Tears and confusion mark first day of Trump impeachment trial as senators wrap heads around emotional opening arguments

Tears and confusion mark first day of Trump impeachment trial as senators wrap heads around emotional opening arguments


Tears and confusion mark first day of Trump impeachment trial as senators wrap heads around emotional opening arguments

Tears and confusion mark first day of Trump impeachment trial as senators wrap heads around emotional opening arguments

T

he opening day of the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump was an emotional rollercoaster for senators sitting through what was billed as a four-hour debate over the constitutionality of moving forward with the process.

Senators trickled into a still-heavily fortified Capitol complex on Tuesday morning with nary a cloud in the sky, the Washington, DC, sun glinting off coils of barbed wire capping the eight-foot fence bordering the roughly four-acre holy ground of American democracy.

The thousands of National Guard troops still stationed in Washington — taking shifts guarding that perimeter — have served as a constant reminder of the domestic, mostly right-wing threats still facing the US legislature roughly five weeks after the initial attack.

This second impeachment trial of Mr Trump is most extraordinary in that the senators sitting as the nominal “jury” are effectively their own judges as well as witnesses to Mr Trump’s alleged “incitement to insurrection.”

When the Democratic impeachment managers kicked off their presentation on Tuesday ataround 1.15pm with a harrowing 10-minute video compilation of the 6 January attack on the Capitol, reporters — many of whom were also forced into hiding during the riot — noted visceral reactions from several senators.

Democratic Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey placed his hands over his eyes as footage rolled of a Capitol police officer firing a bullet into the neck of a woman, Ashli Babbitt, who was trying to climb through a window into the Speaker’s lobby at the House of Representatives.

Several senators rubbed their eyes and foreheads as the video showed a mob crushing DC police officer Daniel Hodges inside a doorway.

When the video flashed to a clip of Mr Trump telling his supporters “we love you” in the middle of the insurrection, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia could be seen ruefully shaking his head.

Whereas at Mr Trump’s first impeachment trial in January and early February 2020 visitors dotted the galleries overlooking the 100 studious senators at their desks on the chamber floor, the lone outside observer on Tuesday other than the limited press seated above the dais was Democratic Congressman Al Green of Texas.

The mostly empty chamber provided haunting acoustics for the screams of police officers, the chants of the pro-Trump mob, and the “pop” of the smoking gun from which the bullet that killed Ms Babbit had shot.

Several senators, including GOP Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, left their seats to comfort lead impeachment manager Jamie Raskin of Maryland, who fought through tears as he shared his experiences on the day of the insurrection.

Mr Raskin fought through tears as he recounted the recent death by suicide of his son and how his visiting daughter and son-in-law — who he’d brought with him on the day Congress was to certify Joe Biden’s electoral victory — were forced to hide under a desk in House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s office within the Capitol as rioters marched through the hallways shouting threats and hurling expletive-laced insults at no one in particular.

Trump impeachment trial opens with video of him telling supporters to march on Capitol and mob turning violent

“My son-in-law had never even been to the Capitol before. And when they were finally rescued over an hour later by Capitol officers, and we were together, I hugged them and I apologised. And I told my daughter Tabitha … how sorry I was and I promised her that it would not be like this again the next time she came back to the Capitol with me,” Mr Raskin said.

“And you know what she said? ‘Dad — I don’t want to come back,’” Mr Raskin continued.

Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona was later seen wiping her eyes.

The raw emotion — as well as the clearly delineated constitutional reasoning — of the impeachment managers’ opening appeal stood in sharp contrast to a rambling 48-minute monologue from Trump defence lawyer Bruce Castor that caused several senators to arch their eyebrows and scratch their heads in apparent confusion.

The first 10 or so minutes were a strange ode to the patriotism of senators past and present, an overwrought fawning over the intelligence of the very men and women he was addressing.

“I have no idea what he is doing,” constitutional lawyer and former Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz told the right-wing network Newsmax moments after Mr Castor’s opening remarks.

Mr Dershowitz, a close ally of Mr Trump, represented the ex-president at his first impeachment trial.

Mr Castor even confessed, mid-speech, to being put out of sorts by the effectiveness of the Democrats’ argument.

“I’ll be quite frank with you,” he said. “We changed what we were going to do on account that we thought that the House managers’ presentation was well done.”

While Mr Trump’s other lead counsel, David Schoen, attacked the nuts and bolts of the constitutionality of the proceeding, the disorganisation of the defence’s presentation put off several GOP senators.

The performance even prompted Louisiana Republican Senator Bill Cassidy to vote in favour of the Democratic impeachment managers’ argument to move ahead with the trial — just two weeks after he voted it was unconstitutional. Five other Republicans voted with all 50 Democrats to move forward with the trial.

“The House managers were focused, they were organised … they made a compelling argument. President Trump’s team, they were disorganised, they did everything they could but to talk about the question at hand,” Mr Cassidy told Politico in a hallway interview at the day’s conclusion.

“If I’m an impartial juror and one side is doing a great job and the other side is doing a terrible job on the issue at hand, as an impartial juror I’m going to vote for the side that did a good job.”

The impeachment trial offered a rare opportunity to observe all 100 senators — a large bulk of whose job involves glad-handing and giving speeches to constituents — sitting silently for an extended period of time.

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida took notes throughout the day with a quill pen, perhaps the same one he used during Mr Trump’s first impeachment trial last year.

Senator John Thune of South Dakota, now a veteran of the impeachment process, took comfort to a new level by supporting his neck with a wraparound pillow usually reserved for uncomfortable catnaps on airplanes.

At the last impeachment, journalists spilled undue digital ink on the frenzied back-and-forth of the young Senate pages shuffling in and out of the chamber at the behest of senators, fetching pens and constantly re-filling their glasses of water.

This time, senators sipped from their own water bottles, another reminder the country is suffering through an unprecedented pandemic.

A few restless lawmakers periodically leafed through books and newspapers.

Florida GOP Senator Rick Scott’s book of choice: a volume on Vicksburg, the city in Mississippi where Union General Ulysses S Grant scored a stunning victory that helped turn the tide against the Confederate Army.

Mr Raskin and the eight other impeachment managers will kick off 16 hours of prosecution on Wednesday at noon, a presentation that will carry over into Wednesday.

Mr Trump’s team will present its argument beginning on Friday. The ex-president’s lawyers will also have 16 hours.


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