What Can Trump Expect From Raskin, Lieu, Cicilline, Neguse?
As you probably heard, Trump has rejected lead impeachment manager Jamie Raskin's request that he testify under oath at his Senate trial. I'm sure he would have enjoyed the attention and the opportunity to command a huge nationwide audience again... but his lawyers must have reminded him that lying to the Senate would send him right to prison. So instead, he's taking his case on the road-- or is at least threatening to.
The Daily Beast reported this morning that "aside from his absurd and pompous resignation from the Screen Actors Guild in which he lauded his work in Home Alone 2, Trump has been pretty quiet since he left office last month. But that doesn’t mean he’s not plotting away from some gaudy room at Mar-a-Lago. According to Insider, Trump is planning to embark on a nationwide speaking tour specifically designed to drain support from Republicans who have backed his impeachment. People familiar with the plans said Trump wants to target the 10 House Republicans who voted for his impeachment last month, as well as any Republican senators who speak out against him at next week’s trial."
This is probably more a threat to GOP senators who are thinking about voting to convict than a real plan to visit Wyoming (Liz Cheney), Parma, Ohio (Anthony Gonzalez), Vancouver, Washington (Jaime Herrera Buetler), Syracuse (John Katko), Rockford (Adam Kinzinger), Grand Rapids (Peter Meijer), Yakima (Dan Newhouse), Myrtle Beach (Tom Rice), Kalamazoo (Fred Upton) and Bakersfield (David Valadao).
This morning, Politico reported that some of Trump's "allies" are "imploring" his legal team to avoid anything to do with the insurrection and coup attempt. That might not be all that easy, since it's what the impeachment is based on. "[T]here is little Trump’s team can do to stop the trial from veering towards a discussion of Jan. 6, since the impeachment managers are likely to focus intensely on the riots-- and could, indeed, call witnesses to testify about what happened. In advance of that happening, top Republicans have begun to warn that Democrats are trying to score political points rather than address substantive constitutional matters... People familiar with Trump’s strategy say his defense attorneys David Schoen and Bruce Castor hope to keep the trial 'short and sweet'-- not wanting to entangle themselves in a lengthy debate over whether their client’s comments at the 'Stop the Steal' rally outside the White House qualify as inciting speech, or legitimize the prosecution’s arguments by focusing on Jan. 6. Instead, they plan to keep their defense narrowly tailored to the question of constitutionality."
Trump will face a much sharper and more aggressive team of impeachment managers this time than the duds-- think robotic political hack Val Demings-- last time. Expect Jamie Raskin, Ted Lieu, David Cicilline and Joe Neguse to pick the bones clean. Before dawn today, The Nation published a piece by John Nichols, Representative Jamie Raskin Is Going to Prosecute the Hell Out of Donald Trump that presages... not a conviction-- not with all those Republicans representing states with no people-- but a history of the worst president ever doing the worst thing any president has ever done.
"Trump," wrote Nichols, "has spent a lifetime avoiding accountability for his shady business dealings, financial misdeeds, and abuses of power. But Representative Jamies Raskin is not about to let the defeated former president get away with the high crime of provoking the deadly January 6 attack on the US Capitol. Raskin, the former constitutional law professor whom House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wisely tapped as the lead manager of Trump’s second impeachment tribunal, raised the stakes Thursday, when he asked Trump to testify before or during the trial that is set to begin next week. And when he pointedly signaled that refusal to testify would likely be used against the defendant... As a constitutional scholar and a savvy legislative strategist, Raskin understands that the impeachment managers cannot let Trump get away with his old tricks. So the lead impeachment manager has flipped the script. Instead of letting the former president game the trial, by making false claims and seeking to impugn the process, Raskin has called Trump’s bluff."
Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe, who describes Raskin as “the best constitutional lawyer in all of Congress,” recognized the genius in this move immediately. “If Mr. Trump declines the chance to clear his name by showing up and explaining under oath why his conduct on January 6 didn’t make him responsible for the lethal insurrection that day, it’ll be on him,” observed Tribe, shortly after the representative sent his letter. “He can’t have it both ways.”
...Raskin had outmaneuvered the former president. By requesting that Trump testify under oath, and by signaling that a refusal to testify could be used against him, the representative was seizing control of the narrative. That’s vital in any standoff with Trump, who in the past has used his social media platforms and bully pulpit to run circles around his accusers.
Raskin played his hand brilliantly Thursday. First, the key member of the House Judiciary Committee showcased his confidence in the case the impeachment managers will put against Trump. Second, he made it clear that he and his team are prepared to make this trial a high-stakes clash that will engage every American-- and that will put Republican senators on the spot.
Raskin’s understanding of the impeachment process, which he has studied for decades as an academic and as a legislator, is his strength in this regard. He knows that the trial, while it has many of the trappings of a courtroom drama, is, in reality, a political battle.
Impeachment is the tool by which the legislative branch of the federal government checks and balances the executive branch. But the lofty threshold for conviction in an impeachment trial-- 67 of 100 Senate votes-- means that this checking and balancing can occur only when partisans are forced to hold one of their own to account.
Most Senate Republicans have indicated that they are unwilling to make their oath to defend the US Constitution a higher priority than their loyalty to the party’s former president. Last week, 45 of them, including minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) voted for a resolution by Kentucky Republican Rand Paul [not a constitutional scholar or even a lawyer, a failed eye doctor who was sued several times for malpractice] that alleged that the impeachment of a former president was unconstitutional. Paul’s argument was absurd-- the Constitution does not, in any sense, bar accountability for ex-presidents. But the vote provided a measure of the Republican resistance to holding Trump to account.
A cautious and predictable approach is unlikely to break loose the 17 Republican votes that are needed to convict Trump in the Senate. The House impeachment managers have to up the ante. Calling on Trump to testify does that. And it is a safe bet that Raskin and his colleagues will continue to push the envelope.
Confidently challenging Trump puts this trial in perspective not just for members of the Senate but for all Americans.
The senators will serve as the jurors but, because this is a political trial, the people can influence the deliberations of those senators. The more clarity that Raskin and his colleagues bring to the process-- either by questioning Trump or by pointing out the adverse inferences that extend from a refusal to testify-- the better. If Americans are sufficiently appalled by what they see and hear next week, and if they communicate their outrage to reluctant Republican senators, accountability becomes a possibility.
Even for Donald John Trump.
I suspect that Raskin, Lieu, Cicilline, Neguse and their support team will not let the nation forget what the NY Times explained yesterday: At least 21 of those charged so far in the insurrection/coup attempt "had ties to militant groups and militias, according to court documents and other records. At least 22 said they were current or former members of the military. More than a dozen were clear supporters of the conspiracy theory QAnon. But a majority expressed few organizing principles, outside a fervent belief in the false assertion that President Donald J. Trump had won re-election... [S]ome groups and individuals came to the events of Jan. 6 trained and prepared for battle. The early charges set the stage for those to come as the Justice Department promises to prosecute even those accused of misdemeanor trespass and also devotes resources to more serious crimes, like conspiracy and homicide."
Violent, sedition-minded Trump-aligned militants and murderers from the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Three Percenters and Patriotic Front will figure prominently in the most high level prosecutions. Money traceable to the Trump campaign and his allies paid for the planning and execution of the insurrection. It's not going to happen, but certainly Trump deserves to be executed-- by any standard that can be gleaned from reading the Constitution. My biggest regret is that even if he were to face a firing squad, the Mercers, who had a lion's share of financing the coup attempt, wouldn't be staring at the same fate.