- Trump’s impeachment trial is occurring at the site of the crime: the US Capitol.
- The prosecutors and jurors in the trial were also witnesses and victims.
- The entire situation is bizarre, and a troubling reflection of how US democracy has deteriorated.
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In a normal criminal trial, it would be unthinkable for witnesses of the crime in question to serve as prosecutors or jurors.
But that’s precisely what’s happening with former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial of his incitement of a violent insurrection on January 6, a trial occurring at the scene of the crime: the US Capitol. The circumstances of the trial are bizarre on multiple levels.
“This is an extraordinarily unique situation where the jurors are witnesses and victims, and the crime scene also is the courtroom,” House impeachment manager Rep. Eric Swalwell of California told CNN in late January.
Senators are meant to serve as impartial jurors during an impeachment trial — they will decide whether to convict Trump. It’s hard to see how they can truly be impartial in the context of this trial, as it pertains to an event in which their lives were threatened.
Previously unseen video shown by impeachment managers on Wednesday revealed just how close the mob came to lawmakers during the riot. One clip showed Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman saving GOP Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah from the insurrectionists by urging him to turn around and get to safety.
Congressional Democrats have also portrayed Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, who objected to certification of President Joe Biden’s Electoral College win on January 6, as co-conspirators in the Capitol attack.
Cruz and Hawley’s futile endorsement of Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election helped amplify the former president’s baseless allegations of mass voter fraud, which were at the heart of what caused the insurrection. Rioters who’ve been indicted said they believed they were acting on Trump’s orders, and had bought into the lie that the election was stolen.
In spite of their actions on January 6, which have been broadly criticized, Cruz and Hawley are also serving as jurors. As are many Republican allies of Trump, such as GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who’ve made it clear they will not vote to convict. “The ‘Not Guilty’ vote is growing after today,” Graham tweeted on Wednesday. Indeed, Republicans are openly shirking their oath to serve as impartial jurors. As Insider senior politics reporter Eliza Relman reported, the way Senate Republicans are acting during these proceedings would likely lead to juror removal in any other trial.
And in spite of the damning evidence against Trump, and his obvious role in inciting the violent insurrection on January 6 through his speech that day and broader effort to overturn the election, his acquittal seems virtually guaranteed. Democrats need a two-thirds majority to convict Trump, which would require 17 Republican senators to join them. At the moment, the probability of that occurring appears slim.
“The result of this trial is preordained,” Cruz said earlier this week, per the Washington Post. “President Trump will be acquitted. I think the trial is a waste of time and is the result of seething partisan anger on the part of congressional Democrats.” Both Cruz and Hawley are thought to have ambitions of running for president in 2024, and critics say their behavior is driven by a desire to win over Trump’s base.
The House impeachment managers, who effectively serve as prosecutors in the trial, were also victims and witnesses of the Capitol attack.
Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, who is leading the prosecution of Trump, became emotional on the first day of the trial as he recounted being separated from his youngest daughter and son-in-law amid the Capitol siege. Raskin had buried his son the day before the riot, and his family wanted to be with him that day.
Similarly, impeachment manager Rep. Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania teared up while describing the “terrifying banging” she heard on the doors of the House chamber on January 6 as the pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol building.
There are a whirlwind of emotions and political aspirations steering this historic trial, a rare event that underscores the downward spiral America’s democracy finds itself in.