As the prosecution of former President Donald Trump begins this week, it is difficult to conjure up a more damnable set of actions worthy of trial before the Senate.
Trump stands accused of attempting to subvert the will of the people by inciting rioters to disrupt the electoral vote count by Congress on Jan. 6, precisely the kind of treachery that animated the impeachment solution the Founding Fathers crafted into the Constitution.
Election loser, defeated in courts
►Spreading the Big Lie. Beginning minutes after polls closed on the East Coast, Trump claimed the election was stolen, and he spent the next two months filing dozens of lawsuits, strong-arming state officials to change the results and plotting to replace Justice Department leadership to further his scheme. Dozens of defeats in court, including rulings by Trump-appointed judges, did not deter him from spreading the claim the election was rigged.
He spread the lie on Twitter and in rallies: “They’re not taking this White House. We’re going to fight like hell.” And in a last ditch effort, he urged followers to assemble in Washington, D.C., for a “Save America” rally on the day Congress would affirm the vote count. “Be there. Will be wild,” he tweeted.
►Inciting insurrection. The president’s most rabid supporters made their angry intentions known in a firestorm of social media posts before the rally. “Trump would have absolutely no choice but to demand us to storm Congress and kill/beat them up.” “Jan. 6, is gonna be epic.”
The FBI warned of “war” at the Capitol, according to The Washington Post. And on the day of the rally, amid angry shouts of “take the Capitol right now!” and “Fight for Trump!”, the president stoked their passions further with exhortations such as “Stop the steal. … Take back our country. … Fight like hell (or) you’re not going to have a country anymore. …. We’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue … and we’re going to the Capitol.”
Delight from the Oval Office
►Dereliction of Duty. As thousands stormed Capitol Hill and breached the building, defeating paltry numbers of police, Trump retreated to the Oval Office and watched on television. His supporters seized the Senate and House floors, temporarily halted the vote count, and angrily hunted elected leaders like Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, both of whom had been whisked to safety. Five died, among them a police officer and a woman trampled to death. And the iconic Capitol was desecrated, including the unfurling of a Confederate battle flag, something that had never occurred even during the Civil War.
Trump offered a tepid Twitter plea for peace more than an hour after the Capitol perimeter was breached; it was three hours before he put out a video calling on followers to go home, telling them they were loved and repeating his Big Lie about the election.
In his trial defense, Trump‘s lawyers say that since he is no longer president, it’s unconstitutional to hold a Senate trial — an absurd conclusion that, if true, allows any president a free pass to commit crimes in their last month of office. As James Madison argued in the Federalist Papers, “the genius of republican liberty seems to demand on one side not only that all power should be derived from the people, but that those (entrusted) with it should be kept in dependence on the people.” This means presidents are accountable for their actions from their first day in office until their last.
The lawyers also argue that the First Amendment protects whatever Trump said at the Jan. 6 rally, even though it’s inconceivable that free-speech safeguards allow inflammatory remarks that incite violence without penalty. In any case, Trump‘s oath to defend the Constitution limits his right to incite a mob to overturn what he swore to protect.
Call witnesses against Trump
How will the trial unfold?
It remains unclear, particularly given Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s willingness to proceed without “a whole lot of witnesses,” to speed things up during a busy period with President Biden‘s legislative agenda.
That would be a mistake. Senators need to hear from witnesses who can provide more detail about Trump‘s conduct in the Oval Office as he watched the violence unfold. Preliminary accounts suggest he was delighted.
Trump stands accused of inciting an insurrection against his own government in an attempt to overthrow the results of a free and fair election, something no other president has even entertained. This is more dictatorship than democracy. The trial shouldn’t be a rush job. The nation deserves a full airing of evidence against this defendant and the opportunity to hold Trump accountable, no matter how long it takes.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Donald Trump v. democracy: Don’t rush the Senate trial of incitement