Donald Trump attempted to overthrow an election and install himself as an autocrat.
This is an inconvenient truth for congressional Republicans who were complicit in the scheme—the 147 representatives and senators who joined in objecting to the Electoral College vote, plus the many others who helped propagate Trump’s lies—so they want his impeachment trial to be about something else. Anything else.
Some of them want to raise process questions, using constitutional mumbo jumbo conjured from the region of Jonathan Turley’s frontal cortex dedicated to maintaining his relevance.
Some of them want to parse the president’s rhetoric. Was it a little too hot or too cold? Didn’t he once use the word “peaceful”? Have there been liberal politicians in the past who have said something vaguely similar to what Trump said that the Democrats now label incitement?
Some of them want to turn the proceedings into a circus. Lindsey Graham suggested calling the QAnon shaman to the stand, and last night on Fox threatened to drag the trial out for months with new witnesses to derail the Biden agenda.
This is the turf where the Republicans think they win. The pedantic. The preposterous. The political gamesmanship.
The turf where they lose? Donald Trump’s actions. His ongoing refusal to own up to his lies.
That’s why the Democratic senators should call Lindsey Graham’s bluff. If Trump’s defense team wants to call pro-coup witnesses, have at it. But Donald Trump himself should be one of them.
Having Trump and those close to him testify under oath about the president’s actions and lies leading up to January 6 is fertile ground for the Democrats, for two reasons.
1) The fact pattern around Trump’s attempt to overthrow our democracy is long and damning and anytime Republicans are asked about it they like to elide the details, pretending they weren’t really on board for the particulars. But Trump was serious and literal about the coup, then and now. This tension makes things awkward for Republicans.
2) Most Senate Republicans aren’t in a position to disavow Trump’s stolen election lies because their voters think that they are eternal truths provided to them by the Mango Moroni on gold lamé tablets. They want their representatives to Fight for Trump, not nitpick his narrative.
And thus the best way to force the impeachment conversation to be about Trump’s actions and lies—and congressional Republicans’ complicity in them—is to demand he testify at the scene of the crime.
With regard to his actions, the House managers prosecuting Trump during the Senate trial aren’t limited to “incitement,” which is, at least in some respects, in the eye of the beholder. The article of impeachment sent over from the House covers a range of Trump’s related misdeeds, including some that are much less subjective than incitement. Threatening state election officials and telling them to find votes is not a gray area. Holding meetings about firing Justice Department officials who won’t go along with the plot is not a gray area. Repeatedly making provably false claims about fraud in support of an effort to overturn the election result is not a gray area. A factual case that demonstrates this multi-pronged effort to overturn the election will be much harder for Republicans to weasel out of than incitement.
And the weaseling will become all but impossible if Trump himself is there to confirm his own transgressions. This past weekend, when Trump canned his impeachment lawyers, CNN reported that the former president’s falling out with his legal team was over his desire that the attorneys “argue there was mass election fraud and that the election was stolen from him.”
That leak should have Democratic impeachment managers licking their chops at the prospect of bringing the Trump freak show back to Washington. Trump’s congenital inability to acknowledge defeat or even attempt a face-saving lie about how he didn’t really want to steal the election puts Republican senators in a completely untenable situation.
The same personality disorder that prevents Trump from admitting defeat should also be used to urge his testimony.
He should be repeatedly called out as a coward and worse if he refuses to take the stand in his own defense. Trump will become apoplectic if he is derided and taunted and mocked without having the White House bully pulpit and a united Republican caucus to defend him as he did during the last impeachment.
While Democrats are certainly enjoying their respite from Trump’s madness, smoking him out during impeachment should be a strategic imperative if they want to maximize the pain that Republicans brought on themselves by going along with the Big Lie. Anytime these Republicans want to play cute with the facts or avoid admitting to the coup motivations in the lead-up to January 6, the president’s own testimony will pull the rug out from under them.
Plus Trump’s very presence would increase the emotional valence and drama around the proceedings. The coup-neutral Republicans benefit from letting time sand away at the raw emotions of Insurrection Day. That’s harder to do when the man responsible for the mob is forced to answer for it in a scene that is without precedent in American history.
Too often Trump has been able to run out the clock on his scandals as other news stories displace them. He avoided Mueller. He ducked testifying on Ukraine.
This is a time to hold his feet to the fire. He must not be allowed to try to end American democracy without having to answer for it.
The United States Capitol was besieged by a mob of Trump’s own creating. He should be dared to stand and testify in that very building and reap what he sowed.