To convict or not to convict

12 February 2021

9:23 AM

12 February 2021

9:23 AM

Tomorrow, attorneys Bruce Castor, David Schoen, Michael van der Veen and William Brennan plan to speak on behalf of Donald Trump to defend him from the charge of having spurred on Duck Dynasty to take over the nation’s Capitol. They are likely to point to Trump’s First Amendment rights and claim that he was merely an accidental tourist as the mob trashed the Capitol. But so desultory has the performance of Trump’s lawyers been that their efforts could turn out to be even more devastating for him than anything the Democratic House managers have presented to the Senate. How do you defend someone whose own conduct impeached him each day of his sordid presidency?

The truth is that the trial has never been about securing the necessary Republican votes to secure a conviction of Trump in the Senate. It’s to convict him in the court of public opinion. And there the Democrats have done a nifty job of tying Trump directly to the malignant events of January 6, no matter how much his legal pursuivants may seek to distance him from them. The Wall Street Journal editorial page made it clear that Trump has passed his sell-by date: ‘Whatever the result of the impeachment trial, Republicans should remember the betrayal if Mr Trump decides to run again in 2024.’

Indeed, new information about Trump’s actions keeps emerging. Sen. Tommy Tuberville confirmed on Wednesday that he had spoken with Trump on January 6 and alerted him that vice president Mike Pence was being evacuated. Trump was unruffled. His only concern was that the vote be disrupted by the mob that he had helped whip up into a froth of indignation. If Trump’s role is being exposed, it’s also the case that the Justice Department continues to lodge conspiracy charges against far-right agitators who participated in the assault on the Capitol — on Thursday it charged five people associated with the Proud Boys. In addition, the Justice Department stated that a leader of the Oath Keepers said that she was responding to Trump’s exhortations.

This is why the Republican senators who are wagering that a verdict of not guilty will abet them in November 2022 may be making a miscalculation. The Democrats are storing up video footage for campaign ads that could prove quite potent in Senate races. The supposition among Republicans that they are headed toward victory in the midterms could be quite wrong, at least when it comes to the Senate (the House, where gerrymandering can help secure fresh Republican seats, is another matter).

If Trump wants to run again, he would be likely to campaign in an even more ruthless and violent fashion than he did in 2020. He would no longer be able to tell the Proud Boys to ‘stand by and stand back’. Instead, he would have to feature them at his rallies. He would make it clear that he was running as the candidate of the militias — and that he would clean house in Washington on day one of his new presidency. In this regard, Democratic House managers are not wrong to suggest that leaving Trump unpunished might prompt him to have another go at trying to purloin an election. Rep. Jamie Raskin had it right: ‘January 6 was not some unexpected radical break from his normal, law-abiding and peaceful disposition. This was his state of mind, this was his essential MO.’

For all his bluster, however, Trump himself faces some perils that put impeachment into the shade. He may owe up to $1 billion to his creditors, not to mention some hefty tax bills to the federal government. It’s also the case that states such as Georgia are starting to scrutinize his conduct during the post-election months. Local prosecutor Fanni Willis has opened an investigation into his attempts to muscle over Georgia officials, including the memorable plea, ‘What are we going to do here, folks? I only need 11,000 votes. Fellas, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break.’ Her letter notes, ‘This investigation includes, but is not limited to, potential violations of Georgia law prohibiting the solicitation of election fraud, the making of false statements to state and local governmental bodies, conspiracy, racketeering, violation of oath of office and any involvement in violence or threats related to the election’s administration.’

Trump may well have Georgia on his mind in coming months as the bill begins to come due for his political, not to mention fiscal, skulduggery.

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