Impeachment Briefing: A Video and a Vote

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

Three House impeachment managers — Representatives Jamie Raskin of Maryland, Joe Neguse of Colorado and David Cicilline of Rhode Island — presented their arguments that the Senate has the authority to conduct an impeachment trial against a former president.

They showed a lengthy, graphic video montage of the events of Jan. 6. It included clips of President Donald Trump addressing his supporters as well as footage of those supporters storming the Capitol, attacking police officers, breaking through doors with makeshift battering rams and rampaging through the building.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers, Bruce Castor and David Schoen, argued that the Senate doesn’t have the authority to conduct an impeachment trial against their client, focusing heavily on what they claimed was a lack of due process.

Senators voted, 56 to 44, to proceed with the impeachment trial, rejecting the claim that it would be unconstitutional to prosecute a president who has already left office.

A powerful video

The House impeachment managers’ strategy — an effort to force Senate Republicans to engage with the specifics of Mr. Trump’s and his supporters’ actions on Jan. 6, rather than allow them to dismiss the trial on procedural grounds — was on full display from almost the moment the proceedings began at 1 p.m. on Tuesday.

After a short opening statement, the lead manager, Mr. Raskin, played a video. Running more than 13 minutes, it showed the Capitol riot in searing detail: a police officer crushed against a door, screaming in pain; lawmakers and journalists taking cover in the House chamber; Officer Eugene Goodman of the Capitol Police leading rioters away from the unsecured Senate floor. It also showed Mr. Trump telling his supporters: “Go home. We love you. You’re very special.”

Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri told reporters that it was “the longest time I’ve sat down and just watched straight footage of what was truly a horrendous day.” (Mr. Blunt, a Republican, still voted against continuing the trial.)

Before ceding the floor to Mr. Trump's lawyers, Mr. Raskin gave a deeply personal account of what happened to him and his family on Jan. 6.

Mr. Raskin said his daughter Tabitha and son-in-law, Hank, were at the Capitol that day — just after Mr. Raskin buried his son, Tommy — because they wanted to be together in their grief. He also wanted to show his family “the peaceful transition of power in America.” Instead, Tabitha and Hank ended up trapped in an office off the House floor, hiding from the rioters.

When the family reunited, Mr. Raskin said, choking back tears, he apologized to Tabitha and promised her it wouldn’t be like that the next time she came to the Capitol.

“Dad,” Tabitha replied, “I don’t want to come back.”

The arguments

The impeachment managers said it defied both the Constitution and common sense to argue that a president who commits an impeachable offense should be shielded because he is close to the end of his time in office — an idea they disparagingly called a “January exception.” They cited the text of the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, the political context in which the framers established the impeachment process, and historical precedents like the 1876 Senate trial of William Belknap, the U.S. war secretary.

“What you experienced that day, what we experienced that day, what our country experienced that day is the framers’ worst nightmare come to life,” Mr. Neguse said of Jan. 6. “Presidents can’t inflame insurrection in their final weeks and then walk away like nothing happened, and yet that is the rule President Trump asks you to adopt.”

Mr. Trump’s defense started on a strange note, with one of his lawyers, Mr. Castor, giving a meandering defense of Mr. Trump in which he rarely referenced the former president or his behavior on Jan. 6. At times, he appeared to be arguing for Mr. Trump’s free speech rights and against a partisan cycle of impeachments.

The other defense lawyer, Mr. Schoen, delivered a more forceful speech, accusing Democrats of trying to “disenfranchise” Mr. Trump’s supporters and describing the trial as an unconstitutional infringement on the rights of a “private citizen.”

“If these proceedings go forward, everyone will look bad,” he said. “Our great country, a model for all the world, will be far more divided and our standing around the world will be badly broken. Our archenemies who pray each and every day for our downfall will watch with glee.”

Mr. Schoen argued that the House had violated Mr. Trump’s due process rights by pursuing impeachment so quickly, and that if the Senate went ahead with the trial, it would set a precedent under which any public official could be impeached at any time after leaving office if control of Congress changed hands — suggesting simultaneously that lawmakers had impeached Mr. Trump too soon and too late.

The vote

After four hours of arguments, senators voted on whether Mr. Trump was subject to the Senate’s impeachment jurisdiction. A simple majority was required to move forward, and it was easily met: 56 senators voted yes and 44 voted no.

Six Republicans — Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania — joined all 50 Democrats to authorize the trial.

Five of those Republicans had voted in favor of the trial last month. Mr. Cassidy’s vote, however, was a surprise. He later told reporters that he had changed his vote from last month’s because he found the defense lawyers’ arguments startlingly weak.

The House impeachment managers “made a compelling argument,” Mr. Cassidy said. “President Trump’s team, they were disorganized. They did everything they could but to talk about the question at hand.”

“If I’m an impartial juror and one side is doing a great job and the other side is doing a terrible job on the issue at hand,” he said, “as an impartial juror, I’m going to vote for the side that did a good job.”

What else we’re reading

Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, is filling a trifecta of roles in the trial: witness, juror and judge.

An intrusion by militia groups into the Michigan Statehouse in April now seems like it was a harbinger of the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.

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