Democratic lawmakers charged with managing the case for indicting former President Donald Trump in his upcoming impeachment trial in the Senate filed a legal briefing on Tuesday that described his actions leading up to the attacks on the Capitol last month as “a betrayal of historic proportions.”
Trump’s responsibility for inciting a mob of his loyalists to attack the U.S. Capitol while lawmakers were certifying the results of President Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential election win was “unmistakable,” House impeachment managers said in their brief. Trump, they argued, should have taken the “honorable path” of accepting the certified and accurate results of the election he lost.
“Instead, he summoned a mob to Washington, exhorted them into a frenzy, and aimed them like a loaded cannon down Pennsylvania Avenue,” the House managers wrote.
Democratic lawmakers leading the call for indicting Trump in the impeachment trial also took note of how Trump reacted after the attacks on the Capitol began, writing that he was “reportedly delighted” by what had happened. They also highlighted the fact that the former president had “left his Vice President and Congress to fend for themselves while he lobbied allies to continue challenging election results.”
At least five individuals died in the melee that took place in the Capitol that day. Many of Trump’s loyalists had indicated their desires to cause harm or even kill lawmakers in the building, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and former Vice President Mike Pence, who served under Trump.
Democrats argued in favor of indicting Trump based on the Senate’s constitutional ability to bar him from office, which the legislative body can do after a guilty verdict.
“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. This is precisely the sort of constitutional offense that warrants disqualification from federal office,” House managers explained.
Democrats further elaborated on the need to bar Trump from holding future office, stating that “elections alone” were not “a sufficient safeguard.”
“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,” they said.
The document released by Democrats on Tuesday also addressed some of the arguments Trump’s legal defense team might put forth during the impeachment trial. The former president’s lawyers, for instance, may push the argument that Trump’s words on January 6 are protected by his First Amendment rights.
The House managers rejected that line of thinking.
“The First Amendment exists to protect our democratic system. It supports the right to vote and ensures robust public debate,” they acknowledged. “But rights of speech and political participation mean little if the President can provoke lawless action if he loses at the polls.”
The legal briefing from Democrats also went against the notion put forth by many Republicans that impeaching a person who is already out of office is improper, or even unconstitutional. Indeed, in a legal filing of their own on Tuesday, Trump’s lawyers made just such an argument, writing “the Senate lacks jurisdiction to remove from office a man who does not hold office.”
Democratic House managers disagreed. “There is no ‘January exception’ to the Constitution that allows a President to organize a coup or incite an armed insurrection in his final weeks in office,” the House managers explained.
However, the odds of successfully convincing two-thirds of the Senate to indict Trump in the impeachment trial are fairly low at the moment.
Last week, in a vote that many have suggested is indicative of how senators may vote, a majority of Republicans sided with a resolution to decry the impeachment trial itself as unconstitutional. While five members of the GOP, joining Democrats in the chamber, voted against that resolution, an indictment of Trump will require at least 17 Republican senators to vote in favor of the impeachment, presuming every member of the Democratic caucus also does likewise.
Most legal scholars disagree with the idea that impeachment proceedings happening after a person leaves office are unconstitutional. The Constitution states that, among the possible penalties that can be inflicted on an impeached and convicted individual, they can be barred from being able “to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States.”
That provision’s language, experts say, suggests that Congress has the right to impeach and indict former officials on the basis that doing so is important for restricting the future political ambitions of those persons.
Americans are mostly supportive of the Senate indicting Trump in his impeachment trial, which is set to take place next week. A Marist poll, for example, conducted from January 24-27, found that 50 percent of respondents supported the effort, while 41 percent said they opposed it. Nine percent in the poll were unsure.
Other polls have shown similar, if not more, support for impeaching Trump. A Monmouth University poll conducted from January 21-24 found that 56 percent of Americans were supportive of the House’s initial impeachment vote last month. Fifty-seven percent of respondents in that same poll also said that they favored a vote that would prevent Trump from being able to hold federal office ever again.