WASHINGTON — President Trump’s staunchest allies sought on Sunday to stave off a trial for him in the Senate over the storming of the U.S Capitol by a mob of his supporters, while Democrats demanded he be held accountable for what one called the “most dangerous crime by a president ever committed against the United States.”
Three days before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, Trump remained out of public view, sequestered in the White House while thousands of National Guard troops cordoned off a huge swath of official Washington, including the stately Capitol building on whose steps Biden will take the oath of office Wednesday.
Against that tense backdrop, Democrats insisted that the president’s impending departure from the Oval Office did not negate his role in the Jan. 6 rampage by extremist Trump partisans seeking to halt formal congressional affirmation of Biden’s election victory. House Democrats, joined by 10 Republicans, impeached Trump last week, alleging he incited the mob to storm the Capitol.
Trump’s historic second impeachment now moves on to the Senate for trial, but outgoing Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has indicated the chamber will not take up the matter before the president leaves office. Republicans have seized on the timetable to argue that Trump should not be tried in the Senate as a private citizen.
Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., who will serve as lead impeachment manager, vehemently rejected the notion that Trump’s departure offered a shield for acts committed during his waning days in office.
“I don’t think anybody would seriously argue that we should establish a precedent where every president, on the way out the door, has two weeks or three weeks or four weeks to try to incite an armed insurrection against the union,” Raskin said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
The lawmaker called Trump’s whipping up of insurrectionists with his false claim of a stolen election “the most serious presidential crime in the history of the United States of America, the most dangerous crime by a president ever committed against the United States.”
Raskin said he did not know when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would deliver the single article of impeachment to the Senate, which will revert to Democratic control on Wednesday, but said it “should be coming up soon.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is reprising his role as an ardent Trump defender after breaking with him over the Capitol siege, said it would be “insane at every level” to press ahead with a Senate trial after the president’s term had ended.
“This has never been done in the history of our country — I think it is blatantly unconstitutional,” Graham said on Fox’s “Sunday Morning Futures.”
The South Carolina Republican on Sunday sent a letter to incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), calling on him to dismiss the article of impeachment once it is received in the Senate to promote national “healing.”
That drew a sarcastic retort from Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank). “Now Graham calls for unity. I agree,” Schiff tweeted. “Let’s unite in removing Trump from office and disqualify him from [ever] holding a public trust again.”
If Trump is convicted by the Senate, which would require a two-thirds majority, the chamber could vote separately, by simple majority, to ban him from running for president in 2024, or from seeking any other office.
Finding 17 Republicans willing to convict Trump will be an uphill battle for Democrats. Taking Trump out of the running might appeal to members of his party with presidential aspirations, though they risk seriously angering his loyal base of voters.
The dynamics of a Senate trial will be very different from the House impeachment vote, which came only a week after the Capitol was stormed. Already, granular details about events surrounding the riot are emerging in prosecutors’ charging documents and media reports.
Sen. Dick Durbin, the incoming chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on CNN there would be consequences for any member of Congress “who was complicit in either planning or executing that insurrection,” as some have been accused of doing. The Illinois Democrat said the matter should be taken up by the chamber’s Ethics Committee.
Some Republicans who were critical of Trump’s conduct nonetheless voted against impeaching him, including Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.). She suggested in an interview Sunday that the House acted precipitously but that by the time the Senate was conducting a trial, more facts may have come to light.
“Even if you think the president is guilty as hell, like many do believe, there has to be due process,” Mace said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Former Republican strategist Karl Rove told “Fox News Sunday” that if Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani were to play a role in the Senate trial, and if he tried to justify the president’s actions on the basis of the election having been invalid, it could actually galvanize votes from within his own party for a conviction.
The president’s campaign has sought to quash reports of a potentially prominent role for Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who spearheaded a spectacularly unsuccessful legal campaign to overturn various states’ vote results. Trump campaign spokesman Hogan Gidley said Saturday on Twitter that Trump had not decided who would represent him in impeachment-related proceedings, which he called a “hoax.”
Giuliani has “suggested that the argument was going to be, ‘Well there couldn’t be incitement because all the charges of widespread voter fraud are true,’” Rove said on Fox.
If the president adopts “Rudy Giuliani’s defense,” he added, “it raises the likelihood of more than 17 Republicans voting for conviction.”