The defense team for former President Donald Trump has a job that is both easy and difficult as the impeachment trial begins today in the United States Senate.
The easy part is that the outcome is a foregone conclusion. The test vote on the impeachment came two weeks ago on Senator Rand Paul’s motion to force a vote on the constitutionality of Trump’s impeachment trial.
The motion failed 55-45, with five Republicans joining the Democrats. All 45 votes questioning the constitutionality came from Republicans. That means it will be difficult, if not impossible, for Trump’s prosecutors to get 17 Republicans to join all 50 Democrats to reach the threshold of two-thirds of the Senate to vote to convict.
The more difficult challenge for the defense team will be making a believable argument that Trump did not incite the attack. There will be parsing of Trump’s language and seriously intoned lectures about the First Amendment.
But the prosecution will have an overwhelming body of evidence putting Trump at the center of the insurrection, because that is precisely where he was.
Well before the election, Trump began stoking fears about the possibility of widespread fraud. That rhetoric intensified following the election, even after it became demonstrably clear the allegations were unsubstantiated.
Trump called for the protest in Washington for the very day Congress was scheduled to certify the results. “Big protest in DC” on January 6, he tweeted. “Be there, will be wild.” Representatives of Stop the Steal, the Proud Boys, QAnon followers and other Trump backers responded by organizing support for the event.
At the rally, several speakers before Trump inflamed the crowd.
The president’s eldest son, Don Jr., lashed out at Republicans who failed to get behind the movement. “If you’re gonna be a zero and not the hero, we’re coming for you and we’re going to have a good time doing it.” Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, called for “trial by combat.”
Then came President Trump. Yes, he called for a peaceful demonstration—once—but he used the word “fight” over and over. He encouraged the crowd to “fight like hell.” “You’ll never take back our country with weakness,” he said. “You have to show strength.”
He told the crowd to “fight much harder” to “stop the steal” to “take back the country.” “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
Hundreds in the mob responded with an unprecedented attack on the Capitol at the very moment the country’s elected representatives were engaged in the peaceful transfer of power. They chanted “Hang Mike Pence.”
One of the invaders told police he was there “at the request of the president.” Another said during a live video stream, “Our president wants us here.”
The insurrectionists attacked Capitol police, desecrated the Capitol, ransacked congressional offices and forced members of Congress and their staffs to flee for their lives. Five people, including a Capitol police officer, died. Dozens of officers were injured.
The country was shaken to its core by the attack on not only the building that is the symbol of our democracy, but also on the very process that is essential to the republic.
Trump watched the events unfold on live television and was slow to respond. At 1:49 PM, after the insurrectionists had breached the Capitol perimeter, Trump tweeted his speech from the rally with the message, “Our country has had enough, we will not take it anymore, and that’s what this is about… You have to be strong.”
A half hour later, as rioters attacked police and Vice President Mike Pence had to be evacuated from the Senate floor, Trump tweeted, “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our country and our Constitution.”
As Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney said in an interview last Sunday, “If inciting insurrection isn’t impeachable, what is?”
The Senate and the country this week will relive the horrific events of January 6, complete with video of the attack and Trump’s own words and deeds that lit the match of the political uprising intended to reverse the outcome of a free and fair election.
No wonder most Republican Senators want to question the constitutionality of the proceedings. Otherwise, to let Trump off the hook, they will have to deny the uncomfortable truth of his role in the insurrection.