If the point of the Senate impeachment trial was to hold Donald Trump to account, then the trial, after only two days, is already a success.
Day Two of the trial was the day of reckoning. All was told. All was revealed. All was made plain to see. You had only to watch the astonishing video and audio evidence, much of it never seen or heard before, of the deadly assault on the Capitol and how close the catastrophe, in which five died, came to cataclysm as Trump, apparently delighting in the attack, stood back and stood by, doing nothing.
In the end, Trump did tell the rioters that it was time to go home, but that he loved them and felt their pain. Yes, their pain, even as, we later learned, 140 officers were injured in the assault and, for hours, Trump had refused all calls for help.
And though we shouldn’t fool ourselves into believing that even this airtight presentation could lead to a Trump conviction — it won’t — it may have achieved something nearly as important.
By putting it all on the record, using Trump’s own words and the video evidence, it was all laid out. We saw and heard evidence from security cameras, from police radio, from cops’ body cams, from social media, from every conceivable angle. What we saw, what we heard, what many of us already knew, could no longer be denied, unless, of course, you’re still a paid-up member of the Trump base or a Republican politician like, say, the Michigan Senate majority leader, who even now was caught on a live mic saying the Capitol assault was a hoax.
Here’s what the managers showed us: The many months Trump had pumped the Big Lie that the election was rigged, his encouragement of his violent followers, his incite-to-violence speech on the day of the insurrection, his targeting of his loyal vice-president, Mike Pence, even as rioters at the Capitol were chanting for Pence’s head, his unwillingness to send reinforcements to the aid of desperately overwhelmed police, the rioters smashing through doors, a cop being speared by a flagpole, Trump’s refusal to ever tell his followers, whom he sent to the Capitol to stop the final counting of the Electoral College vote, to stop the violence.
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Stopping the so-called steal, it turned out, was fine with Trump, no matter what measure it might require and no matter who got hurt. And so we heard panicked police calling for help on previously unreleased audio.
“Multiple Capitol injuries! Multiple Capitol injuries!”
“10-33, I repeat, 10-33! We have been flanked and we’ve lost the line.”
They had lost the line and rioters took the Capitol. And it was all there for the senators and the nation and much of the world to see.
And so we watched as Mike Pence and his family were rushed to safety even as rioters were gathered nearby. We heard from Nancy Pelosi’s staff, as they hid in a barricaded inner office while rioters rifled Pelosi’s desk. We saw Mitt Romney saved by the same hero cop, Eugene Goodman, who later led the rioters away from the Senate doors. Romney was heading directly toward the mob until Goodman turned him around.
And there was the video — which House manager Eric Swalwell, who comes from a family of cops, apologized for showing — of Daniel Hodges of the Washington Metropolitan Police being crushed by the mob, yelling in agony as he was pinned against a door, his gas mask pulled away, his pain so painful to see.
Yes, all was revealed, and as it was, we saw Trump discredited for all time. This trial is for us, but also for the historians, whose work is being done for them by the House managers.
And it wasn’t only Trump discredited. While the House team took great care not to offend the senators whom they hoped would vote to convict, we couldn’t help but see his enablers also discredited, from Ted Cruz to Ron Johnson to Josh Hawley all the way down to Ken Buck, Doug Lamborn and Lauren Boebert. Not that we should forget Cory Gardner. As the Washington Post’s Philip Bump noted, nearly half the GOP senators who are charged with determining Trump’s fate had at some point defended Trump’s Big Lie.
And yet, this was the day that House manager Joaquin Castro, who helped outline Trump’s inaction in light of the Capitol assault, told the senators what they could see with their own eyes and hear with their own ears — that “On January 6th, President Trump left everyone in this Capitol for dead.”
And even though some Republicans said there was nothing to see here — Ted Cruz, citing the Bard, said the trial was full of sound and fury, signifying nothing — more said they were shaken by what they had seen. That doesn’t mean, of course, their votes will change. In politics, selling your soul — or at least putting it up for rent — is too often the price of admission.
Did you watch? If you haven’t, you must have seen the clips. You certainly saw enough to understand what happened.
You could quote any number of the managers on Trump’s dereliction. I’ll go with the local angle and cite Joe Neguse, who said, “You will see his relentless attack on Vice President Pence, who was, at that very moment, hiding with his family as armed extremists were chanting, ‘Hang Mike Pence!’ calling him a traitor.”
He added: “If as soon as this had started, President Trump had simply gone on to TV, just logged on to Twitter and said, ‘Stop the attack,’ if he had done so with even half as much force as he said, ‘Stop the steal,’ how many lives would we have saved? Sadly, he didn’t do that.”
This was the managers’ case. Even if you don’t buy that Trump’s rally speech was incitement — and I don’t see how you could avoid it — you’d still have to agree with what happened next. Which, in Trump’s case, was nothing.
As he watched it all unfold on TV, Trump was bombarded, we’re told, with messages from people inside the Capitol, including his close supporters, calling for help. As he watched on TV, he never once called Pence to ask if he was OK. As he watched it on TV, he never once condemned the violent mob.
In fact, the managers noted that once Trump left the rally, during which he had falsely promised to march to the Capitol with his followers, Trump sent only four tweets and one pre-recorded video before going to sleep that night. On most days, before his account was suspended, Trump would send as many every 15 minutes.
To make clear Trump’s lack of action, we were presented with a split screen, showing what Trump had tweeted and what was happening at the Capitol at the same time. In the most damning one, Trump tweeted that Pence lacked the courage to overturn the election only minutes before Pence and his family were escorted to an undisclosed location. We also saw one rioter reading a Trump tweet with a bullhorn. We saw others then move with even greater fury.
It’s all there, signifying everything. Mike Pence could have been killed for doing his duty. Nancy Pelosi could have been killed for being Nancy Pelosi. However bad it was, it could have been far worse. And Trump, as far as we know, has never uttered a single word of remorse. Maybe Trump’s lawyers, who stumbled so badly in their first turn, will provide one for us when they get their next turn. If not, after Day Two of the trial, I don’t know what else Trump’s defenders could possibly say.
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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