Acquittal, but no justification
The impeachment process is racing to a conclusion after a brief drama about potentially calling witnesses. Former President Trump will almost certainly be acquitted, but it won’t be a great justification. His behavior in the aftermath of the elections and on January 6th will forever damage his reputation. He led a dishonest and venomous campaign to overthrow the elections, which culminated in a mob on January 6th that disrupted the US Capitol vote count. The new videos played by the managers of the house during the trial brought home the national embarrassment of the day, with high-ranking elected officials rushing to safety as the mob descended. The property managers most portrayed Trump’s conspiratorial efforts to reverse the election result, his long catalog of inflammatory comments, and his neglect of duty not to urge the rioters to stop and stop as soon and vigorously as possible. All of this is damn undeniable. The weakness in their case arises from the flaws in the impeachment itself, which goes both too far and not far enough. At the center of the article is the claim that Trump instigated the crowd to attack the Capitol, that he “deliberately made statements that encouraged – and predictably led to – illegal activity in the Capitol in the context of this.” This suggests an intention that the managers were unable to prove. Incredibly, the article doesn’t even mention Trump’s behavior during the uprising as it continued to criticize Mike Pence when he was attacked by the crowd and for becoming AWOL when allies asked him to tell the rioters to step down. Trump’s defense team didn’t have good answers – or really no answers – when asked in the Q&A what Trump was doing during those hours. If the House Democrats hadn’t rushed to indict Trump in an afternoon, they might have written a more airtight article. As it is, some Republicans will reasonably conclude that Trump is still guilty. If he hadn’t falsely insisted that he had really won the election on the cutting edge and approved a protest on January 6th, there wouldn’t have been a rabble out of control at all. In addition, his pressure campaign to get Republican officials to cast him in key state elections was in itself intolerable. We hope that Republicans, who are voting in favor of acquittal largely on procedural grounds – post-presidency trial is unconstitutional, it’s time to move on, etc. – will at least speak openly about the president’s wrongdoing. This was a quickie impeachment that took about a month from start to finish. But the underlying events and Trump’s unforgivably reckless behavior will long reverberate.