Reading between the lines of the first impeachment trial arguments

One Republican, Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, said the Trump team’s performance was bad enough that he changed his mind and sided with Democrats, voting to let the trial go forward.

Here are some of the key arguments laid out on Day One.

The House side

Impeachment exists to hold presidents accountable, even on their way out the door. Raskin spoke in personal terms about having his children on Capitol Hill that day. It’s important to remember the jurors in the Senate are also witnesses, and the Senate chamber is a scene of the crime.

Raskin: People died that day. Officers ended up with head damage and brain damage. People’s eyes were gouged. An officer had a heart attack. An officer lost three fingers that day. Two officers have taken their own lives.

Senators, this cannot be our future. This cannot be the future of America. We cannot have presidents inciting and mobilizing mob violence against our government and our institutions because they refuse to accept the will of the people under the Constitution of the United States. Much less can we create a new January exception in our precious, beloved Constitution that prior generations have died for and fought for, so that corrupt presidents have several weeks to get away with whatever it is they want to do.

History does not support a January exception in any way, so why would we invent one for the future?

And Trump was still in charge on January 6. Trump’s not in office now, but he was when the mob attacked. And that makes his conduct impeachable.

Here’s the relevant line from Article 1, Section 3: “Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.”

Raskin: The President, it is undisputed, committed his offense while he was president. And it is undisputed that we impeached him while he was president. There can be no doubt that this is a valid and legitimate impeachment. And there can be no doubt that the senate has the power to try this impeachment. We know this because Article I, Section 3, gives the Senate the sole power to try all impeachments.

Earlier impeachments weren’t all that rare. While a US president has never been impeached after leaving office, it used to be used against officials in the earliest days of the republic.

Raskin: Every single impeachment of a government official that occurred during the framers’ lifetime concerned a former official. A former official. Indeed, the most famous of these impeachments occurred while the framers gathered in Philadelphia to write the Constitution. It was the impeachment of Warren Hastings, the former governor general of the British colony of Bengal and a corrupt guy. The framers knew all about it and they strongly supported the impeachment.

The peaceful transfer of power is the key to the whole system and can’t be threatened. The framers were particularly concerned with the peaceful transfer of power, which Trump tried to interrupt.

Raskin: Given the framers’ intense focus on danger to elections and the peaceful transfer of power, it is inconceivable that they designed impeachment to be a dead letter in the president’s final days in office when opportunities to interfere with the peaceful transfer of power would be most tempting and most dangerous as we just saw.

Trump can’t be allowed to hold office. It’s still not clear what Trump’s political plans are, and Democrats argued that’s why he must face the penalty of being barred from office in the future.

Cicilline: Impeachment is not merely about removing someone from office. Fundamentally, impeachment exists to protect our constitutional system, to keep each of us safe, to uphold our freedom, safeguard our democracy.

Finally, Trump’s specific offense — inciting a mob to attack the Capitol — demands impeachment. People died in the insurrection, and hundreds of Trump’s supporters have been arrested for their actions on January 6.

Neguse: President Trump was not impeached for run of the mill corruption, misconduct. He was impeached for inciting a violent insurrection, an insurrection where people died in this building, an insurrection that desecrated our seat of government. And if Congress were just to stand completely aside in the face of such an extraordinary crime against the republic, it would invite future presidents to use their power without any fear of accountability.

The defense

First, they tried to distance Trump from the mob he inspired. Trump, however, equivocated in the immediate wake of the violence.

Castor: You’ll not hear any member of the team representing former President Trump say anything but in the strongest possible way denounce the violence of the rioters and those that breached the Capitol, the very citadel of our democracy, literally the symbol that flashes on television whenever you’re trying to explain that we’re talking about the United States, instant symbol. To have it attacked is repugnant in every sense of the word. The loss of life is horrific.

They were caught off-guard by the strength of the House manager’s presentation. Castor acknowledged a last-minute change of plans. Trump’s lawyers were criticized for having a less-focused and more rambling presentation.

Castor: I’ll be quite frank with you, we changed what we were going to do on account that we thought that the House manager’s presentation was well done, and I wanted you to know that we have responses to those things. I thought that what the first part of the case was, which was the equivalent of a motion to dismiss, was going to be about jurisdiction alone and one of the fellows who spoke for the House managers, was a former criminal defense attorney, seemed to suggest that there’s something nefarious that we were discussing jurisdiction and trying to get the case dismissed, but this is where it happens in the case because jurisdiction is the first thing that has to be found.

They argued the impeachment is unnecessary. Voters solved the problem by electing Joe Biden, they argued — which will drive Trump crazy.

Castor: But why are the House managers afraid and why is the majority of the House of Representatives afraid of the American people? I mean, let’s understand why we are really here. We are really here because the majority in the House of Representatives does not want to face Donald Trump as a political rival in the future. That’s the real reason we’re here, and that’s why they have to get over the jurisdictional hurdle, which they can’t get over, but that’s why they have to get over that in order to get to the part of the Constitution that allows for removal.

They said the trial is happening too fast. This trial is starting just over a month after the events that triggered the case.

Schoen: To say there was a rush to judgment by the House would be a grave understatement. It is not as if the House members who voted to impeach were not mightily warned about the dangers to the institution of the presidency and to our system of due process. They were warned in the strongest of terms from within our own ranks, adamantly, clearly and under no uncertain terms not to take this dangerous snap impeachment course. Those warnings were framed in the context of the constitutional due process that was denied here.

This trial is about politics, not the Constitution. The argument from Democrats that Trump should be barred from future office became part of the defense — that it’s a decision voters can make when the time comes, and opening up the specter of punishing political adversaries has its own dangers.

Schoen: In summing up, let’s be crystal clear on where we stand and why we are here. The singular goal of the House managers and House leadership in pursuing impeachment conviction of Donald J. Trump is to use these proceedings to disenfranchise at least 74 million Americans with whom they viscerally disagree, and to ensure that neither they nor any other American every again can cast a vote for Donald Trump. And if they convince you to go forward, their ultimate hope is that this will be a shot across the bow of any other candidate for public office who would dare to take up a political message that is very different from their own political point of view as the direction in which they wish to take our country.

Under our Constitution, this body and the impeachment process must never be permitted to be weaponized for partisan political purposes. This article of impeachment must be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction based on what we have discussed here today and what’s in our brief. The institution of the presidency is at risk unless a strong message is sent by the dismissal of the article of impeachment.

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