Democrats lay out case in Trump impeachment trial
Democrats present the case against Donald Trump in his Senate impeachment trial Wednesday, arguing that he directed an enraged crowd to storm Congress in the dying days of his presidency — even if Republicans look unlikely to convict.
Unlike Trump’s first impeachment trial a year ago, which took three weeks, this one is expected to last just days, with lawmakers on both sides keen to move on.
After a large majority of Republicans voted Tuesday that they consider putting a former president on trial to be unconstitutional, it would take a major surprise for Democrats to obtain the two-thirds majority in the Senate requires for conviction.
But even if Trump looks set for acquittal in the 50-50 Senate, as he was last year, Democrats are presenting a searing case against the populist real estate tycoon, who is holed up in his luxury Florida club.
Impeachment managers, the equivalent of prosecutors in a regular trial, are expected to take no more than two days to lay out their contention that Trump incited an insurrection when he tried to overturn his November election loss to Joe Biden with a sustained campaign of lies about voter fraud.
On Tuesday they gave a preview, playing a 13-minute compilation of video clips showing Trump stirring up a crowd of supporters on January 6 before a mob rampaged through the halls of Congress, seeking to stop certification of Biden’s victory.
“If that’s not an impeachable offense, then there is no such thing,” lead impeachment manager Jamie Raskin said in a speech that riveted watching senators.
Raskin fought tears as he described going to Congress with his family on January 6, having just buried his 25-year-old son the day before, only to have to flee to safety when the angry pro-Trump crowd burst into the Capitol.
“There was a sound I will never forget: the sound of pounding on the door like a battering ram — the most haunting sound I ever heard,” Raskin said, choking up.
Trump lawyers drop ball
Trump is remaining largely and uncharacteristically silent in his Mar-a-Lago retreat. Forced off Twitter and other social media platforms in the wake of his unprecedented attempt to foment a conspiracy theory about his election defeat, Trump has fewer outlets where he can vent.
But it is also believed that advisors are pressing him to keep back, fearing his reappearance would only anger Republican senators.
According to US media reports, Trump was privately furious on Tuesday at his own lawyers’ performance.
One of the attorneys, Bruce Castor, delivered a rambling, often baffling speech of about 40 minutes that even Trump allies said made no sense.
The other lawyer, David Schoen, did not defend Trump’s behavior during the post-election period but angrily denounced Democrats and the impeachment process in the kind of high-energy style the former president famously appreciates.
The impeachment trial threatens to “tear this country apart,” Schoen said.
The Trump team will get the same amount of time as the impeachment managers — up to 16 hours divided over two days — to present their defense later.
Despite leaving office in disgrace — the first president in history to be twice impeached — Trump is still hugely popular among Republican voters, who see him as a champion against Washington elites and a bulwark against rapidly deepening liberal social values.
Because of this, Trump retains considerable power over the party, explaining why so few Republican senators — despite often being openly angry at his behaviour — are willing to convict him.
On Tuesday, just six out of 50 Republican senators voted with the 50 Democrats to confirm that the trial was constitutional and could go ahead.
One of them, Bill Cassidy, said he had previously opposed the trial but changed his mind after hearing the opening presentations.
He called Trump’s lawyers “disorganized, random. They talked about many things, but they didn’t talk about the issue at hand.”
While the end result seems certain, some doubt remains because the wily Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell has reportedly told members to vote with their conscience — not along party lines.