The second impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump has now spanned multiple days, and since you have a life and/or job that you would presumably like to keep, we are here to watch, cover, and fill you in on the proceedings.
Day one centered around a procedural argument pertaining to the constitutionality of trying a former official. Four hours were divided equally between the two sides in order to debate the issue.
The day began with an opening statement by Rep. Jamie Raskin who attacked the defense’s attempt to create a so-called “January exception” to impeachment. Impeachment, Rep. Raskin argued, exists to protect America from dangerous officials, including — and maybe especially — those officials at the end of their terms.
Rep. Raskin also introduced a video exhibit into evidence, chronicling the events of Jan. 6.
Said video can be viewed below.
Rep. Joe Neguse then cited both the views of constitutional scholars and the historical precedent set by the impeachment trials of William Blount and William Belknap, both of whom were tried as former officials.
Engaging in a thorough textual analysis, Rep. Neguse concluded that Trump’s “interpretation doesn’t square with history, originalism, or textualism” and said that Trump’s acts and the attempts to insulate him from punishment were “the framers’ worst nightmare come to life.”
“The framers didn’t mince words,” Rep. Neguse said, while parsing the language of the articles cited by the defense. Article II, he argued, simply introduced a mandatory minimum. And Article I afforded the Senate the power to try “all” impeachments, a word offered without reservation or limitation.
Rep. Neguse went on to reveal that the professor cited in the defense’s reply had come forward to state that he had been misrepresented by them, sharing the professor’s tweets as evidence.
Rep. David Cicilline then discussed Trump’s reaction to the riots and his subsequent tweets, and Rep. Raskin closed with a story about how his family was at the Capitol that day, and how when he told his daughter that it wouldn’t be like this upon her next visit, she told him that she never wished to return to the Capitol again.
Watch Rep. Raskin’s emotional speech below.
Bruce Castor Jr. kicked off the defense’s arguments by denouncing the violence and assuring the jurors that nobody involved in Trump’s defense would make any excuses for the rioters’ actions. Castor then engaged in what can only be described as a legal filibuster, taking every possible exit ramp off the highway to discuss everything from the difference between murder and manslaughter (people’s minds can be overpowered with emotion, he said) to the hearsay exception to the patriotism of our senators. He argued that if we were to cite early British history as precedent, we would also have to have a parliament and a king. And he warned against the dangers of trading liberty for security, imploring us not to form a habit of punishing political speech and arguing that Trump’s words clearly did not amount to incitement if he had not yet been charged with criminal conspiracy.
In the end, Castor said that the House’s presentation was so good that the defense was forced to alter their strategy — an admission sure to delight the president.
David Schoen took the stage for the defense next, effecting a much more adversarial tone. He complained of “elitists” looking down on “deplorables” and suggested that Democrats were abusing their impeachment power for political gain. That this was nothing more than partisan revenge fueled by “base hatred,” offering a video compilation of all the times that Democrats called for impeachment as evidence.
He argued that Democrats were willing to sacrifice the national character of our country to advance an agenda of fear, likening their earlier video exhibit to “some sort of bloodsport.” He then argued that the “rush to judgment” in a “snap impeachment” deprived Donald Trump of the protections of due process and suggested that Nancy Pelosi engaged in an intentional delay to deny Trump the opportunity to be heard while president.
(It must be noted here that Democrats wanted to proceed to trial while Trump was still in office, but Mitch McConnell rejected their calls for an emergency session, preventing Trump from being tried until after the completion of his term.)
At the conclusion of the defense’s argument, Rep. Raskin yielded the impeachment managers’ remaining time back to the floor, and senators proceeded to a vote.
In the end, by a vote of 56-44, senators held that the trial of former President Donald Trump was, in fact, constitutional. Six Republicans joined Democrats in the vote, with one — Sen. Bill Cassidy — changing his vote from an earlier vote on constitutionality initiated by Rand Paul two weeks prior.
