Trump is actually charged

When the nine elected Democrats made their way over to the Senate on Monday evening, Washington time, they crossed a crime scene with every step. Nineteen days ago, on January 6, hundreds of rioters stormed the Capitol, frightening the MPs in the House of Representatives to death, as well as the senators on the other side of the Capitol in their plenary chamber.

In the National Statuary Hall and the great rotunda that the envoys are now crossing, supporters of Donald Trump have waved their flags, shouted and loudly, "Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!" called. On that day, Trump's vice president had the task of announcing the results of the presidential election and thus finally certifying them. President Trump and his supporters wanted to prevent that.

Five people lost their lives because of the uprising. The storming of the Capitol was an assault on the soul and heart of American democracy.

This Monday, almost three weeks later, Democratic MP Jamie Raskin from Maryland is leading the way, behind him, in rows of two, are the eight other so-called impeachment managers of the House of Representatives. You will be the prosecutor in the Senate trial. Like all Democrats and ten Republicans in the House of Representatives, you are convinced that Donald John Trump, the 45th President of the United States, called for the uprising.

It's a formal act only. But a historically significant one. A president has never been tried twice in the Senate. The Senate has never been charged with a president who is no longer in office. Joe Biden took over the business on January 20th.

Raskin stands in front of the still closed Senate door, behind him his colleagues, still in rows of two. He looks again in his black folder as if to check whether the indictment against Trump is actually in it. Then the group is announced by a hall servant. She marches in and stands in front of the presidium. Raskin steps up to the Senate lectern and reads the four-page indictment in five minutes.

Even if it's just a strictly choreographed formal act, Raskin's appearance has something personal about it. The former professor of constitutional law was instrumental in drafting the indictment. Raskin is said to have written the first draft while the rebels were still in the Capitol. Based on his draft, the House of Representatives decided on the impeachment on January 13, a week after the riot. For the fifth time in US history. For the second time against the same president. Raskin's 25-year-old son died on New Year's Eve. Raskin later said, "I lost my son in 2020. I won't lose my country in 2021."

But personally, this impeachment is arguably for every member of Congress who was in the Capitol on January 6th, who heard the gunshots, the screams, the banging of doors, the clang of breaking glass. Even if some do not want to and will not draw the conclusion that Trump was the initiator of this uproar.

In two weeks, on February 9, the trial is due to begin under the chairmanship of Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy. Then the 100 senators will slip into the role of judges with him. Raskin and his eight impeachment managers will represent the prosecution. In turn, attorney Butch Bowers from South Carolina will speak for Trump. A new name in the Trump cosmos. His previous lawyers have all declined to represent him.

Almost all. Trump's previous lawyer Rudy Giuliani would have liked to take over the job. But Trump has apparently realized that this could do him more harm than good. Especially since Giuliani stood with Trump on the stage in front of the White House on January 6, from where Trump asked thousands of supporters to march to the Capitol. Giuliani himself urged Trump fans to seek the decision on the outcome of the election in battle ("trial by combat"). Which makes him an accomplice in terms of the impeachment charge. So he could also be called as a witness.

It is not yet clear whether and to what extent witnesses will be called and evidence presented. The Democrats in the Senate apparently see little reason for lengthy witness hearings. "The evidence is obvious. It's Trump's own words. It's on video," says Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal. "I think the evidence here is very simple and straightforward. His purpose was clear."

Prosecutors are therefore likely to rely on the tangible facts:

  • Trump's scrutiny, audible, and visible attempts to question any result that does not mean his victory even before the election.
  • Trump's call for a "major protest" in Washington on January 6th. Associated with the promise: "It's going to be wild."
  • Trump's speech in which the US President called on the masses to march to the Capitol. He also gave them on the way that they could get their country back "not with weakness". "You have to show strength and you have to be strong."
  • And last but not least: Trump's video message to the rioters, which he recorded during the uprising in the White House. In it he describes the rioters in the Capitol as "very special people" and emphasizes that he "loves" them all.

Since Tuesday, however, it has been very unlikely that all of this will lead to a conviction and thus to a subsequent impeachment of Trump. In the Senate, 45 of the 50 Republican Senators voted in favor of a motion calling impeachment against Trump unconstitutional. Senior Republican Senate Mitch McConnell was among those who supported the motion. He had publicly called Trump a provocateur of the riot, but with this vote he seems to want to show that he does not intend to condemn Trump in the Senate.

17 Republican senators would have to vote with the Democrats to get the necessary two-thirds majority of the MPs present when the house is full. The process is now further away from that than ever.

The Republicans are in a bind. If you condemn Trump, you risk splitting the party. Allegedly Trump is already working on the establishment of a new "Patriot Party", which he denied. But if you acquit him of the allegations, you risk strengthening Trump and making yourself dependent on his whims for the foreseeable future. Apparently they want to avoid answering the question of whether Trump's wrongdoing should be punished with the argument that the procedure is unconstitutional.

If they wanted to get rid of him as a political actor, the only way to do that would be to impeach him. If Trump is condemned by a two-thirds majority, then the senators can forbid him in a next step with a simple majority from ever again to assume public office. A candidacy in 2024 would then be ruled out. But it won't get that far now. The process is "dead on arrival" - that is, dead before you even deal with it - said Trump's last chief of staff in the White House, Mark Meadows.

In any case, the process will not take long. The Democratic majority leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, has announced that the process will be "fair". But it will "go relatively quickly." In other words: a short process. With an outcome that is now predictable.