It was not a phone call transcript, no dry words on a page open for interpretation. It was a horde of extremists pushing over barricades and beating the police. It was a crowd smashing windows and beating doors. It was a mass of marauders setting up a gallows and shouting, “Take the building!” and “Fight for Trump!”
As the United States Senate opened an unprecedented second impeachment trial against former President Donald J. Trump on Tuesday amid echoes of history, House officials prosecuting him released powerful video footage of last month’s murderous assault on Capitol Hill that made it clear just how different it is. the procedure will be from the first.
Where the case against Mr. Trump a year ago revolved around what might have seemed an abstract or narrow argument about his behind-the-scenes interactions with a faraway country, Ukraine, the case this year is turning in an eruption of violence that Americans saw on television with their own eyes – and what senators as jurors experienced personally when they fled for their lives.
Rather than a judgment of where foreign policy turns to political excess, this back-to-back trial amounts to a visceral assessment of Mr. Trump’s very presidency. The issue in the Senate over the next few days will be many of the fundamental aspects that defined Mr. Trump’s four years in power: his relentless assaults on the truth, his deliberate efforts to foment divisions in society, his upheaval in norms and its weakening of a democratic election.
However, this trial can lead to the same verdict as the previous one. In a test vote on the constitutionality of a president’s prosecution after he leaves office, 44 Republicans stood alongside Mr. Trump on Tuesday, a measure of his lasting hold within his party and a signal that he will most likely win the 34 votes he needs. acquittal in view of the two-thirds supermajority required for the conviction.
But if the six Republicans who voted to continue also vote to condemn him for inciting insurgency, they will be the most numerous senators to break with a president of their own party in any impeachment trial in American history.
“I wouldn’t have thought so when I was sitting in the Senate trying the first impeachment – it turns out that was just the opening act,” said Norman L. Eisen, lawyer for the United States. House Democrats in last year’s trial against Mr. Trump. pressure on Ukraine for political aid. “The second crystallizes all of the anti-democratic elements that characterized Trump’s tenure and his grave crimes in Ukraine, but takes them to an even higher level.
- A trial is underway to decide whether former President Donald J. Trump is guilty of inciting a murderous mob of his supporters when they stormed the Capitol on January 6, violently breaching security measures and sending lawmakers go underground as they convene to certify President Biden. victory.
- The House voted 232 to 197 to approve a single article of impeachment, accusing Mr. Trump of “inciting violence against the United States government” in his quest to overturn the election results. Ten Republicans joined Democrats in voting to remove him.
- To condemn Mr. Trump, the Senate would need a two-thirds majority to agree. That means at least 17 Republican senators would have to vote with Senate Democrats to be sentenced.
- A conviction seems unlikely. Last month, only five Republicans in the Senate sided with the Democrats in pushing back a Republican attempt to dismiss the charges because Mr. Trump is no longer in office. On the eve of the start of the trial, only 28 senators say they are undecided on whether to convict Mr. Trump.
- If the Senate condemns Mr. Trump, convicting him of “inciting violence against the United States government,” then senators could vote on whether to prevent him from performing his future duties. That vote would only require a simple majority, and if it were party lines, Democrats would win with Vice President Kamala Harris voting for the tiebreaker.
- If the Senate does not condemn Mr. Trump, the former president could again be eligible for public office. Public opinion polls show he remains by far the most popular national figure in the Republican Party.
The emotional punch of this case was evident in the Senate Tuesday. Sitting in what amounted to the crime scene, the same room they evacuated just a month ago, moments before Mr. Trump’s supporters stepped in, some of the senators eagerly watched the scenes. of violence unfold on the screens in front of them. Others have turned away.
Senior House Manager Rep. Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland, choked when he said he brought his daughter and son-in-law to Capitol Hill that day, just a day after he buried his 25-year-old son, for the texting goodbye and making whispered farewell phone calls because “they thought they were going to die”.
“Make no mistake, because you think on this day, things could have been a lot worse,” said Rep. David Cicilline, Democrat of Rhode Island, another of the directors. “As one senator said, they could have killed us all.