“If anyone disagrees with my vote and would like an explanation, I ask them to listen to the arguments presented by the House Managers and former President Trump’s lawyers,” said Sen. Cassidy in a statement. “The House managers had much stronger constitutional arguments. The president’s team did not.”
With the constitutionality question settled, the Senate pressed forward with the trial.
Per the rules of impeachment, House managers have 16 hours to present their opening arguments, followed by 16 hours for the defense. Senators will then have four hours to address questions to either side, which will be followed by a debate on witnesses. If no witnesses are called, House managers and defense attorneys will proceed to closing arguments, which will occur over the course of four hours, divided equally between both sides.
Yesterday featured the first half of the prosecution’s opening arguments, which we will walk you through below.
REP. JAMIE RASKIN
Rep. Jamie Raskin opened the day by addressing Trump’s First Amendment defense, invoking the opinion of 144 legal scholars — conservatives included — who called the defense’s argument “legally frivolous.” (After all, Raskin argued, incitement to insurrection is not protected speech under the First Amendment.)
“Although we differ from one another in our politics, disagree on many questions of constitutional law, and take different approaches to understanding the Constitution’s text, history, and context, we all agree that any First Amendment defense raised by President Trump’s attorneys would be legally frivolous,” the group wrote in a letter. “In other words, we all agree that the First Amendment does not prevent the Senate from convicting President Trump and disqualifying him from holding future office.”
You can read the full letter below.
REP. JOE NEGUSE
Rep. Neguse used his time to address Trump’s influence over his supporters, showing video of rioters invoking Trump’s name and proclaiming that they were carrying out his orders.
“If he had logged onto Twitter and said, ‘Stop the attack,’ if he had done so with even half the force that he said, ‘Stop the Steal,’ how many lives would have been saved?” Rep. Neguse pondered.
REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO
Rep. Castro took us through the months leading up to and immediately following the election, highlighting Trump’s repeated claims of election rigging (before a single vote had even been cast) and his continued refusal to agree to a peaceful transfer of power.
“There won’t be a transfer, frankly. There’ll be a continuation,” Trump is shown saying on video.
REP. ERIC SWALWELL
Rep. Swalwell picked up where Rep. Castro left off, discussing Trump’s actions in the hours before certification and in the weeks and days leading up to the attack.
He focused on Trump’s tweets, the words that he used at his rallies, and the fact that Trump spent $50 million on nationally televised advertisements that were scheduled to run up until Jan. 5 — a clear sign that he viewed Jan. 6 to be the culminating event of his disinformation campaign.
He introduced tweets and retweets where Trump’s supporters likened the March to Save America to a “cavalry.” And others where Trump stated that Democrats would treat such a fraud as an “act of war,” which they would “fight to the death” — something that Mitch McConnell would never do because he had “no fight” — setting the tone for how the word “fight” would later be received by his followers.
Finally, Rep. Swalwell made note of the fact that Donald Trump continued to repeat this messaging, even after it became evident that it was inciting violence nationwide.
REP. MADELEINE DEAN
Rep. Dean discussed how Trump ignored adverse court rulings in 62 separate lawsuits, with judges — some Trump-appointed — calling the allegations “not credible,” “without merit,” “based on nothing but speculation,” and “flat-out wrong.”
She discussed how he pressured and threatened election officials in everywhere from Arizona to Pennsylvania to Georgia. How his disparagement of these officials, when they refused to acquiesce to illegal or improper demands, led to the issuance of death threats by his supporters. How he continued to label these officials “the enemy of the people” even in the face of these threats of violence. And how, even when officials expressly warned of the potential for future violence, in the wake of these warnings, Trump chose to escalate the conflict rather than concede.
REP. TED LIEU
Rep. Lieu then discussed how Donald Trump repeatedly attacked senators and members of Congress, publicly berating them if they refused to parrot his lies and help him overturn the election, labeling Republicans in Congress the “Surrender Caucus.” This line of argument by Rep. Lieu appeared to be a strategic attempt to appeal to the sensibilities of Republican senators, who had been attacked by the former president simply for upholding their oaths.
