Trump’s lawyers utterly failed today. Republicans admitted it — then cast their cowardly votes

Ahmed BabaWed, 10 February 2021, 12:51 am

Democrats need to gather 67 votes to convict former president  (Getty Images)
Democrats need to gather 67 votes to convict former president (Getty Images)

The first day of former President Trump’s second Senate impeachment trial opened with a video. “We are listening to Trump,” one Trump supporter shouted at Capitol Police in its opening moments. Chaos and violence unfolded in front of the nation’s eyes again. A statement Trump tweeted out during the insurrection appeared onscreen, in which he repeated the Big Lie and told the insurrectionists, “We love you.”

As the full video reached its end, Lead House Impeachment Manager Jamie Raskin (D-MD) pointed to the screen and said, “If that is not an impeachable offense, then there is no such thing.”

The video – which essentially made the entire case for conviction – was how House impeachment managers started their presentation. They went on to dissect Trump’s arguments against this trial’s constitutionality with laser precision, taking on every claim from Trump’s legal brief. It was strongly convincing – so convincing, in fact, that Trump lawyer Bruce Castor said his legal team had to change their approach after hearing the presentation.

In spite of this, most Senate Republicans were not swayed.

Forty-four Senate Republicans voted “no” on the constitutionality of the trial when it came to the end of the day, with only Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) changing his mind and voting with Democrats. The “no” votes included Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Such an outcome highlighted the complete lack of seriousness with which Trump’s legal team, and apparently 44 Senate Republicans, are taking this trial.

Rep. Raskin began the House’s presentation, arguing that if the Senate grants a “January exception” to presidential misconduct by letting Trump off the hook, they will invite future post-presidency corruption. Then Impeachment Manager Joe Neguse dove into the precedents of impeaching former officials, with the examples of William Blount and William Belknap. Belknap’s story was particularly insightful. Upon learning that he was on the verge of being impeached for corruption, the Secretary of War burst into tears and submitted his resignation to President Ulysses S Grant. The House moved forward with impeaching Belknap anyway, and the Senate held a trial a month later.

Most legal experts agree that this Senate impeachment trial is indeed constitutional. House managers cited multiple conservatives who hold that opinion, including co-founder of the Federalist Society Steven Calabresi, Judge Michael McConnell, and prominent conservative lawyer Charles Cooper spoke, who had detailed his reasoning two days earlier in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

Rep. Raskin, whose son died days before the insurrection, closed with an emotional description of the events on January 6th. In one particularly hard-hitting moment, Raskin cried when he spoke about his daughter not wanting to come back to the Capitol after she had to hide during the violence.

Then Bruce Castor stood up, and things took a strange turn.

Castor began his presentation by giving off big “when you wait until the night before to do your school project” energy. He delivered a meandering monologue that never really came to a conclusive point, jumping from claims that Trump’s conduct was protected by free speech to seemingly unconnected “slippery slope” arguments. It was around this point that he openly admitted that he’d had to pivot after hearing the House Impeachment Managers’ presentation. As Mike Tyson famously said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

Castor’s “pivot” appeared more like he was filibustering his own time to give his team space to prepare. He informed us that he thinks the House Impeachment Managers are brilliant speakers, and he loved listening to them. He acknowledged that the American people elected Biden and were “smart enough” to choose a new administration if they didn’t like the old one. His performance was so bad, and so downright bizarre, that Trump himself was reportedly “borderline screaming” while watching it.

In other words, Castor mostly skipped the constitutionality argument – and then passed the baton.

Trump lawyer David Schoen made an ineffective effort to save the case. He argued that the impeachment is political retribution and that it won’t unify the country. There was a lot of talk about partisan cancel culture and not much talk about constitutionality. In one of his most brazen moments, Schoen even asserted that this impeachment is about disenfranchising Trump’s supporters. The irony of such a claim cannot be understated, considering Trump’s own “Save America” rally on January 6th was predicated on the idea of overturning a democratic election and therefore disenfranchising 81 million Americans who’d voted against him.

Trump’s lawyers claimed that the impeachment process was somehow simultaneously too speedy and delayed. They blamed the delay of the trial on Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) rather than McConnell, who had refused to convene the Senate for an emergency session. The logic — and the delivery — was difficult to follow.

Even Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) acknowledged the ineptitude of the 45th president’s defense team after proceedings, telling a reporter, “The president’s lawyer just rambled on and on… I’ve seen a lot of lawyers and a lot of arguments and that was not one of the finest I’ve seen.” Cornyn still voted in favor of the Trump team’s argument.

Cassidy, who voted with the Democrats, criticized the Trump defense in different terms. “President Trump’s team was disorganized,” he said, “…If I’m an impartial juror, and one side is doing a great job and the other side is doing a terrible job on the issue at hand, as an impartial juror, I’m going to vote for the side that did the good job.”

What we saw today was classic Republican deflection. When seeking to avoid accountability, the GOP always complains about process and often makes a disingenuous meta-argument about the nature of the accountability itself somehow counting as oppression. Their claims about constitutionality and cries of free speech violations are examples of both.

It’s unclear whether all 44 Republicans who voted “no” today will also vote “no” on conviction, but their actions do send a clear signal of where their heads are at. These votes show it doesn’t matter how effective the House arguments are. Trump’s lawyers utterly failed, as admitted by pretty much everyone in session, and yet we have this result.

As the trial progresses, we’ll see if more Senate Republicans change their mind or if the fix is in for the party of Trump.