue of whether the Senate had the right to try the former Oval Office occupant at all since he’s not president anymore.

In reality, senators were presented with what Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., the chief impeachment manager, called “cold, hard facts”—with emphasis on those three words—of the Jan. 6 insurrection and why it occurred.

The “why” of impeachment, Raskin said, is “the president committed his offense,” of violating the U.S. Constitution by inciting the invasion and insurrection “while he was in office.” And Trump “was impeached” on Jan. 13, “while he was in office.”

“If that’s not an impeachable offense, I don’t know what is.”

Trump “was impeached not for run-of-the-mill misconduct, but for inviting an insurrection,” repeated Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., after describing past impeachments and trials even after the officeholders had quit.  Not convicting Trump “would invite future presidents to do this,” he said of the incitement. “None of us, regardless of party, want that.”

And neither the Constitution, nor precedents, nor the overwhelming view of experts ban trying Trump for “high crimes and misdemeanors” committed while in office, even after he leaves it, said Raskin, a longtime constitutional law professor.

After hours of facts from Raskin, Neguse, and Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., countered by oratory but no videos or pro-Trump facts from his lawyers, most senators—but not enough to convict Trump–decided the answer to even putting Trump on trial was “yes.”

The videos showed why: Trump’s incitement, not just in his own Jan. 6 speech to the rebellious mob before their invasion, but in his long and bitter campaign to overturn the results of the November election—balloting he lied about by claiming he won and that the mandate for a new term was stolen from him. Black-and-white type does not do justice to the horrifying video scenes.

The Trumpite invaders believed him. The film rang out with their repeated chants for Trump and of saying on camera that they charged into the Capitol at his command. Many chants were laced with obscenities, including curses directed at police vainly trying to stop the mob.

The video shows invaders overpowering and injuring Capitol police, climbing exterior walls to get inside, smashing windows inside and out, and surging through halls and rooms in a mob scene seeking to harm or kill lawmakers and GOP Vice President Mike Pence, who refused to violate the Constitution and throw out state electoral votes.

Interwoven with chants

The videos were interwoven with chants of “Stop the steal!”—referring to Democrat Joe Biden’s November win—“No Trump, no peace!” “We gotta have 20,000 f—ing guns up here!” and worse.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., arrives for work as the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump begins today in the Senate, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021. | J. Scott Applewhite/AP

One Trumpite was shown demanding the insurrection be nationwide, and fatal to anyone, lawmakers included, who opposed them: “Mobilize in your own cities, in your own counties, in your own capital buildings and take down every one of these corrupt m—f—s,” the invader yelled.

The invaders killed one Capitol police officer, slamming him with a fire extinguisher. Two others, distraught over their inability to stop the insurrection, later committed suicide, and 141 U.S. Capitol and D.C. police, combined, were hospitalized. One lost an eye, another suffered a heart attack, a third lost three fingers on one hand. Others suffered a variety of injuries.

Four insurrectionists died, including one whom police shot as she tried to invade the House chamber.

The videos, Trump’s speech, and his incendiary tweets all produced the invasion and insurrection within the Capitol, the House managers said. And Trump violated the Constitution and his own oath of office to uphold it, Raskin, Neguse, and Cicilline stated.

Thus impeachment and conviction of Trump are needed “for preservation of self-government and the rule of law in the United States of America,” Raskin concluded.

Against that factual onslaught, and the impeachment managers’ repeated invocation of the Constitution, plus U.S. and British impeachment precedents, Trump’s attorneys said that because Trump is no longer in the Oval Office, the Constitution’s clauses don’t apply to him.

Lead Trump lawyer Bruce Castor also warned that impeachment now would be a precedent that would lead to repeated future impeachment drives. And Trump’s lawyers dismissed his fiery Jan. 6 incitement of the mob as exercising the First Amendment’s right of free speech.

The real reason the House’s Democratic majority voted to impeach Trump this time, Castor alleged, is that unless banned from running by conviction by the Senate, “they’re scared” of facing him in the 2024 presidential election. Left unsaid: Ten House GOPers defied their party line and voted to impeach Trump, as did every Democrat.

In contrast to the powerful job done by the Democratic impeachment managers, the performance of the Trump lawyers was at times pitiful and even unethical. One of his lawyers quoted parts of the constitution, leaving out critical ends of sentences quoted. One said the constitution allowed only removal from office as a remedy for an impeached president when the clause he was noting clearly adds the second penalty of barring the individual from holding office in the future.

Conviction unlikely

A conviction, however, is unlikely. Seventeen Republican senators would have to defy both Trump and constituent pressure to join all 48 Democrats and both independents to vote to convict him. Trump needs only 34 GOP votes to beat impeachment.

Indeed, Trump’s hold on the party even showed up in a routine preliminary vote. Then, 11 extreme pro-Trump Republicans, led by Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri, even opposed adopting the rules for the trial.  The rules passed, 89-11.

Neither side got into the thorny issue of who paid for the arms, travel, munitions, weapons, and more wielded by the thousands of Trumpites who stormed the Capitol.

Subsequent investigations have shown they planned their insurrection in advance and got funding from right-wing organizations—many of which in turn, received corporate plutocrats’ support. Some 200 of the insurrectionists have been arrested on a variety of charges. But none, Castor claimed, have been charged with conspiring specifically with Trump to overthrow the government.

The point, of course, is that there is plenty for the Judicial and Court systems to deal with here. The job of the Senate, however, is to deal with the immediate issue of the impeachment of Trump for leading an insurrection, a failed coup against the government of the United States.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.