Democrats closed their case against former President Trump Thursday by pleading with their Republican colleagues to convict him or risk more political violence in the future.
Lead impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) argued that “any president could provoke insurrectionary violence again” if Trump were to be acquitted. His colleague Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) asked, “who’s to say it won’t happen again?” if firm action is not taken now.
Raskin argued that Trump’s pattern of incitement, which Democrats say led a mob to attack the Capitol on Jan. 6, would resume if he were to become president again.
“My dear colleagues, is there any political leader in this room who believes that if he is ever allowed by the Senate to get back into the Oval Office, Donald Trump would stop inciting violence to get his way?” Raskin asked. “Would you bet the lives of more police officers on that? Would you bet the safety of your family on that? Would you bet the future of your democracy on that?”
The Democratic argument is, in essence, that the Senate needs to redraw the norms of American political life that Trump so repeatedly transgressed. here is, however, little chance of Trump becoming the first president in history to be convicted, given that the overwhelming majority of GOP senators are expected to vote to acquit.
Thursday’s arguments, which were more legalistic and theoretical, lacked the emotive power of the previous two days, when Democrats played harrowing video from the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Even some Democratic commentators worried that the prosecution was losing steam as time when on.
Former Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) on Thursday afternoon tweeted her view that “some of the House managers’ case is getting too repetitive.” David Axelrod, a key aide to former President Obama, mused whether “the managers would have been smart to quit and simply sum up with the lack of remorse argument after their incredibly tight powerful case yesterday?”
There were some signs within the chamber itself that senators were less compelled by Thursday’s proceedings.
At one point at least 18 GOP senators were missing from their seats. Some of their Democratic colleagues, including Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y), stood for periods rather than remain seated throughout.
Trump’s lawyers will now have the floor, and it is expected their defense will be concluded within a single day. If that happens — and assuming witnesses are not called — the entire proceedings could conclude by Saturday or Sunday.
Trump’s lead lawyers, Bruce Castor and David Schoen, will be hoping to improve on their opening arguments from earlier in the week. Castor’s performance, in particular, was widely panned and was reported to have left the former president irate as he watched at his Florida resort of Mar-a-Lago.
The Trump team doesn’t need to do very much to gain an acquittal for their client. No more than six Republican senators have so far even agreed that the impeachment trial is constitutional. The chance of the necessary number voting to convict — 17 Republicans, assuming the Democrats all vote to do so — seems vanishingly small.
The president’s team is expected to argue that Trump did not directly spark the riot that enveloped the Capitol. They may also cite what they see as belligerent rhetoric from Democratic politicians in other contexts, in order to assert that Trump is being unfairly singled out.
The core of the pro-Trump case rests on trying to separate the haunting scenes at the Capitol from the issue of his culpability. Schoen called the way in which Democrats presented their argument “an entertainment package” during a Thursday appearance on Fox News.
But even if Trump escapes conviction, the trial has put his behavior — and the disgraceful scenes that played out on Jan. 6 — back in the center of the public stage.
Over the three days when Democrats made their case, new video footage emerged of lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), only just avoiding the mob.
Senators, and the public, were also reminded of the violence inflicted upon Capitol Police officers as they sought to contain a group of rioters that vastly outnumbered them.
And, undergirding it all, was Trump’s penchant for inflammatory rhetoric, stretching all the way back to his 2016 White House candidacy. On Thursday, Democrats replayed clips in which the then-candidate encouraged his supporters to “knock the hell” out of protesters.
The Democrats have sought to avoid falling into the political trap of hyper-partisanship where possible. They foregrounded Republican voices, including former members of Trump’s administration, who blamed the then-president for the violence in the immediate aftermath of the riot.
They also repeatedly praised former Vice President Mike Pence and sought to portray the effort to convict Trump as a necessary action to protect American democracy itself.
Lawmakers, Raskin reminded the Senate on Thursday, were made to “literally flee for our lives.”
The outcome of Trump’s trial is basically a foregone conclusion.But the events that he stands accused of inspiring will not easily fade from memory.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage. Alexander Bolton contributed reporting.