A little over a year ago, as he closed the Democrats’ first impeachment case against Donald Trump, Adam Schiff made one last appeal to Senate Republicans: If you don’t say “enough” to his conduct now, you’ll remove whatever guardrails exist to keep him in check. “He has betrayed our national security,” the House Democrat said in February 2020, “and he will do so again.”
Schiff’s prediction proved true: Trump continued to blaze a trail of wanton corruption, moving on from pressuring foreign leaders to help him cheat in the election to pressuring domestic ones—and, when that failed, he spent months lying about “fraud,” attacked the democratic process, and unleashed a deadly insurrection at the United States Capitol in a last-ditch effort to remain in power. His offense was even more severe, his wrongdoing even more overt than in pressuring Ukraine’s president for dirt on the Bidens. This time, it nearly cost lawmakers, including those who defended him the first time around, their lives.
And yet, once again, Trump has skirted justice: the Senate once again acquitted him Saturday, in a 57-43 vote, with only seven GOP lawmakers breaking ranks: Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski, Richard Burr, Ben Sasse, Bill Cassidy, and Susan Collins. “The facts are clear,” said Burr. “ The evidence is compelling that President Trump is guilty of inciting an insurrection against a coequal branch of government and that the charge rises to the level of high Crimes and Misdemeanors. Therefore, I have voted to convict.”
But 43 other Republicans were apparently unmoved by the Democratic impeachment managers’ conclusive and emotionally-charged case against the former president. Democrat Ted Lieu cautioned that failure to act would mean Trump or another would-be authoritarian “can do this again” in the future, while lead impeachment manager Jamie Raskin implored senators to “exercise your common sense about what just took place in our country.”
“If the Senate acquits Donald Trump, then any president could incite and provoke insurrectionary violence against us again,” Raskin said. “If you don’t find this a high crime and misdemeanor today, you have set a new terrible standard for presidential misconduct.”
The disgraced ex-president’s defense team in Bruce Castor, David Schoen, and Michael van der Veen didn’t refute that case as much as they made noises trying to drown it out, combining legal-flavored language with a pinch of Trumpian defiance, pettifogging, and whataboutism in hopes of stumbling upon something, anything, Republicans could use to justify the “nay” votes they’d already decided they’d make. Even after huddling on the eve of their brief defense with pro-Trump jurors Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz, and Mike Lee, the lawyers didn’t quite manage to come up with anything but nonsense.
Meanwhile, Republicans, some of whom enabled Trump’s coup attempt, were quick to dismiss the Democrats’ damning case, which included chilling surveillance video showing just how close the tragedy at the Capitol, of which five people died, could’ve have been even worse. As the violent mob made their way through the Capitol, lawmakers were forced to hide; heroic officer Eugene Goodman, at one point, saved Romney as rioters approached. The pro-Trump mob sought out for Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“Most Republicans,” Graham said Thursday, “found the presentation by the House Managers offensive and absurd.” Josh Hawley, who tried to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in a free and fair election, seemed to shrug off the proceedings. At this point, anyone still defending Trump’s conduct is either craven or in cahoots with him. If they’re cool with Trump’s antidemocratic violence, and the prospect of more from him or someone following in his footsteps, they could at least be honest and say so. Instead, Senators made up excuses, most notably that the impeachment process itself was unconstitutional because Trump is no longer in office—an effort led by Rand Paul. Never mind that House Democrats voted to impeach Trump while he was still president, while then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to immediately bring back the Senate.
It goes without saying, of course, that it doesn’t matter if Trump’s in the Oval Office or not: Declining to punish him for the coup attempt just because it failed is leaving the door open for it to happen again, be it from Trump in another White House bid or from somebody else who learned from his example. “If we pretend this didn’t happen, or worse, if we let it go unanswered,” Colorado Representative Joe Neguse said as part of the Democrats’ closing remarks Thursday, “who’s to say it won’t happen again?” A similar unheeded warning already came to fruition one time—what will happen if it happens once more?
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