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The Trial of the Century, Again
A Deep Dive into Trump's Second Impeachment
Happy Monday my beautiful babies. I hope you are recovering from the Tom Brady Bowl, which I did not watch. I’m sure it was an enthralling eleven minutes of action across 4 hours of television, filled mostly with commercials and fat men in jumpsuits on the sidelines, speaking into their headsets.
I want to get into the coming impeachment trial, which is set to begin this week. But before I do that, I am going to mimic my favorite Peloton instructor, Sam Yo, and give you a warm-up first. So, let’s do a few should-reads and then get into the nitty gritty.
This New Yorker article on a pretty “regular” Mom’s path to the Capitol Riot is incredible reporting.
David French has a great interview with Vox on how Trump was terrible for evangelical Christianity.
The Trump Campaign’s autopsy of its loss is really great, even if it is predictable (spoiler: He lost because he mishandled COVID-19 and everyone thinks he is a liar).
Team, it feels good and you know you should; let’s read two to three more.
Kurt Bardella has a good op-ed on how the country music industry was tougher on Morgan Wallen than the GOP was on Marjorie Taylor Greene.
The big, sort of insidery basebally talk in Washington this week was the Biden Administration’s frustration with Larry Summers’s op-ed in The Washington Post, warning that the $1.9 trillion stimulus package could “overheat” the economy. Noah Smith is my go-to, evil neoliberal economist and he pours cold water on Summers’s concerns, but doesn’t freeze them out completely. Smith’s piece is really great, clearly explained, and contains links to other helpful articles, but the gist is that we do not have to be worried about hyperinflation right now.
This Axios piece on a meeting between Trump, Sidney Powell, Michael Flynn, and the CEO of Overstock.com (seriously) has to be read to be believed.
Let’s get into the trial. The House’s impeachment brief is actually a really good place to start, since it lays out all the arguments for Trump’s conviction. I have uploaded my own, annotated copy of the brief here. I also read the response from Trump’s legal team and attempted to edit it. Back when I worked in a physical office, I was described as a “cruel, but fun” editor. One time, I drew a picture re-enacting the death of a certain Game of Thrones character on the first page of a brief to signify how terrible the writing was. Fun (and pop culture relevant), but cruel.
The House’s brief itself is really well-written, and convincingly makes the case in only about 80 pages. It builds the argument with a crescendo, as it starts with Trump’s early efforts to cast doubt on the results of the election even before a single vote had been cast. Then it moves into him repeatedly refusing to clarify whether or not he would try to stay in power. It then shifts into gear by citing to his phone call with Georgia’s Secretary of State, and him trying to force the Justice Department to launch an investigation into “voter fraud.” As the House Managers (the “prosecutors” in any impeachment trial) state, by this point “it was evident that President Trump would resort to any means necessary to reverse the election outcome.” They write:
As this timeline indicates, President Trump’s rejection of the election results - and his steadily more extreme efforts to overturn them - persisted from Election Day through January 6. […] President Trump…[escalated and refocused] his attacks on Members of Congress, pushing them to reject the Electoral College vote and then engineer his retention in office.
They do a great job of highlighting not just Trump’s actions on January 6th, but also his behavior prior to, during, and after the election. They make it clear that we cannot look at January 6th in a vacuum.
The Managers also cite two tweets that, for me, really highlight Trump’s goals. Honestly, I’m not sure if Trump actually had any concrete plans going into January 6th, but he definitely wanted to stop the certification of the election and seemed like he would be fine with the rioters doing it for him (more on that later). He also was acutely aware that his supporters were ready to engage in violence, given that they were sending death threats to various Secretaries of State in Michigan, Arizona, and Georgia. On election night, two armed Qanon supporters drove to Virginia in an attempt to stop the counting of votes. The House points out that, “President Trump not only refused to condemn any of this dangerous and threatening conduct; as detailed above, he also escalated his inflammatory and militaristic demands.”
The Managers, on page 14, highlight a tweet from Trump dated January 5, 2021, at 5:12 P.M., after lots of his supporters had already shown up for the event the next day:
I hope the Democrats, and even more importantly, the weak and ineffective RINO section of the Republican Party, are looking at the thousands of people pouring into D.C. They won’t stand for an election to be stolen.
