Talk about an optics conundrum. Will Democrats take Jacob Chansley up on his offer to testify at Donald Trump’s impeachment trial to prove the president explicitly incited his QAnon followers into an insurrection? Or will the optics of inviting the most visible sackers of the Capitol back to the well of the Senate make too much of a mockery of the entire proceedings?
One thing’s for sure — Chansley’s lawyer sure is fickle. Two weeks ago, Albert Watkins pleaded with Trump to pardon the QAnon “shaman.” After getting stiffed, however…
The lawyer for an Arizona man who took part in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol while sporting face paint, no shirt and a furry hat with horns is offering to have his client, Jacob Chansley, testify at former President Donald Trump’s upcoming impeachment trial. Lawyer Albert Watkins said it’s important for senators to hear the voice of someone who was incited by Mr. Trump.
Watkins said his client was previously “horrendously smitten” by Mr. Trump but now feels let down after Mr. Trump’s refusal to grant Chansley and others who participated in the insurrection a pardon. “He felt like he was betrayed by the president,” Watkins said.
Watkins said he hasn’t spoken to any member in the Senate since announcing his offer to have Chansley — also known as Jake Angeli — testify at the trial, which is scheduled to begin the week of February 8.
This is obviously a publicity stunt, but one with a purpose for Watkins. The only way to keep his client out of prison for a long stretch is to paint him as hopelessly misled to whatever jury hears his case. To prevent a jury from ever hearing it at all, though, Watkins needs to cut a deal for immunity, but Watkins doesn’t have much to offer the US Attorney. Prosecutors won’t need Chansley (aka “Jake Angeli”) to make cases against the scores or hundreds of people who will wind up getting charged in the Capitol riot, because most of them made those cases for prosecutors on social media already.
If Watkins can’t get a pardon from Trump or a plea deal from the Department of Justice, what’s left? Either an insanity plea, or immunity in exchange for congressional testimony. Both are desperation plays. Watkins apparently doesn’t see a problem with the optics of having Chansley entering the chamber as an invited guest, but you’d better believe Democrats will.
And Watkins has another problem, too, which is that there won’t be a trial — at least not one with witnesses outside of the jurors themselves. Democrats want to wrap this up in a week simply based on their own observations. They aren’t calling witnesses, and they’re not even conducting an investigation. The Washington Post’s Paul Kane wonders why Senate Democrats are passing on an opportunity to eat their cake and have it too:
The current thinking imagines a trial finished in a week. It’s a stunning reversal for a Democratic caucus that cried out for witnesses and documents during last year’s trial, focused on Trump’s attempt to force Ukrainian officials to announce an investigation into the Biden family. …
Democrats privately rejected the easiest way to handle such an evidentiary task. They could have created a special impeachment trial committee that would have been tasked with issuing subpoenas, conducting depositions of witnesses along with House managers and Trump’s lawyers, and fighting in court any efforts to block testimony or documents.
This approach would have allowed Schumer to move ahead with Biden’s agenda and confirming his Cabinet, while the trial committee handled those legally protracted issues.
But that might have meant delaying the full Senate trial for several months, when the fury of the moment will have faded.
But advocates of this approach believe that the initial 55-45 vote signaled that the only way to change GOP minds would be to produce evidence showing that Trump was more complicit than is currently known.
In a way, Democrats are choosing the worst of all worlds with this rush to get past the trial. A rush might have mattered had the Senate taken up impeachment prior to Trump leaving office at the end of his term. Now, what’s the point of rushing? If the Senate insists it has jurisdiction and authority to try a former officeholder, then speed no longer matters much. Why not wait for a real investigation to produce evidence that might end up shaming more Republicans into a yes vote, or at least put the onus on them to reject it? They don’t have to rely on the All-Organic QAnon Wonder Shaman for that evidence — a Democrat now runs the executive branch and would presumably be cooperative in providing the documentation and communications that could be relevant to a trial.
The conclusion from this rush is that Senate Democrats realize this trial is a political loser, that they don’t really have a legal case, or both. Perhaps the new Biden administration has made either or both clear to Chuck Schumer in some way. Whatever the reason, it’s all bad news for Watkins and his horn-helmed client.