Democrats have launched their impeachment case against Donald Trump with a powerful video package – showing his fiery speech to supporters on January 6 and then the violence and chaos that followed as hundreds swept the US Capitol.
In proceedings that were historic simply by the fact they were talking place – Mr Trump is the only US president to be impeached twice – senators were shown almost 15 minutes of protests and rioting that took place just a month ago in the very building in which they were sitting.
“You ask what a high crime and misdemeanor is under our constitution,” said Democratic congressman Jamie Raskin, who is leading the prosecution of Mr Trump in the upper chamber of Congress.
“That’s a high crime and misdemeanor.”
He added: “If that’s not an impeachable offence, then there’s no such thing.”
As the scenes were played, among them the shooting by a police officer that resulted in the death of a protester, and an officer being dragged down the steps outside by members of the mob, some of the senators were seen to cover their faces. Others appeared to be rubbing their eyes.
Meanwhile, Mr Trump was said to have been furious with the way one of his lawyers, Bruce Castor, delivered a meandering opening statement. The performance of the president’s second lawyer, David Schoen, perhaps aware of a CNN report that said the former president was yelling at his television in Florida, was markedly punchier.
“The transition of power is always the most dangerous moment for democracies. Every historian will tell you that. We just saw it in the most astonishing way. We lived through it,” said Mr Raskin, who would later recount rioters pounding on his office door, as his staff and members of his family cowered in fear for their lives.
“And you know what, the framers of our constitution knew it. That’s why they created a constitution with an oath written into it that binds the president from his very first day in office until his very last day in office and every day in between.”
Last month, just a week before he left office, Mr Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives, which found he was responsible for “inciting insurrection”, by his speech on the National Mall on the morning of January 6, as a joint session of Congress was set to affirm the electoral college votes of all 50 states, and sign off on the final step before Joe Biden became president.
Mr Trump, who had long claimed without evidence that the election was rigged, had put pressure on his vice president Mike Pence, not to oversee the hearing, a task assigned to him by the constitution.
“We’re gathered together in the heart of our nation’s Capitol for one very, very basic and simple reason, to save our democracy,” Mr Trump had told his supporters. “We fight. We fight like hell and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
He concluded by telling the crowd to “walk down Pennsylvania Avenue – I love Pennsylvania Avenue –and we’re going to the Capitol”.
Democrats argued that they indeed were authorised to pursue Mr Trump even though he had left office, pointing out that he had been impeached by the House for acts committed while he was still president.
Otherwise, said congressman David Cicilline, the senators would be permitting a “January exception”, allowing an outgoing president do whatever he or she wanted in the last days of their administration, and escaping any accountability.
He said: “President Trump was not impeached because he used words that the House decided are forbidden, or unpopular. He was impeached for inciting armed violence against the government of the United States.”
Mr Trump’s lawyers sought to suggest the prosecution was both outside of the remit of the constitution, and harmful to the country.
Mr Castor told the senators that impeachment was intended to be used in the most rare of instances. Rather, it was turning into something much more common, and that could be used by both parties as a political tool.
He also paid tribute to Mr Raskin, and said nobody would hear anything from any of the team representing Mr Trump to “say anything, but in the strongest possible way denounce the violence of the rioters, those that breached the Capitol, the very citadel centre of our democracy”.
He was followed by Mr Schoen, who took a much pointed and strident approach, accusing the Democrats of engaging in political “bloodsport”. He said he also felt close to tears, over the prospect of the trial going ahead.
“Let’s be perfectly clear – if you vote to proceed with this impeachment trial, future senators will recognise you bought into a radical constitutional theory that departs clearly from the language of the constitution itself, and holds … whoever dares to want to serve his or her country must know that they will be subject to impeachment long after their service and office have ended.”
He added: “What they really want to accomplish here in the name of the constitution is to bar Donald Trump from ever running for political office again, but this is an affront to the constitution no matter who they target today.”
After that, a vote was called on whether or not the Senate had the constitutional authority to try the case against Mr Trump, given he is no longer president.
A total of six Republicans joined with Democrats to decide 56 to 44 that it did, one more than when the chamber held a similar vote on the matter last month.
The additional Republican was senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. He was joined by Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraksa, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
“I’ve always said I would approach this with an open mind and would listen as an impartial juror to both sides,” Mr Cassidy said before the hearing.
He later said: “The House managers were focused, they were organised … they made a compelling argument. President Trump’s team, they were disorganised, they did everything they could but to talk about the question at hand.”
The hearing is expected to take up the rest of the week, with each side having 16 hours to present evidence and counter argument. Democrats require 67 votes to find Mr Trump guilty.
While three US presidents have been impeached by the House – indeed, Mr Trump has been impeached twice by the lower chamber – no president has a been found guilty in the Senate. Most observers believe the Senate is unlikely to convict Mr Trump, but if it did, it could also vote to block him from holding office again.
Source: The independent