Senate Approves Start of Trump's Impeachment Trial for Insurrection After Impassioned — and Tearful — Arguments
Donald Trump's unprecedented second impeachment trial opened Tuesday with the Senate gathered to address one question before all others: Could the former president be tried now that he was out of office?
The final vote — 56 to 44, with six Republicans joining the Democrats — was similar to a previous vote on the same question and paved the way for the trial to continue in earnest Wednesday afternoon.
But the legal arguments by both sides were in stark contrast Tuesday, as Democratic impeachment managers from the House of Representatives and the former president's lawyers laid out their initial views on Trump's charge in last month's deadly insurrection on the U.S. Capitol.
Led by Rep. Jamie Raskin, the House's impeachment managers told their colleagues in the Senate they needed to convict Trump, 74, on one charge of "incitement of insurrection" or else it would set a dangerous precedent for the country moving forward.
"This would create a brand new January exception to the Constitution of the United States of America," Raskin, 58, said during an impassioned presentation that included his first-hand accounts of that attack and video clips.
Raskin made a brief introduction before playing the 13-minute video package, showing footage from Trump's disgruntled Jan. 6 speech to a crowd of his supporters outside the White House, telling them to "fight like hell" and encouraging them to march on a joint session of Congress where a "group of people" were trying to "illegally take over our country."
The throngs of his supporters descended into mob violence at the Capitol, breaching the building with lawmakers — and former Vice President Mike Pence — inside.
The graphic video presented Tuesday featured clips already widely seen across the country, of the rioters making violent threats against lawmakers' lives and engaging in vicious attacks on law enforcement protecting the building.
Five people died, including a Capitol Police officer.
"If that's not an impeachable offense, then there's no such thing," Raskin said once the video ended.
"My youngest daughter Tabitha was there with me," Raskin said of the insurrection last month, explaining how she and his son-in-law came with him to work that day after the family buried his son Tommy the day before.
"They asked me directly, 'Would it be safe?' And I told them, 'Of course it should be safe, this is the Capitol.' "
Raskin's daughter and son-in-law hid in a congressional office during the attack. "They thought they were going to die," he told the Senate.
Choking up throughout his speech, Raskin remembered how he hugged his daughter after they reunited, apologized and "promised her it would not be like this again."
"She said, 'Dad, I don't want to come back to the Capitol,' " he said, holding back tears. "Of all the terrible and brutal things that I saw on that day and since then, that one hit me the hardest."
Trump's attorneys, Bruce Castor Jr. and David Schoen, argued his historic second impeachment trial was only taking place for political reasons.
Castor, 59, accused representatives from the House of being "afraid" to face Trump in future elections.
The former president could be barred from holding office again if the Senate convicts him. "That's the real reason we're here," Castor said.
Castor, who was perhaps previously best known for declining to prosecute disgraced comedian Bill Cosby for sexual assault in 2005, drew widespread attention on social media for what many Trump critics saw as a disorganized opening argument.
While urging the senators to acquit Trump, Castor sometimes drifted into personal musings, wandering away from the microphone and becoming inaudible, telling stories about his childhood and old vinyl records he used to own.
("We still know what records are right?" he quipped, looking around at the Senate for some kind of reaction.)
Schoen, who argued for Trump after Castor, spoke sharply against what he called the legal weaknesses in prosecuting Trump now. (Numerous scholars disagree with him.)
Concluding his presentation, Schoen read from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem "The Building of the Ship," after various choking up as though he were on the verge of tears.
Afterward, the Senate quickly voted to approve the trial, with Louisiana's Bill Cassidy joining five other Republicans who have voted in support of trying Trump. But those 56 lawmakers do not meet the two-thirds majority requirement of 67 votes.
The trial is expected to continue at least into the weekend, according to a schedule released by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Monday night.
Each side will have two eight-hour days to lay out their argument, resuming at noon ET on Wednesday.
After that, senators will be given four hours to question either the impeachment managers or Trump's defense lawyers.
Both sides will then have the opportunity to debate whether to call witnesses before closing arguments ahead of a final vote.
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