Impeachment Briefing: Wrapping with a Warning

This is the Impeachment Briefing, The Times’s newsletter about the impeachment investigation. Sign up here to get it in your inbox.

  • The House Democrats branded the former president a clear and present danger to democracy who could sow new violence if he was not convicted and barred from holding office again.

  • In their second and final day of arguments, House impeachment managers argued that the rioters who stormed the Capitol had taken their cues directly from Mr. Trump — and that Mr. Trump had known exactly what he was doing when he egged on the mob.

  • They also gave a pre-emptive rebuttal to two of the main arguments Mr. Trump’s lawyers are expected to make: that his actions are protected under the First Amendment and that the impeachment proceedings have violated his due process rights.

  • Mr. Trump’s lawyers will step forward tomorrow, and it may be relatively quick. Our White House reporter Maggie Haberman reports that they “don’t anticipate presenting for more than a few hours tomorrow.”

In a meticulously choreographed sequence, the House impeachment managers described Mr. Trump’s words and how the rioters had understood them, how the Capitol riot emboldened right-wing extremists, the trauma inflicted on the people who were in the Capitol that day, and the consequences for the United States’ reputation.

Here are some of their key points:

  • Representative Diana DeGette of Colorado showed video footage of Mr. Trump’s supporters declaring openly that they were acting on his behalf. “We were invited here!” one rioter yelled. “We were invited by the president of the United States!”

  • Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland emphasized Mr. Trump’s long history of encouraging violence among his supporters. He played, for instance, a clip of Mr. Trump telling supporters at a rally during his 2016 campaign to “knock the crap” out of protesters and suggesting he would pay those supporters’ legal fees.

  • In one of the most powerful moments of the day, Representative Ted Lieu of California directly challenged the defense lawyers’ argument that Democrats were motivated by fear that Mr. Trump would run again and win. “I’m afraid he’s going to run again and lose,” he said. “Because he could do this again.”

  • Representative Joaquin Castro of Texas invoked “law and order” and emphasized how the world had reacted to the riot — making the argument for conviction on the basis of principles Mr. Trump and other Republicans often speak about. He said the riot had given China, Iran and Russia an opening to demean American democracy and argued that if the Senate did not convict Mr. Trump, it might “forfeit the power of our example as a north star on freedom, democracy, human rights and, most of all, the rule of law.”

Finally, the managers pre-emptively rebutted the First Amendment and due process arguments Mr. Trump’s lawyers are expected to make.

  • Representative Joe Neguse of Colorado said the First Amendment claims were “a distraction” premised on a straw-man version of events. “They are concerned not with the facts that actually occurred, the facts that we’ve proven, but with an alternative set of facts where President Trump did nothing but deliver a controversial speech at a rally,” he said. “That’s not what we charged in the article of impeachment, and it’s not what happened.”

  • Mr. Raskin, who has taught constitutional law, gave a legal rebuttal, saying the First Amendment did not apply to Mr. Trump’s actions for two main reasons: because it doesn’t protect incitement of violence, and because the oaths of office taken by public officials create a higher standard for them than for ordinary citizens. More broadly, he said, Mr. Trump’s actions “endangered the very constitutional order” that protects rights like freedom of speech.

  • Mr. Lieu rejected the defense’s argument that the House’s quick impeachment vote had violated Mr. Trump’s due process rights, saying that the House functions like a grand jury, deciding whether to charge the president. “He’s receiving all process he’s due right here in this chamber,” he said of the Senate.

Even before the trial resumed on Thursday, Republican senators made it clear how unlikely it was to change their votes. Despite the graphic new videos the House impeachment managers had shown the day before, which left some senators in both parties visibly shaken, there was no indication that anywhere close to the requisite number of Republican senators were prepared to convict Trump. Seventeen Republicans would have to join every Democrat to achieve the two-thirds majority needed for conviction.

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina tweeted: “The ‘Not Guilty’ vote is growing after today. I think most Republicans found the presentation by the House Managers offensive and absurd.”

Here’s what some Times reporters had to say in a live chat on Thursday:

  • “I don’t think that we will see many flipped votes. However, some close to Trump believed after the incredibly weak response from Trump lawyer Bruce Castor on Tuesday that there could be others” like Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, who voted unexpectedly to affirm the constitutionality of the trial. — Maggie Haberman, White House correspondent

  • “It appears Democrats would need a new smoking gun piece of evidence — and Trump is not currently on social media to post anything more incriminating — to pick up more Republican support. [Minority Leader Mitch] McConnell could also whip votes, which he hasn’t done. He’s told people to vote their conscience.” — Luke Broadwater, congressional correspondent

  • “I think it would take a real sea change or some huge development, such as Senator McConnell announcing he is voting to convict, to swing enough votes. This trial has to be seen through a political lens.” — Carl Hulse, chief Washington correspondent

Peter Baker, The Times’s chief White House correspondent, wrote that the trial’s real impact might lie elsewhere: “With conviction in a polarized Senate seemingly out of reach, the House managers, as the prosecutors are known, are aiming their arguments at two other audiences beyond the chamber: the American people whose decision to deny Mr. Trump a second term was put at risk, and the historians who will one day render their own judgments about the former president and his time in power.”

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