The word yesterday was that the prosecution’s case would be heavy on video, which was disappointing — what about witnesses? — but understandable. The jury has been rigged by partisan politics and isn’t persuadable and Democrats don’t want to spend weeks of Senate time prosecuting an unwinnable case. Under those circumstances, the smart play is to treat the viewing audience at home, and especially online, as the jury. And the obvious way to maximize one’s reach with that group is to give them something dramatic and movie-like to grab their attention and to circulate on social media.
Which is what Jamie Raskin and the Dem impeachment team did this afternoon, opening their case with a gripping 13-minute documentary about how January 6 metastasized from a boisterous rally crowd invited to D.C. by the president to a feral mob battling with cops to enter the Capitol to an army of vandals occupying the Senate chamber and Nancy Pelosi’s office. Watching it brought back the terror of watching it live a few weeks ago, not knowing in the moment where it was going or how horrendous it would get. If that’s not an impeachable offense, said Raskin when the video was over of Trump’s role in encouraging the mob, then there’s no such thing.
I hate to break it to him, but after the Senate GOP rubber-stamps Trump’s acquittal next week there will in fact be no such thing as an impeachable offense. Maybe irrefutable smoking-gun evidence of a president accepting a bribe in return for official favors for the briber would do it, but realistically this week’s trial will be cited for ages as precedent that a party owes a president from its own ranks unquestioning loyalty, even when he’s already left office. Jonathan Last knows:
The end result of this impeachment acquittal will be to destroy impeachment as a constitutional mechanism. From here on out, impeachment will be nothing more than a censure. And the censure will be erased completely from our legislative toolbox.
Again: This is very bad.
Our separation of powers is a delicate balance, which relies in part on the credible threat that when push comes to shove, the legislature can remove the chief executive. And this credible threat then creates a second, failsafe threat: That a political party might pressure its president to resign in order to avoid being removed.
Failing to convict Donald Trump makes impeachment a dead letter. And since future presidents will know that they can’t be removed from office, it will be impossible for members of their own party to force them to resign.
The already over-powered executive branch will be, going forward, basically unaccountable to Congress.
One small gesture Senate Republicans could make towards accountability is saying how they would have voted on the merits of the case *if* they believed they had jurisdiction to hear this matter, which they claim they don’t. If SCOTUS ruled tomorrow that it’s constitutional to try a president who’s left office, how would each senator have voted?
But of course they won’t tell us that. The point of the bogus jurisdictional argument is to sidestep the question of Trump’s guilt or innocence and proceed directly to acquittal. They know he committed an impeachable offense; they know the months-long “stop the steal” incitement is indefensible. But they can’t say that to their voters, many of whom are part of a personality cult, so they simply won’t address the subject.
At least the jurisdictional argument makes a legal claim. This sad sack has been reduced to arguing that it’s wrong to hold a trial as a prudential matter, that an attempted putsch to overturn a national election egged on by a sitting president is too insignificant a matter to drag the Senate away from more important business. How kind it is of Marco Rubio to worry on the Dems’ behalf that they’re not prioritizing properly in their new role as Senate majority:
Sen. Marco Rubio: "We are going to spend a week focused on something that is not going to help anyone with the thing that matters in this country the most right now. And that's a terrible thing. That's a waste of our time." pic.twitter.com/S3PvHBiTzi
— The Hill (@thehill) February 9, 2021
What important business does Rubio have in the Senate this week that the trial’s keeping him from? There’s been exactly one interesting policy proposal from the GOP caucus so far this year and he couldn’t wait to take a dump on it.
Here’s the full video presented this afternoon at the trial, which is worth the time if you can spare it. (The Trump tweet featured in the closing seconds is a big part of the Democrats’ presentation today.) The only flaw is that it focuses entirely on January 6. The incitement started months earlier, long before Election Day.