In the tweet, Trump tags Senators Mitch McConnell, John Cornyn, and John Thune. I want to give you this whole portion of the House’s brief, just to show that Trump wasn’t sending these tweets and making these phone calls in total ignorance. The House Managers make note of the rhetoric his own supporters were using, and how it was being “closely monitored” by his staff:
The second tweet from Trump is the most enraging, because it came hours after the attack. On January 6, 2021, at 6:01 PM, Trump tweeted:
These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously and viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly and unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!
“These are the things and events that happen.” Disgusting. He offers no condemnation of his supporters, whom he calls “great patriots.” He doesn’t give an assurance that something like this would never happen again. Instead, he uses the event itself as a threat: “These are the things and events that happen” when you do not hand me my victory. “These are the things and events that happen” when you do not let me stay in power. “My supporters will murder Capitol police officers if you do not give them and me what we want.” That tweet is Trump’s “out of an abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” moment. Even on its own it is a powerful argument for conviction.
The House ends their brief with a phenomenal debunking of the GOP’s current (and convenient) argument that the Senate does not have jurisdiction to hold a trial. We went through those arguments together a few weeks ago, but the House makes two additional points that I think are really persuasive.
They point out that the final punishment for impeachment - barring a public official from running for office in the future- can only be done to someone who is already a former official. You see, any impeachment “guilty” vote immediately results in removal. For example, imagine that the Senate, in February of 2020, had found Donald Trump “guilty” of his first impeachment offense (fun fact: Wikipedia now has to divide Trump’s impeachments into two separate categories). Trump would have been immediately been removed from office, making him a private citizen. After that, the Senate would then hold a separate vote on whether or not to bar him from public office in the future (which is weirdly just a majority vote as opposed to two-thirds like removal). Since Trump is already out of office, it is effectively just like the Senate “removed” him, and we can consider whether or not to give him the additional punishment.
The second point is a little less convincing, but it’s still worth noting. The Senators do not vote to “remove” or “not remove” a President; they vote whether or not he/she is “guilty” or “not guilty.” If the impeachment punishment was only supposed to result in removal, why do the Senators not simply vote for that by itself?
If you are already convinced that the Senate has jurisdiction to hold a trial of a former President, then you can really just stick to the first 42 pages of the House’s brief, which pretty much cuts it in half. Easy reading!
So then, what’s gonna happen? I think there are two major questions surrounding the arguments that will be presented by the Democrats: 1. Will they call witnesses? 2. Will they make it a long argument with lots of evidence, or will they just keep it short? Both questions are sort of linked.
We got a hint late last week, as the impeachment Managers called Trump himself as a witness. But I don’t know if that’s giving us a clear answer. Some have argued that calling witnesses isn’t necessary, since most of the jurors in the trial were actual witnesses to the attack. But encouraging people to re-live what happened on January 6th could be instructive, given that Americans tend to have memories like a goldfish.
And then the House’s brief itself gives us a hint, as they say on page 18, “In all these ways - and more, as we will show at trial - President Trump created a powder keg on January 6” (my emphasis). Maybe they are just alluding to using visual evidence from the day of the riot and making their case that way. But, if you go back to the “must-reads” above, there are lots of private conversations that the House could use as evidence before the Senate. They could, for instance, call Mark Meadows and ask him to testify about what Trump expected to happen on January 6, 2021. They could call people who were with him in the White House when he was reportedly giddy about what was happening that day. And the House Managers should not resign themselves to the fact that the GOP will not convict Trump and just do a quick trial; they are creating a historical record for the second impeachment of a man who will surely go down in history as the worst President of all time. They owe it to us, not the GOP, to make a comprehensive and convincing argument.
The final question is: What precedents will Trump’s second impeachment set? Are we now going to allow the impeachment of any private citizen, or any public official who has left office? Has impeachment been normalized since we did it to this guy twice? I am honestly not worried about that at all, because the historical record supports impeaching Trump and the evidence against him (in both impeachments) is overwhelming. But the one real precedent that Trump has shown us is that if you keep your Party in line, you will never be removed or found guilty. If the GOP fails to convict him, they will have denuded the impeachment mechanism of all its power.
That’s all I got my babies. I’ll try to give an update after the trial begins on Tuesday. We look up together, we look down together, and as always we look straight ahead and we smile together. Have a great week.