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House Democrats Lay Out Case for Conviction; Trump Calls Charge ‘Irrelevant’

February 2, 2021 by Dan McCue
People shelter in the House gallery as protesters try to break into the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON – Donald Trump endangered the life of every member of Congress on Jan. 6 when he “summoned a mob to Washington, exhorted them to a frenzy, and aimed them like a loaded cannon” at the U.S. Capitol, House Democrats said in a brief filed Tuesday morning.

In searing detail, the 80-page document lays out the House impeachment managers’ case for why the former president should be convicted and permanently barred from office.

“As the Capitol was overrun, President Trump was reportedly ‘delighted,'” wrote Reps. Jamie Raskin, Diana DeGette, David Cicilline, Joaquin Castro, Eric Swalwell, Ted Lieu, Stacey Plaskett, Madeleine Dean and Joe Neguse.

“And rather than take immediate steps to quell the violence and protect lives, President Trump left his vice president and Congress to fend for themselves while he lobbied allies to continue challenging election results,” they continued.

According to the House managers, Trump’s actions “endangered our Republic and inflicted deep and lasting wounds on our nation. 

“His conduct resulted in more than five deaths and many more injuries. The Capitol was defiled. The line of succession was imperiled. America’s global reputation was damaged,” they said. 

“For the first time in history, the transfer of presidential power was interrupted.”

They go on to say the threat of violence stoked by Trump remains despite the fact he’s now in retirement in South Florida.

“As President Biden was inaugurated and even now, the Capitol more closely resembles an armed camp than the seat of American democracy,” they said.

As for Trump, he had his lawyers file a 14-page response, in which he denied the Democrats’ allegations and dismissed the trial as unconstitutional.

About the only thing Trump conceded the House managers got right was assertion that “the Constitution provides that the House of Representatives ‘shall have the sole Power of Impeachment’ and that the president ‘shall be removed from office on Impeachment for, and conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.'”

After that, the former president and his lawyers were having none of it.

According to Trump and his legal team, the Constitutional provisions regarding impeachment no longer apply to him because he’s no longer president.

“The constitutional provision requires that a person actually hold office to be impeached,” their brief says. “Since the 45th president is no longer ‘president,’ the clause ‘shall be removed from office on Impeachment for…’ is impossible for the Senate to accomplish.”

As a result, they argue, the impeachment is “a legal nullity that runs patently contrary to the plain language of the Constitution.

They go on to quote Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution, which states “Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy an office of honor…” 

“Since removal from office by the Senate of the president is a condition precedent which must occur before, and jointly with, ‘disqualification’ to hold future office, the fact that the Senate presently is unable to remove from office the 45th president whose term has expired, means that Averment 1 is therefore irrelevant to any matter before the Senate.”

The dueling filings offer the first public glimpse of the arguments that will be presented to the Senate during the impeachment trial beginning next week. 

The trial itself, held in the very chamber that insurrectionists overran weeks ago, is a reckoning for Congress as well –either the Democrats will fulfil their goal of holding Trump accountable for his actions, or Republicans will prevail in their effort to simply move on from the Trump era.

The Democratic brief draws a direct link from Trump’s baseless efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election to the deadly riot at the Capitol, with House impeachment managers calling his responsibility for the events of Jan. 6 “unmistakable.”

“After losing the 2020 election, President Trump refused to accept the will of the American people. He spent months asserting, without evidence, that he won in a ‘landslide’ and that the election was ‘stolen,'” they wrote. “He amplified these lies at every turn, seeking to convince supporters that they were victims of a massive electoral conspiracy that threatened the nation’s continued existence.”

They then turn to the day of the riot itself, a day on which they contend Trump engaged in a “grievous betrayal of his Oath of Office.”

“President Trump incited a violent mob to attack the United States Capitol during the Joint Session, thus impeding Congress’s confirmation of Joseph R. Biden, Jr., as the winner of the presidential election,” the brief says. 

“As it stormed the Capitol, the mob yelled out ‘President Trump Sent Us,’ ‘Hang Mike Pence,’ and ‘Traitor Traitor Traitor,'” it continues. “The insurrectionists assaulted police officers with weapons and chemical agents. They seized control of the Senate chamber floor, the Office of the speaker of the House, and major sections of the Capitol complex. Members and their staff were trapped and terrorized. 

“Many officials (including the vice president himself) barely escaped the rioters. The line of succession to the presidency was endangered. Our seat of government was violated, vandalized, and desecrated. Congress’s counting of electoral votes was delayed until nightfall and not completed until 4 AM. Hundreds of people were injured in the assault. Five people—including a Capitol Police officer—died,” the brief says.

“His conduct endangered the life of every single member of Congress, jeopardized the peaceful transition of power and line of succession, and compromised our national security,” the brief concludes. “This is precisely the sort of constitutional offense that warrants disqualification from federal office.”

Trump’s lawyers, David Schoen and Bruce Castor, denied that he had incited the riot by disputing the election results or by exhorting his followers to “fight like hell.” 

They said he was permitted by the First Amendment to challenge his loss to Democrat Joe Biden as “suspect” and that, in any event, the trial was unconstitutional now that Trump has left the White House.

Lawyers for Trump contested the Democratic characterization of Trump’s remarks and his role in the riot, denying that he incited it or that he ever endangered national security. When he told his followers to fight like hell, they said, he was talking about “election security in general.”

Trump, they said, was not attempting to interfere with the counting of electoral votes, only encouraging members of Congress to engage in the customary process of challenging vote submissions “under a process written into Congressional rules,” as had been done in years past.

“The actions by the House make clear that in their opinion the 45th president does not enjoy the protections of liberty upon which this great Nation was founded, where free speech, and indeed, free political speech form the backbone of all American liberties,” Trump’s lawyers wrote.

Republicans have signaled that acquittal is likely, with many saying they think Congress should move on and questioning the constitutionality of an impeachment trial — Trump’s second — now that he has left office. 

In a vote in the Senate last week, 45 Republicans, including Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, voted in favor of an effort to dismiss the trial over those constitutional concerns.

But the Democrats have been steadfast in their contention that Trump’s disqualification from office is a worthwhile objective in this case.

“This is not a case where elections alone are a sufficient safeguard against future abuse; it is the electoral process itself that President Trump attacked and that must be protected from him and anyone else who would seek to mimic his behavior,” the impeachment brief says.

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