The opening arguments in the Senate impeachment trial for Donald J. Trump. It is the first such trial for a former president and was full of moments intended to inflame emotions. The first decision was a clash over the constitutionality of holding a Senate trial for a private citizen.
The U.S. House of Representatives
impeached him on January 13 with the charge of “incitement to insurrection.”
Democrats claim that Trump’s speech at a rally near the White House on January
6 incited the rioters to break into the Capitol before he has even finished
Today the Senators voted 56-44 to proceed
with the trial, discounting the unconstitutionality of the trial. Two weeks ago,
five Republican Senators voted against a measure introduced by Senator Rand
Paul (R-KY) that was similar to the vote today. Those five voters – Susan Collins
(Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Mitt Romney (Utah), Ben Sasse (Nebraska) and
Pat Toomey (Pennsylvania) – were joined today by Bill Cassidy (Louisiana).
Fred Lucas at The Heritage Foundation took six ideas away from today’s proceedings. The first idea of a “January exception.” House managers, led by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), played a “lengthy video” of the events that happened on January 6. There were “dramatic footage of rioters breaching and roaming the Capitol” interspersed with parts of Trump’s speech and scenes from the joint session of Congress.
There were no time stamps in the video for
any of the three events. If there had been time stamps, they would have shown
that Trump was still speaking near the White House when the riot began more
than a mile away at the Capitol. The inflaming video also did not include the
words of Trump telling his supporters that they would soon be walking to the
Capitol “peacefully and patriotically to make their voices heard.”
Raskin claimed that the U.S. House
of Representatives impeached Trump for inciting the violence with his words. “If
that’s not an impeachable offense, then there is no such thing.” He insisted
that Trump must be impeached for his violent rhetoric to stop any future
President’s from doing something terrible just before they leave office.
Trump lawyer Bruce Castor reminded
the Senators that the Constitution clears states that “a former officeholder
can be criminally liable.” He then referred to the reasons for impeaching a
President: “A high crime is a felony, and a misdemeanor is a misdemeanor.” Then
he added the following:
The words haven’t changed that much over
time. After he’s out of office, you go and arrest him. So, there is no
opportunity where the president of the United States can run rampant in January
at the end of his term and just go away scot-free.
The Department of Justice does know what
to do with such people. So far, I haven’t seen any activity in that direction.
Not only that, the people who stormed this building, breached it, were not accused
of conspiring with the president.
The second idea listed by Lucas “Radical
Constitutional Theory.” David Schoen, a second attorney for Trump, indicated that
such a trial of Trump would open the door for future former officeholders to be
impeached and then tried by the Senate. This trial will certainly set a
precedent for future trials. He also indicated that such a trial “would be a de
facto ‘bill of attainder’ which is forbidden by the Constitution.” According to
Schoen, a bill of attainder allows legislatures to enact judgment in place of
courts. He added the following statement.
An impeachment trial of a private citizen
Trump, held before the Senate, would be nothing more nor less than the trial of
a private citizen by a legislative body.
Let’s be perfectly clear: If you vote to
proceed with this impeachment trial, future senators will recognize that you
bought into a radical, constitutional theory that departs clearly from the
language of the Constitution itself.
Schoen continued by telling the
Senators that the article of impeachment “should be treated as a nullity and dismissed
based on the total lack of due process in the House.” He reminded the Senators
that there was a “complete lack of due process that brought this article of
impeachment before this body.”
Lucas’ third idea had to do with two
officials who were impeached by the House after they left office. One was War
Secretary William Belknap who resigned in 1876 to avoid impeachment in a
corruption scandal. The House impeached, and the Senate tried him.
Interestingly, Belknap used the same argument that Trump is using – that the
Senate lacked jurisdiction. Senators voted 37-29 to hold the trial but later
acquitted him. Most of the Senators voting to acquit – 22 of the 25 – did so
because of lack of jurisdiction.
The second official was Sen. William
Blount, who in 1797 was the first impeachment in the nation. He was impeached
for conspiring with Great Britain, but the Senate chose not to try him because
he was already gone.
The fourth idea took from the
proceedings by Lucas is that the impeachment and trial are being held to
disqualify Trump from any future political office. According to Castor, “We are
really here because the majority in the House of Representatives does not want
to face Donald Trump as a political rival in the future.” Castor argued that
the American voters should have the opportunity to make that decision. He said
that a “group of partisan politicians [are] seeking to eliminate Donald Trump
from the American political scene and seeking to disenfranchise 74 million-plus
For his fifth takeaway, Lucas used the
First Amendment argument. House managers said that Trump was not impeached for
voicing unpopular opinions but “for inciting armed violence against the
government of the United States.”
Lucas’ sixth takeaway is that the
Senate trial will “tear this country apart.” House managers insist that the trial
of Trump is necessary to bring healing to the nation. “We cannot have unity
without accountability.” Schoen countered that a trial would make the nation
even more polarized.
They say you need this trial before the
nation can heal…. That the nation cannot heal without it. I say, our nation
cannot possibly heal with it. With this trial, you will open up new and bigger
wounds across the nation.
After referring to the video used by
the House impeachment managers to open the trial, Schoen continued:
This trial will tear this country apart,
perhaps like we’ve only ever seen once before in our history. And to help the
nation heal, we now learn that the House managers in their wisdom have hired a
movie company and a large law firm to create, manufacture, and splice for you a
package designed by experts to chill and horrify you and our fellow Americans.
Schoen reminded the Senators that they
should be careful of setting a precedent because “The political pendulum will
shift one day, and partisan impeachments will become commonplace.” He added that
the attack on the Capitol was “repugnant” and that “Anyone truly interested in
real accountability [for the violence at the Capitol] would of course insist on
waiting for a full investigation.” Trump, his team of lawyers, and most conservatives
denounce the violence at the Capitol and hope that the rioters are arrested and
brought to justice for their acts.