Democrats’ case to convict former President Trump in next week’s Senate impeachment trial is poised to center on one question: If his conduct on and before the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection doesn’t warrant a lifetime ban from office, then what does?
In a pretrial brief released Tuesday morning, the House Democratic impeachment managers—the nine lawmakers, led by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), tasked with prosecuting the case against Trump—offered the first official sketch of their plans to affirm what they call a “betrayal of historic proportions.”
“If provoking an insurrectionary riot against a Joint Session of Congress after losing an election is not an impeachable offense,” they write, “it is hard to imagine what would be.”
Much of the brief is animated by Republican arguments that the impeachment process is too rushed, that trying a former president might be unconstitutional, or that the country’s leaders should instead focus on the future for the sake of unity.
In one key passage, the Democrats make clear their contempt for all those arguments. “The Nation cannot simply ‘move on’ from presidential incitement of insurrection,” they write. “If the Senate does not try President Trump (and convict him) it risks declaring to all future Presidents that there will be no consequences, no accountability, indeed no Congressional response at all if they violate their Oath to ‘preserve, protect and defend the Constitution’ in their final weeks—and instead provoke lethal violence in a lawless effort to retain power.”
The brief further hints at Democrats’ intent to craft a case that places the events of Jan. 6 and Trump’s role in them in the context of the ex-president’s months-long effort to discredit the 2020 election result and attempt to overturn President Joe Biden’s victory. Doing so, they suggest, would make it much harder to disprove Trump’s culpability.
“It was obvious and entirely foreseeable that the furious crowd assembled before President Trump at the ‘Save America Rally’ on January 6 was primed (and prepared) for violence if he lit a spark,” they write.
Since the Capitol riot that claimed five lives, injured over 100 U.S. Capitol Police officers, and came frighteningly close to a mass-casualty event for the U.S. government, Republicans have largely declined to defend Trump’s conduct on the merits. Many Senate Republicans have condemned his actions and rhetoric, especially when the chamber met hours after the attack, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) appears to be fed up with Trump.
But there seems to be no real movement within the Senate GOP toward conviction, which would require 17 Republicans to join all Democrats. Last week, all but five of them voted in support of a measure from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) declaring the trial unconstitutional.
Trump’s legal team faces a Tuesday deadline to provide their own pretrial brief, but that legal team is in turmoil. A group of South Carolina lawyers, recommended by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), quit over the weekend. On Sunday, Bruce Castor, a former district attorney in Pennsylvania, and David Schoen, an Alabama attorney who represented Trump pal Roger Stone, announced they would be representing the former president at the trial.