Mr Trump’s defense team recognized the power of the presentation of the other party, one of his lawyers, Bruce L. Castor Jr., admitting that the leaders had done a good job in presenting their case and even acknowledging that voters rejected Mr. Trump. But they complained that the House team was playing on emotions rather than law or reason, trying to annoy senators with inflammatory images, then tweak their words to unfairly blame the violence on Mr. Trump.
David I. Schoen, another attorney for the former president, said the videotape was “designed by experts to cool and horrify you and our fellow Americans” as if an impeachment trial “was of some sort. of blood sports ”.
“This is once again for pure, crude and misguided partisanship,” added Mr. Schoen. “They don’t need to show you movies to show you the riot happened here. We will state that it happened and you know all about it.
There is, of course, a certain paradox in a lawyer for a reality TV president complaining about the power of visual images. The longtime “The Apprentice” star appreciates how to tell a story on television better than anyone.
There was no compelling video in the case of Ukraine, just recordings of people testifying to events that viewers could not watch on their own. None of the senators who delivered last year’s verdict felt physically threatened by Mr. Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian president seeking help in bashing his Democratic opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr.
“This impeachment is more of a made-for-television event, which the former president surely understands,” said Michael D’Antonio, a Trump biographer. “Where the previous one involved many narrative currents, a long period of time and very little action, this one offers a compact story with growing tensions and a violent conclusion.
It also raises a broader indictment of Mr. Trump, which may not seem so remote to ordinary Americans who had little interest in Ukraine or viewed Mr. Trump’s interventions there as politics as d. habit.
When Democrats first decided to impeach Mr. Trump, they debated whether to advance up to 10 articles of impeachment accusing him of all kinds of crimes, including obstruction. in the Russia Inquiry, allowing silent money for women to cover up sexual affairs, illegally diverting money to her border wall and personally taking advantage of her office.
Instead, they opted for the more narrow-minded case involving Ukraine because they felt it was the easiest to prove.
Even some Republican senators agreed at the end of last year’s trial that Democrats had proven the case – they just didn’t deem it important enough to merit conviction and dismissal. As a result, Mr. Trump came out emboldened by his acquittal.
This time around, other than his staunchest allies, most Republican lawmakers do not defend Mr. Trump’s actions or argue that they were unassailable. Instead, they focused on process or politics, saying it is unconstitutional to try a former president or distract from serious issues like tackling the coronavirus pandemic.
But the case that unfolds next week will highlight the most aberrant elements of Mr. Trump’s presidency. For four years he performed in front of the crowd, sparking anger, provoking us against them and sometimes encouraging violence. He peddled dishonest versions of reality to meet his political needs and told his followers not to believe anyone other than him. He has undermined faith in democratic institutions and pushed the boundaries that other presidents would not have.
This all unfolded in the months leading up to the November 3 election and the Capitol seat on January 6 and will now be examined – how he blatantly promoted bogus claims of fraud to try to cling to power even after voters rejected him, how he lobbied national and local authorities to hijack the election results in his favor, how he tricked supporters into marching on Capitol Hill telling them their country was in Game.
Michael W. McConnell, a former conservative appeals court judge and author of “The President Who Isn’t King,” said articles of impeachment in the Ukraine case were weak. The charge of abuse of power “constituted plausible grounds” for dismissal, but was “not so convincing”, while the obstruction of the congressional article “was not legally valid” on its face.
“This time, although the articles of indictment were poorly drafted, the charges are significantly more serious, unquestionably constituting serious crimes and misdemeanors,” he said. “I suspect this is why Mr. Trump’s supporters are desperately looking for a justification for voting not to condemn that is not based on the defense or excuse of what he has done.”
Mr. Trump is taking advantage of the tribal nature of current politics. While they may not like it, most Republican lawmakers have stood by their side of the fence – criticizing Mr. Trump’s actions was one thing, but joining Democrats in a political verdict on the rise or falling on his presidency is another. Likewise, the polls show broad condemnation of Mr. Trump’s actions, but a little more support for the condemnation this time around than last time.
That’s why Mr Trump’s defense team released their own videos on Tuesday showing Democrats calling for his impeachment almost from the minute he took office, claiming their current campaign is just the last chapter of his life. ‘a retribution campaign, a point intended to rally Republicans behind him again.
And so, as long as the Trump presidency is over, the fight for the Trump presidency is not. For the next week, it will play out in gritty, angry, ugly words and images until its intended ending.