For Republican senators to acquit Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial, they will have to ignore that they were among the targets of his misdeeds that lead to the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. They will have to shove aside their own experiences, what they saw and heard that day, as well as their knowledge of why and how it happened. That they are apparently willing to do so is frightening.
It was conventional wisdom even before this week’s trial began that Trump will be acquitted, because enough GOP senators — and only GOP senators — will vote against a guilty verdict. The conventional wisdom is probably right. Despite that, the House impeachment managers making the case against Trump on Wednesday targeted their arguments to those very same skeptical Republicans.
“Let me be very clear, the president wasn’t just coming for one or two people, or Democrats like me, he was coming for you,” said one of the impeachment managers, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.). “For Democratic and Republican senators. He was coming for all of us. Just as the mob did, at his direction.”
That partisan senators sit as supposedly impartial jurors in impeachment trials has always been an odd and uncomfortable feature of America’s Constitution. Trump’s trial has highlighted this weirdness even more, because those jurors are also direct witness to the riot at the heart of the case — and, also, very nearly direct victims of the day’s violence.
Evidence presented Wednesday included plenty of new videos depicting the Trump-supporting mob rampaging through the Capitol. One clip showed Officer Eugene Goodman hustling Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) to safety. Impeachment managers also highlighted some of Trump’s tweets in the weeks, days, and hours leading up to the Capitol insurrection — missives that labeled then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other GOP leaders as “RINOs,” a “surrender caucus,” and “weak and ineffective” because they did not heed his call to overturn Joe Biden’s presidential election victory.
The essential points were crystal clear. It was a near thing that no member of Congress — including Trump’s fellow GOP partisans — was injured or killed during the incursion. “Most of the public does not know how close these rioters came to you,” said another impeachment manager, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.). “You were just 58 steps away from where the mobs were amassing and the police were rushing to stop them.”
Such messages, along with a relentless procession of video clips featuring violent rioters surging through the Capitol, seemed to shake up a few members of the impeachment jury. Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) was reportedly teary-eyed and shaken up by video of one police officer being crushed by insurgents. Another Republican senator — Steve Daines of Montana — was moved to comfort him.
On the other hand, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was spotted doodling. And Lankford’s fellow Oklahoma Republican, Sen. James Inhofe, said he hadn’t seen anything that would make him change his mind in favor of acquitting Trump.
“Not from anything I’ve seen so far,” Inhofe said. “And I can’t imagine what else is out there. We’ve had all this time for everyone to use every possible argument they could use. So I’ve heard them all.”
“The ‘Not Guilty’ vote is growing after today,” added Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) in a Wednesday night Twitter post. “I think most Republicans found the presentation by the House Managers offensive and absurd.”
As I’ve argued before, the GOP senators who came into the impeachment trial determined to vote for acquittal are betraying their oath to uphold and defend the Constitution. Wednesday’s evidence makes clear that they are also betraying themselves. The lives of Senate Republicans were endangered and their jobs disrupted because of Trump’s lies, and most of them won’t do anything about it. You would think simple self-preservation would be a stronger motivator, but no. Why? Perhaps it’s a Trump-flavored form of Stockholm syndrome. Maybe they figure it’s the only way they can keep their jobs. It is not out of the question that some Republicans are afraid of even more violence from the former president’s supporters if they don’t vote in his favor.
The reasons don’t matter. The result is the same. Trump will face no penalty from the United States Senate for inspiring insurrection. That’s a sign that the danger still hasn’t entirely receded.