On Tuesday, the House impeachment managers who will prosecute former President Donald Trump released their written brief on the case. In the brief, the House managers alleged that Trump “summoned a mob to Washington, exhorted them into a frenzy, and aimed them like a loaded cannon down Pennsylvania Avenue.” In both the brief and the press release announcing it, the Democrats made no bones about their ultimate goal: disqualifying Trump from holding office in the future.
Trump’s “conduct endangered the life of every single Member of Congress, jeopardized the peaceful transition of power and line of succession, and compromised our national security,” the Democrats wrote in the brief. “This is precisely the sort of constitutional offense that warrants disqualification from federal office.”
In addition to the brief, the House impeachment managers released a joint statement calling for Trump’s disqualification, USA Today reported.
“There is no ‘January exception’ to the Constitution that allows a President to organize a coup or incite an armed insurrection in his final weeks in office,” the Democrats argued. “The Senate must convict President Trump, who has already been impeached by the House of Representatives, and disqualify him from ever holding federal office again.”
The 80-page brief argues that Trump’s decision to contest the results of the 2020 election, and, in particular, his speech at the Ellipse on January 6, 2021, incited an insurrection against Congress and incoming President Joe Biden.
“The only honorable path at that point was for President Trump to accept the results and concede his electoral defeat,” the 80-page brief argues. “Instead, he summoned a mob to Washington, exhorted them into a frenzy, and aimed them like a loaded cannon down Pennsylvania Avenue.”
“In a grievous betrayal of his Oath of Office, President Trump incited a violent mob to attack the United States Capitol during the Joint Session, thus impeding Congress’s confirmation of Joseph R. Biden, Jr. as the winner of the presidential election,” the brief claims. “As it stormed the Capitol, the mob yelled out ‘President Trump Sent Us,’ ‘Hang Mike Pence,’ and ‘Traitor Traitor Traitor.’”
The brief also quotes Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who voted for impeachment. “None of this would have happened without the President,” Cheney had said. “The President could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence. He did not. There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”
Trump was within his rights to challenge the results of the 2020 election. Although Trump went too far in claiming that he had won the election “in a landslide,” there were serious concerns about election irregularities. While Trump did ask Vice President Mike Pence to unilaterally reject Electoral College votes from contested states — a clear usurpation of the vice president’s lawful role — the president never told his supporters to engage in violence or to storm the Capitol.
Democrats significantly weakened their impeachment case by crafting the sole article around the accusation of “incitement of insurrection.” In legal terms, “incitement” must involve clear calls for violence. If the Capitol riot constituted an insurrection, however, then the Black Lives Matter and antifa riots of the summer clearly constituted insurrections, as well. By the Democrats’ standard, some of the Democrats are arguably just as guilty as Trump, albeit involving insurrections in Portland, Seattle, and Kenosha, not the U.S. Capitol.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) first delayed the impeachment for days after January 6, then rushed it without any independent investigation, then held up the article of impeachment for weeks before sending it to the Senate. The delays undercut Pelosi’s claim that she had to move quickly to remove Trump as soon as possible.
Trump’s legal team will likely cite the questionable constitutionality of trying a president for impeachment after the president has left office. The Democrats’ statement effectively addressed this argument by claiming that “there is no ‘January exception’ to the Constitution.” It is feasible that presidents may commit high crimes and misdemeanors in the last few weeks of their terms, so this is a strong rebuttal.
Even so, Democrats face an extremely high bar. In order to secure a conviction of former President Donald Trump, they will have to convince 17 Republican senators to vote for conviction. Only 5 GOP senators voted in favor of allowing the trial, with the other 45 senators claiming that it was unconstitutional to try a president after he left office.
The impeachment trial starts next Monday. It is likely to be a long slog with an unsatisfying conclusion for both sides. Some Republicans will likely vote to convict Trump, but the former president will likely end up acquitted unless the Democrats can present convincing evidence that Trump wanted or intended violence to occur on January 6.
Democrats want to disqualify Trump from office, but they won’t be able to do that unless 17 Republicans vote to convict him. Americans may find the idea of disqualifying Trump from holding public office to be undemocratic, so the impeachment could backfire on Democrats.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.