Rep. Lieu went on to discuss how Donald Trump pressured the Justice Department, leading to the resignation of loyalist Bill Barr. How he attacked Vice President Pence, lying about the authority that he had to overturn the results at certification. How Vice President Pence should be commended for his desire to “put his country, his oath, his values, and his morals above the will of one man” — in what was no doubt a second appeal to his Republican colleagues.
Rep. Lieu labeled Donald Trump “a man so desperate to cling to power that he tried everything he could to keep it, and when he ran out of nonviolent measures, he turned to the violent mob.”
At the conclusion of his speech, Rep. Lieu asked his fellow senators to think of the bravery of those who rebuked Donald Trump when it came time to cast votes of their own.
DEL. STACEY PLASKETT
Del. Plaskett explored Donald Trump’s history with the Proud Boys. How he told them to stand back and stand by, rather than denounce them entirely. How, when his supporters attempted to drive his political opponents off the road in Texas, he lauded them as “patriots.”
How the Trump Administration actively monitored online activity and, therefore, must have known about the plans to storm the Capitol and about the message board activity where people shared floor plans and layouts and posted startling messages about saying their goodbyes to their children in advance of their trip to Washington.
She spoke of the numerous news outlets that covered these calls to violence. Of the Capitol Police violence report that followed. And of the individuals who were arrested in D.C. on weapons charges the night before.
In the end, she argued, Donald Trump was well aware of the potential for violence but willfully failed to thwart it, choosing instead to encourage it further.
REP. MADELEINE DEAN
In Rep. Dean’s second appearance, she first offered an emotional account of the toll of Jan. 6, before turning her attention to Donald Trump’s speech at the rally earlier that day — a speech that built on, referenced, and amplified a pattern of previous behaviors that were effected over a period of weeks.
Donald Trump, she argued, was desperate that morning, tweeting relentlessly, 34 times. He continued to promulgate the falsehood that Mike Pence could unilaterally reverse the results, having already been told that this was a lie. And after Rudy Giuliani called for “trial by combat,” Donald Trump took to the stage to tell the crowd that Rudy had “guts” because he “fights,” further setting the tone for what the word “fight” would come to mean to his supporters.
Yes, Donald Trump used the word “peacefully.” But in a speech that carried 11,000 words, the word “peacefully” — or any word like it — appeared just once. The word “fight,” on the other hand, appeared twenty times more.
Ultimately, Dean argued, Donald Trump assembled a group of people that he was warned were capable of violence, and then he told them that “you’re allowed to go by very different rules” when you catch somebody in a fraud.
DEL. PLASKETT AND REP. SWALWELL
From there, Del. Plaskett and Rep. Swalwell laid out the timeline of the attack, taking us through each stage of the breach with related video footage. They introduced radio communications between law enforcement officers, the fear and urgency in their voices chilling. They submitted charging documents and Facebook posts that revealed the full extent of the sinister plans of rioters — rioters who expressed their intent to assassinate both Pelosi and Pence. And through bystander, security, and body cam footage, they helped us to understand the myriad experiences of the officers on site, sharing their firsthand accounts of the violence and listing out some of their injuries.
Rep. Swalwell ended the day by apologizing to observers for having to share the following video of Officer Hodges being crushed in a door:
In response to the above footage, GOP Sen. James Lankford appeared to become emotional, and GOP Sen. Steve Daines stayed behind to console him during recess.
“It tears at your heart and brings tears to your eyes,” GOP Sen. Mitt Romney said of the video exhibits. “That was overwhelmingly distressing and emotional.”
Said GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski, “I’m angry. I’m disturbed. I’m sad. As you say, we’re reliving this … The evidence that has been presented thus far is pretty damning … After the American public sees the full story laid out here … I don’t see how Donald Trump could be re-elected to the presidency again.”
Other GOP senators, however, were not quite as moved, with Sen. Rick Scott declaring the proceeding a “complete waste of time.”
Opening arguments will resume today at 12 p.m.