Impeachment Briefing: Wrapping with a Warning

By Maggie Astor

This is the Impeachment Briefing, The Times’s newsletter about the impeachment investigation. Sign up here to get it in your inbox.

What happened today

The House Democrats branded the former president a clear and present danger to democracy who could sow new violence if he was not convicted and barred from holding office again.

In their second and final day of arguments, House impeachment managers argued that the rioters who stormed the Capitol had taken their cues directly from Mr. Trump — and that Mr. Trump had known exactly what he was doing when he egged on the mob.

They also gave a pre-emptive rebuttal to two of the main arguments Mr. Trump’s lawyers are expected to make: that his actions are protected under the First Amendment and that the impeachment proceedings have violated his due process rights.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers will step forward tomorrow, and it may be relatively quick. Our White House reporter Maggie Haberman reports that they “don’t anticipate presenting for more than a few hours tomorrow.”

Closing arguments

In a meticulously choreographed sequence, the House impeachment managers described Mr. Trump’s words and how the rioters had understood them, how the Capitol riot emboldened right-wing extremists, the trauma inflicted on the people who were in the Capitol that day, and the consequences for the United States’ reputation.

Here are some of their key points:

Representative Diana DeGette of Colorado showed video footage of Mr. Trump’s supporters declaring openly that they were acting on his behalf. “We were invited here!” one rioter yelled. “We were invited by the president of the United States!”

Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland emphasized Mr. Trump’s long history of encouraging violence among his supporters. He played, for instance, a clip of Mr. Trump telling supporters at a rally during his 2016 campaign to “knock the crap” out of protesters and suggesting he would pay those supporters’ legal fees.

In one of the most powerful moments of the day, Representative Ted Lieu of California directly challenged the defense lawyers’ argument that Democrats were motivated by fear that Mr. Trump would run again and win. “I’m afraid he’s going to run again and lose,” he said. “Because he could do this again.”

Representative Joaquin Castro of Texas invoked “law and order” and emphasized how the world had reacted to the riot — making the argument for conviction on the basis of principles Mr. Trump and other Republicans often speak about. He said the riot had given China, Iran and Russia an opening to demean American democracy and argued that if the Senate did not convict Mr. Trump, it might “forfeit the power of our example as a north star on freedom, democracy, human rights and, most of all, the rule of law.”

Finally, the managers pre-emptively rebutted the First Amendment and due process arguments Mr. Trump’s lawyers are expected to make.

Representative Joe Neguse of Colorado said the First Amendment claims were “a distraction” premised on a straw-man version of events. “They are concerned not with the facts that actually occurred, the facts that we’ve proven, but with an alternative set of facts where President Trump did nothing but deliver a controversial speech at a rally,” he said. “That’s not what we charged in the article of impeachment, and it’s not what happened.”

Mr. Raskin, who has taught constitutional law, gave a legal rebuttal, saying the First Amendment did not apply to Mr. Trump’s actions for two main reasons: because it doesn’t protect incitement of violence, and because the oaths of office taken by public officials create a higher standard for them than for ordinary citizens. More broadly, he said, Mr. Trump’s actions “endangered the very constitutional order” that protects rights like freedom of speech.

Mr. Lieu rejected the defense’s argument that the House’s quick impeachment vote had violated Mr. Trump’s due process rights, saying that the House functions like a grand jury, deciding whether to charge the president. “He’s receiving all process he’s due right here in this chamber,” he said of the Senate.

The Trump Impeachment ›

What You Need to Know

    • A trial is being held to decide whether former President Donald J. Trump is guilty of inciting a deadly mob of his supporters when they stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, violently breaching security measures and sending lawmakers into hiding as they met to certify President Biden’s victory.
    • The House voted 232 to 197 to approve a single article of impeachment, accusing Mr. Trump of “inciting violence against the government of the United States” in his quest to overturn the election results. Ten Republicans joined the Democrats in voting to impeach him.
    • To convict Mr. Trump, the Senate would need a two-thirds majority to be in agreement. This means at least 17 Republican senators would have to vote with Senate Democrats to convict.
    • A conviction seems unlikely. Last month, only five Republicans in the Senate sided with Democrats in beating back a Republican attempt to dismiss the charges because Mr. Trump is no longer in office. Only 27 senators say they are undecided about whether to convict Mr. Trump.
    • If the Senate convicts Mr. Trump, finding him guilty of “inciting violence against the government of the United States,” senators could then vote on whether to bar him from holding future office. That vote would only require a simple majority, and if it came down to party lines, Democrats would prevail with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tiebreaking vote.
    • If the Senate does not convict Mr. Trump, the former president could be eligible to run for public office once again. Public opinion surveys show that he remains by far the most popular national figure in the Republican Party.

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