The surest bet so far in the Trump impeachment trial was that Day Three would be anticlimactic. I mean, how could it not be?
The House managers were forced to follow their own chilling presentation of the day before, one that seemed to settle the matter of how a mob was incited by Donald Trump to assault the seat of American democracy. The video, the audio, the Big Lie, the words of those endangered, the words and actions of the mob, the chaos and fear, the cops’ unanswered pleas for help — it was all there as senators watched in stunned silence.
And yet, there was still more to say if for no other reason than the House managers understand that though they may have won the day Wednesday, they still haven’t won the trial. In fact, as they well know, the odds against a conviction remain long.
For Trump to be convicted, 17 Republican senators need to defect. I saw one betting site put the over-under on Republican support for conviction at 4.5. And if you can get past the image of the half-senator, I think that sounds about right, although I might be tempted to take the over. But then again, here’s what Lindsey Graham, a Trump toady to the end, said on Fox News after Wednesday’s presentation: “I think most Republicans found the presentation by the House managers offensive and absurd.”
The highlight Thursday would come at the end — well before any need for a dinner break — when Jamie Raskin and Joe Neguse closed the managers’ case by reminding us, in bold letters, of why we were watching and why Trump must be convicted. As Neguse said in his closing remarks, “We humbly, humbly ask you to convict President Trump for the crime for which he is overwhelmingly guilty of. Because if you don’t, if we pretend this didn’t happen, or worse, if we let it go unanswered, who’s to say it won’t happen again?” That was one of the main themes of the day, that an unpunished Trump — who, if convicted, could face disqualification from ever holding office — could return to power or that someone like Trump could be elected and act with similar impunity. The stakes, they argued, are higher than simply Trump’s need for a second get-out-of-impeachment-jail card. In probably the most-cited quote of the day, manager Ted Lieu said he wasn’t afraid that Trump could become president. “I’m afraid,” Lieu said, “he’s going to run again and lose, because he can do this again.”
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And, yes, there was more to say. There was Trump’s apparent lack of remorse about his actions on Jan. 6. He called his speech “completely appropriate.” The managers noted how it took three days for Trump to order the U.S. flag to be flown at half-staff in honor of Brian D. Sicknick, the Capitol Police officer killed in the riot. They noted, too, that though Trump would finally condemn the violence in a tweet — one day after the assault, one day after saying that he loved the rioters — he never addressed a shaken nation and never pointed a finger at those who rioted on his behalf.
Rep. Diana DeGette, the last manager to take a turn, began the presentation Thursday using the mob’s own words against them. Her role was to show that the rioters came to the Capitol at Trump’s request. “They truly believed that the whole intrusion was at the president’s orders — and we know that because they said so,” Degette said. She showed a series of videos of rioters saying as much, including one in which a rioter demanded cops step aside with these shouted words: “We were invited here! We were invited by the president of the United States!”
The managers also showed why Trump should have been prepared for violence, pointing to the April 30 armed crowd gathered at the Michigan Capitol as a dress rehearsal for the assault on the nation’s Capitol. We were reminded of Trump’s infamous “Liberate Michigan” tweet and, of course, of the alleged failed plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. As Raskin would put it, “January 6 was a culmination of Trump tactics, not an aberration from them.”
Meanwhile, the Trump defense begins today, and I wouldn’t spend too much time wondering what they’ll do. The managers did offer prebuttals to the idea, expressed in the defense’s brief, that Trump was somehow denied due process and that his First Amendment rights had been violated. Here’s my guess: The defense will be, as they say, quick and dirty. In other words, don’t expect to see Bruce Castor again.
In the end Thursday, Neguse and then Raskin wrapped up the managers’ case. Neguse has taken on the role of making difficult arguments easy to understand and, more important, easy to digest. And for that, he has attracted a great deal of national attention.
In his closing, Neguse said the case rested on three questions — was the violence on Jan. 6 “foreseeable,” did Trump incite the violence and did he act willfully. The first two questions are pretty clear. If you aren’t convinced of the answer by now, you never will be.
It’s the last question, maybe the most critical one, that presents the greatest challenge. Trump won’t testify, of course. And Democrats, who have decided they want the trial to end as quickly as possible, apparently will not call witnesses, including those who might be able testify as to Trump’s state of mind. Who among us wouldn’t want to hear from, say, Mike Pence or Jared Kushner? I doubt witnesses would change the verdict, but I know I’d like to see them. Without them, the record won’t be complete.
Neguse’s answer was to point to Trump’s inaction that day, his unwillingness to call off the rioters, his refusal to listen to the many Republicans who called and asked him to do what he could to stop the riot.
“He reacted exactly the way someone would react if they were delighted and exactly unlike how a person would react if they were angry how their followers were acting,” Neguse said. “Again, ask yourself how many lives would have been saved? How much pain and trauma would have been avoided if he had reacted in a way the president of the United States is supposed to act?”
It was left to Raskin, the lead manager, to provide the closing. He turned to Thomas Paine, the author often credited with moving American colonists to revolution, and to Paine pamphlet “The Crisis.” Raskin quoted Paine’s stirring words with a few updates for modern sensibilities: “These are the times that try men’s and women’s souls. The summer soldier and sunshine patriot will shrink at this moment from the service of their cause and their country, but everyone who stands with us now will win the love and favor and affection of every man and every woman for all time. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered, but we have this saving consolation: the more difficult the struggle, the more glorious in the end will be our victory.”
This, of course, was a direct challenge to Republican senators in the room and a hope that some might choose not to be summer soldiers in this modern moment of crisis. Against all odds, Paine moved those who would become a nation. That was probably easier, though, than Raskin’s bid to move 17 Republican souls.
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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