“The story of the President’s actions is both fascinating and horrific,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland and senior prosecutor, in an interview. “We believe every American should be aware of what happened – that the reason he was impeached by the House and the reason he should be sentenced and expelled from his future federal office is to ensure that such an attack on our democracy and our Constitution does not happen again. “
By making Mr. Trump the first US president to be twice impeached, Democrats have essentially given themselves an unprecedented overhaul. When Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California, was preparing to prosecute Mr. Trump for the first time for a lobbying campaign on Ukraine, he read the 605-page account of the coverage of the impeachment trial. President Bill Clinton in 1999, sending as many assistants. 20 dispatches a day as he sought to modernize a procedure that had only taken place twice before.
This time, a new group of nine Democratic leaders only need to return for a year to study the lessons of Mr Schiff’s pursuit: don’t upset Republicans, use lots of videos and, most importantly, make succinct arguments. to avoid lulling the jury of lawmakers into boredom or distraction.
Lawyers for Mr. Trump have indicated that they again intend to mount a largely technical defense, saying the Senate “does not have the jurisdiction” to try a former president after he leaves because the Constitution does not. not say explicitly. While many legal scholars and a Senate majority disagree, Republicans have flocked to the argument en masse to justify dismissing the case without weighing on Mr. Trump’s conduct.
But lawyers Bruce L. Castor Jr. and David Schoen also plan to deny that Mr. Trump instigated violence or intended to interfere with Congressional formalization of Mr. Biden’s victory. , claiming that his baseless claims that the election was “stolen” are protected by the First Amendment. And Mr Castor told Fox News he too would rely on the video, possibly unrest in the cities Americans led by Democrats.
Managers will try to refute them with both constitutional arguments and an overwhelming body of evidence. Mr Raskin’s team spent dozens of hours putting together a wealth of crowd-captured videos, Mr Trump’s own unvarnished words, and the criminal pleas of rioters who said they acted at the behest of Mr. the former president.
Primary source material can replace live testimony. Trying to call new witnesses has been the subject of a long debate from leaders, whose evidentiary record has several loopholes that the White House or military officials could possibly fill. In the last trial, Democrats made an unsuccessful request for witnesses at the center of their case, but this time many party members say they are not needed to prove the charge and would simply cost Mr Biden a precious time to move your agenda forward without changing the outcome.
“It’s not that there shouldn’t be witnesses; these are just the practical realities of our situation with a former president, ”said Daniel S. Goldman, a former House attorney who worked on Mr. Trump’s first indictment. “This is also something we learned from the last trial: he is a political animal, and these witnesses are not going to move the needle.”
Mr. Raskin and other managers declined to discuss the strategy, but current and former officials familiar with the confidential preparations agreed to discuss it anonymously. The almost complete silence of prosecutors as the trial approached was another change from the strategy of Mr. Trump’s first indictment, when Democrats set up a large communications war room on Capitol Hill. and saturated the airwaves of cable television in an all-out battle against Mr. Trump in the court of public opinion.
They have largely left it to trusted allies like Mr Schiff and President Nancy Pelosi to discuss their case publicly and respond to criticism of why the House is insisting even now that Mr Trump is being removed from office. its functions.
“If we didn’t follow through on this, we might as well remove any sanction from the Constitution of impeachment – just remove it,” Pelosi told reporters who wondered why Democrats would spend so much time on the impeachment. Congress with a former president. .
Key questions about the scope and form of the trial remain unresolved. Senators spent the weekend haggling over the precise structure and rules of procedure, the first time in American history that a former president will be tried.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers for Mr. Trump expected to have at least 12 hours each to present their case. Mr Raskin, a former constitutional law professor, has trained his colleagues in daily meetings to aggressively refine their arguments, hang on to the narrative where possible, and integrate them with the visual aids they plan to ” display on Senate televisions and screens. Across the country.
Behind the scenes, Democrats rely on many of the same lawyers and assistants who helped put the 2020 case together, including Susanne Sachsman Grooms of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, and Aaron Hiller, Arya Hariharan, Sarah Istel and Amy Rutkin of the Judicial Committee. . The Chamber also temporarily recalled Barry H. Berke, a seasoned New York defense attorney, to act as lead counsel and Joshua Matz, a constitutional expert.
Mr Schiff said his team attempted to produce an “HBO miniseries” containing snippets of testimony to bring to life the esoteric plot about Mr Trump’s lobbying campaign on Ukraine. Mr. Raskin may sound more like a blockbuster action movie.
“The more you document all of the tragic events leading up to that day, the president’s misconduct that day, and the president’s reaction to people being attacked that day, the harder and harder it is to a senator to hide behind these false constitutionalists. fig leaves, ”said Schiff, who informally advised managers.
To assemble the presentation, Mr. Raskin’s team turned to the same outside company that helped assemble Mr. Schiff’s multimedia display. But Mr. Raskin is working with much richer material to tell a months-long story of how he and his colleagues believe Mr. Trump sowed, rallied and provoked a crowd in an attempt to reverse his defeat.
There are clips and tweets from Mr. Trump from last summer warning that he would only lose if the election was “rigged” against him; clips and tweets of him claiming victory after losing; and clips and tweets from state officials coming to the White House as he sought to “stop the theft.” There is the audio of an appeal in which Mr. Trump pressured the Georgian Secretary of State to “find” the votes necessary to overturn Mr. Biden’s victory there; as well as presidential tweets and accounts from sympathetic lawmakers who say that once those efforts failed, Mr. Trump resolutely turned his attention to the January 6 congressional meeting for one final statement.
In the center are footage of Mr. Trump speaking outside the White House hours before the crowd passed police and stormed the Capitol building. Officials’ preliminary brief suggests they consider juxtaposing footage of Mr. Trump urging his supporters to ‘fight like hell’ and march to Capitol Hill and confront Congress with videos posted by members of the crowd who can be heard processing his words in real life. time.
“Even with this trial, where the senators themselves were witnesses, it is very important to tell the whole story,” said Mr. Schiff. “It’s not just one day; it is the conduct of a president who uses his office to interfere with the peaceful transfer of power.
But proximity could also create complications. Several people familiar with the preparations said leaders were reluctant to say anything that could involve Republican lawmakers who echoed or welcomed the president’s baseless allegations of electoral fraud. To have the slightest chance of presenting an effective case, the leaders believe, they must make it clear that it is Mr. Trump who is on trial, not his party.