The Trump impeachment trial, which hasn’t been much of a trial at all, will likely end today. And in some ways, that will be a great relief, even though it’s all but certain that Trump’s Senate Republican enablers will once again fail to hold him responsible for his latest scrap with high crimes and misdemeanors.
The House managers need 17 Republicans to defy Donald Trump in order to convict him. They might get five or six.
But when the trial ends, we can get down to the business of getting people vaccinated, of passing a relief bill to spur the economy, of maybe even sending kids back to school. You know, normal government stuff, which will be fought over, sure, but probably not with an armed mob at the door. Let’s hope we don’t hear from Trump again until at least the first indictment comes down.
But before we go — and before we get into Trump’s badly overmatched legal team, which perfectly mirrored Trump’s disdain for such legal niceties as facts and evidence — allow me a moment of fantasy.
Allow me to think that Democrats would step up, call witnesses and make this a real trial. Allow me to imagine that one of the potential game-saving witnesses would not only save the day, but also truth, justice and the American way.
OK, as I said, this is fantasy-league impeachment stuff. But as Day Four of the impeachment trial ended, CNN broke a story about House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s insurrection-day phone call with Trump, in which he pleaded with the president to call off his supporters and to send in reinforcements.
There had been some testimony about the call, but CNN had new details from House Republicans, a few of them on the record, that when McCarthy told Trump the mob was literally at the door, Trump said it must be antifa. And when McCarthy said it was Trump’s people, Trump replied — and this is what was reported — “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.”
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If true, that would tell us all we need to know about Trump’s state of mind. The call apparently devolved into a shouting match, in which Trump refused to call off his supporters or send help. In fact, as we know, Trump would later send a tweet calling Mike Pence a coward even as the rioters were chanting, “Hang Mike Pence!” and even as gallows had been set up outside the Capitol.
Van der Veen insisted Trump never knew Pence was in danger, even though Sen. Tommy Tuberville said he told Trump in a phone call that Pence had been escorted from the Senate floor. Trump, of course, knew this from watching TV, from urgent calls from Republicans in Congress, from presumably the FBI and Secret Service. As we later saw, Pence was escorted down a flight of stairs with his family and with the guy who carries the nuclear codes as the mob drew ever closer.
Meanwhile, McCarthy reportedly told colleagues that he replied to Trump’s putdown this way: “Who the fuck do you think you’re talking to?”
Trump knew who he was talking to — the same person who would, after the insurrection, join 137 of his House colleagues in voting to reject the Electoral College count. And the same person who, with direct knowledge of Trump’s lack of interest in defending the Capitol, still voted against the article of impeachment.
So, here’s my fantasy. Democrats would call McCarthy to testify. Or Democrats would call Pence to testify. The House managers could do this. Let’s just say they called McCarthy. They’d have to depose him. Both sides would get a break to do discovery. And then McCarthy could be called to testify. There’s time to get this done because the Senate is going on recess next week anyway. They could ….
OK, they could, but they won’t. Everyone agrees that it’s over. And man, if you watched, is it ever over.
We saw Trump’s defense team trample all over the truth in much the same way their client does. The lawyer of the day was Michael van der Veen, whose angry outbursts — channeling Trump on everything from “politically motivated witch hunt” to “unconstitutional act of vengeance” — almost made us forget fellow lawyer Roger Castor, of Day One fame. Castor did, however, manage to confuse Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger with Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
The day began with the defense making its case. They had 16 hours available to them. They took less than three, and it would have gone even more quickly if they hadn’t played the same videos over and over again of Democrats — mostly of color and mostly women, as House manager Stacey Plaskett pointed out — saying the word “fight,” the day’s new F-word. Of course, all the tightly edited “fight” videos lacked any context and did not lead, as I recall, to any insurrections.
After the defense rested, we then moved to the question-and-answer period, which was mostly useless. But there were a couple of important questions asked by a few wavering Republicans about what Trump knew and when he knew it and about what Trump was doing, or not doing, in reaction to the riots.
My favorite moment came when Trump’s lawyers said they didn’t know what actions Trump took during the riots. They blamed the House managers for not providing that information without mentioning that they could potentially, you know, just asked their client.
This is an easy case, and the lawyers made it even easier. If they had had any exculpatory evidence on Trump’s behavior, they would have introduced it. We know the managers’ case, and they offered nothing to refute it.
It started with months of the Big Lie. Then Trump invited his angry supporters to a rally in Washington on Jan. 6, the day that Congress would finalize the Electoral College vote. At a rally, he directed the mob — it was a mob, led by Proud Boys and other fringe groups — to march to the Capitol. And when they breached the Capitol, Trump did nothing to stop them or even discourage them despite pleas from fellow Republicans and top aides.
Is that not enough to convict? Do we really need more?
Apparently we do.
But, sadly, as we prepare for the final vote today, we know we’re never going to get it.
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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