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Shredding every defense, impeachment trial proves Trump's guilt

The impeachment managers proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt. The arguments floated in defense of the former president lay in ruins.
Image: House impeachment managers
House impeachment managers proceed through the Capitol Rotunda from the House side of the Capitol to the Senate chamber as the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump begins on Feb. 9, 2021.Sarah Silbiger / Getty Images

The House impeachment managers wrapped up their presentation yesterday, and for those clinging to hope that perhaps Donald Trump deserved to be acquitted on the merits, it was a brutal two-day exercise. The New Republic's Matt Ford summarized matters nicely:

The House managers, for their part, did not merely connect the dots between pieces of evidence or bits of testimony. They just played video clips of what had happened in a stark, simple chronological order. All they needed was the footage of the year Trump spent crafting his "Big Lie" about election fraud, as well as footage of his followers' unambiguous -- and undisputed -- belief that he wanted them to commit violence against Congress. They had both. The House managers did not present a theory of Trump's guilt. They merely showed it.

I'm mindful, of course, of the fact that most Senate Republicans entered the proceedings with no intention of honoring their responsibilities. For these GOP "jurors," the quality of the arguments, and the merits of the case, were irrelevant long before the trial got underway. Trump has an "R" after his name to denote his party affiliation, and as far as these senators are concerned, little else needs to be said.

But this does not change the fact that the Democratic impeachment managers proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt. The arguments floated in defense of the former president lay in ruins.

Maybe it's unconstitutional to convict a former official? The claim has been discredited and rejected by a bipartisan majority.

Maybe Trump had a First Amendment right to incite an insurrectionist riot? This may be a favorite of Trump's defense lawyers, but it's been exposed as nonsense. Impeachment managers invested a fair amount of time yesterday explicitly explaining the irrelevance of the First Amendment in this case.

Maybe an impeachment conviction requires a statutory crime? The managers shredded that, too.

Maybe Trump didn't know his followers would launch an attack on the Capitol? Of course he did. The impeachment managers documented the lengthy pattern in which Trump pleaded with his followers to come to D.C. on the day in which lawmakers would certify the results, in order to "stop the steal." As the trial documented, he cultivated support from extremists for months for this express purpose, feeding them lies and stoking their misguided rage.

Maybe the Capitol attackers weren't summoned, but merely came to D.C. on their own? After their arrests, one rioter after another explicitly declared that they were directed by their president. They were there at Trump's request and instruction. During their attack, they repeatedly said they were following Trump's instructions.

Maybe the riot was some kind of aberration? If only that were true. "These tactics were road tested," Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) explained, after pointing to extensive evidence. "January 6 was a culmination of the president's actions, not an aberration from them. The insurrection was the most violent and dangerous episode so far in Donald Trump's continuing pattern and practice of inciting violence."

Maybe Trump's "fight" rhetoric was routine? It's a ludicrous defense based on the idea that context has no meaning.

The former president's lawyers have been allotted 16 hours to present their defense to the Senate, and according to many accounts, they may end up using as few as three hours. That would at least make a degree of sense: there is no credible defense for the indefensible.

As a Washington Post editorial put it, "Senators will bring disgrace upon their chamber if they fail to hold the former president accountable. No reasonable listener this week could fail to find him culpable for the Capitol assault." E.J. Dionne added that the Democratic impeachment managers took great pains to "close off the escape hatches and back doors for Senate Republicans."

In all likelihood, these GOP "jurors" will express nothing but indifference to Trump's obvious guilt. The shame will follow them indefinitely.

But in the meantime, I hope they'll remember a question Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) posed to senators yesterday: "We humbly, humbly ask you to convict President Trump for the crime for which he is overwhelmingly guilty of. Because if you don't, if we pretend this didn't happen or worse if we let it go unanswered, who's to say it won't happen again?"