If you’re wondering why the Senate must hold an impeachment trial of Donald Trump even after he’s no longer president, even if it’s unlikely that the required 17 or so Republicans will ever vote to convict, even if the trial would impede Joe Biden’s first days in office, you don’t have to look far for an answer.
You can look to the 20,000 troops that are set to be on hand Wednesday for Biden’’s inauguration, making for a wartime setting in a country that prides itself on the peaceful transfer of power.
You can look to the FBI warnings to each state that violent protesters may converge on their capitals on Inauguration Day. Yes, this in the world’s oldest democracy.
Or you can look at the court filing late Thursday in which federal prosecutors said there was “strong evidence … that the intent of the Capitol rioters was to capture and assassinate elected officials in the United States government.”
Or you can read how dangerously close the insurrectionists came to Mike Pence, who, in a matter of hours, had gone from Trump loyalist to, in the eyes of too many, a traitor to the cause. Many insurrectionists, as we’ve heard, were chanting, “Hang Mike Pence.”
As we learned from the filing against Jacob Anthony Chaisely, known in right wing circles as “QAnon Shaman,” known to us as the guy in the headdress made of coyote skin and buffalo horns, he allegedly left a note on Pence’s desk in the Senate chamber, saying, “It’s only a matter of time, justice is coming.”
Capture. Assassinate. Hang.
Or go to this chilling report in the Washington Post from D.C. police officers of the siege: “We weren’t battling 50 or 60 rioters in this tunnel,” one cop, Michael Fanone, said. “We were battling 15,000 people. It looked like a medieval battle scene.”
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Fanone was one of those we’ve seen in the videos showing rioters slamming cops with metal pipes and even a pole carrying the American flag. “We got one! We got one!” Fanone said he heard rioters shout. “Kill him with his own gun!”
I know that there is a semi-compelling argument to be made — one I’m guessing Joe Biden would endorse if he thought he could pull it off politically — that we don’t have time to deal with Trump, who is leaving office in much the way Nixon did, except that Nixon resigned. Trump will, of course, never resign. In fact, he apparently goes off on any of his few remaining retainers if they even mention Nixon and resignation and failure and rejection. Some future president, in his or her political death throes, will probably say the same of Trump.
Meanwhile. Biden has work to do. The nation has work to do. If you watched Biden’s speech Thursday night, you saw a strange thing — a president dealing directly with the COVID crisis. Deaths are now coming at the highest rate since the virus first hit America a year ago. We’ll soon reach 400,000 deaths — a number that is still unimaginable and a number that a soon-to-be-former president and his team never mention. And as a parting gift to the nation, it seems that the promised reserves of vaccine don’t actually exist, meaning Americans get stiffed again. Or as Jared Polis put it when replying to a tweet by 9News’ Chris Vanderveen, “I’m shocked we were lied to.”
As Biden proposed a $1.9 trillion package to fight the virus and to reopen schools and to seed small businesses and to protect the unemployed and to goose the economy, he also promised, again, to get the vaccines, which were made in record time, into people’s arms. And he needs to get the Senate to act on his Cabinet appointees, his so-called “rescue” package and about a million other things, like the prediction by the CDC that the new, highly contagious COVID variant could be the primary strain of the virus in America by March.
But the fact of the insurrection, the fact — in my view — that Trump incited the mob, the possibility that the riot was planned, the possibility that some in Congress may have been complicit, this all needs to be laid out and as quickly as possible.
Although it would have been far better to have had the trial while Trump was still in office, particularly given that the post-presidency trial gives Republicans an easy out for a no-conviction vote, there is one positive here. Democrats will have control of the Senate, meaning there would likely be a full trial, with subpoenas and witnesses, making it nothing like the first Trump Senate impeachment trial.
This matters. Every hour of every day, it seems, we learn more about the assault and just how dangerous it was, how a Capitol police officer was killed by some in the mob, how one officer risked his life to possibly save the very lives of senators who will soon be Trump’s jury once again.
Meanwhile, it is being widely reported that Trump rages, all but alone, in the White House. His poll numbers have cratered. The latest poll, from Pew Research, has his approval rating at 29%, with Republicans and Republican leaders coming in at 60%. He’s angry that he has lost his Twitter account. He’s angry that 10 Republicans abandoned him on impeachment. He’s angry at those corporations that are making their public 11th-hour distancing from Trump. He’s angry that Fox News is not, in his view, being sufficiently supportive. He’s especially angry with Mike Pence. He’s even angry with Rudy Giuliani and apparently is going to stiff him, as only Trump would, on fees from Rudy’s fantasy-world court filing.
We should want to rid ourselves of Trump. But that’s up to the Republican Party, which still fears him and his still-significant base. If they were bold, they would, as Mitch McConnell’s team leaked to the New York Times, use impeachment to “purge” themselves of Trump. We’ll see what McConnell actually does.
But what is up to the Senate is to conduct this impeachment trial, for the world to see, once and forevermore, the damage that Trump’s presidency has done to America and to American democracy.
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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