Today we saw the first evidence presented within the second impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump. Evidence was not conveyed from the mouths of live witnesses, but instead through footage captured from body cameras on police force officers, videos posted online by rioters and reporters, and audio clips from the mob's chilling taunts directed at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and calls to complete former Vice President Mike Pence. We also heard on-air pleas from Trump's fellow Republicans-including his former chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, and Rep. Adam Kinzinger-that he command his riotous followers to stop, and that he was the single person on the planet with the power to do so.
Nonetheless, hours in to the carnage, Trump did nothing as commander-in-chief to save the thousands of lives at risk. Zilch.
Even worse, because the House impeachment managers made plain, Trump egged on his mob, tweeting that Pence would be a coward-a tweet sent out after footage had been swirling on the internet showing rioters trolling the halls from the Capitol building, hunting Pence like an animal. Meanwhile, never-before-seen home security camera footage showed Pence and his family fleeing down some back stairs. Senators Mitt Romney and Chuck Schumer were shown abruptly backtracking when security officers remarked that exits were blocked by angry crowds, armed and bloodthirsty. Understandably, emotions ran high as the senators were forced to relive the trauma that would not have occurred but for weeks of encouragement from then-President Trump.
When the trial turns to Trump's defense, which will likely occur on Friday, a primary argument will surely be that Trump's Jan. 6 rhetoric amounted to simply routine speech by a politician, albeit in the typical incendiary manner. The House impeachment managers proleptically anticipated that argument today, showing split-screen images from the violence unfolding in the halls from the Capitol alongside Trump's tweets, speeches, and overall inaction when confronted with mayhem and violence. He sent out sixteen tweets or retweets between midnight and noon on Jan. 6, prior to the insurrection erupted, but went largely silent when the Capitol was deeply under siege.
To be sure, as former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci told me in an interview this week, Trump is skilled at sprinkling his bad-boy words with softeners with regard to plausible deniability later. His defense team will accordingly point to tweeted terms like \”peaceful\” as magically operating to erase the harmful ones-a strategy that served Trump well during his four years in office. It may well carry the day when it comes time for Senate Republicans to vote on whether or not to ban him from running again in 2024.
For his part, lead House impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin's opening remarks on Wednesday were extraordinary by lawyerly measure. In quasi-Trumpian fashion, he coined numerous hashtags, calling Trump the \”inciter-in-chief\” and mocking the Republican argument for any \”January exception\” to the Constitution that would allow presidents to commit high crimes and misdemeanors willy-nilly after a term.
When Trump finally spoke to inform his mob to go home, he added \”We adore you. You're very special,\” and at 6:01 p.m., tweeted that his people should \”Remember this very day forever!\” Remember what, Raskin asked? The trauma, the death, the bludgeoning, the blood? For weeks, Trump told his devotees to come to Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6-a date chosen because it was the date of the joint session in which Congress would count the certified electoral votes for Joe Biden's victory by 306-232, exactly the same \”landslide\” win that Trump trumpeted in his favor four years prior.
When Jan. 6 erupted inside a violent attempt to stop the orderly counting of ballots and overturn the election results, Trump tweeted that it all happened as he expected: \”These would be the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for thus long.\”
If you have a beating heart inside your chest, there's no way today's narrative could not have moved you. Now you ask , whether it will move enough voters from Trump's column so as to cause cowardly Republicans to do what's right for the country and the Constitution-not to mention the maimed and injured and also the families of the dead. If Republicans instead vote not to convict Trump, they will be agreeing with him that his words and deeds were \”totally appropriate.\”
In doing so, they will not only be acquitting Trump, but revealing the way we should judge them: as too craven to defend our Constitution, and as willing to let the same thing happen again.