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“Dangerous to the Republic”: John Nichols Says Trump’s Senate Trial Is Most Important in U.S. History

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Democratic House impeachment managers laid out their case against former President Donald Trump on the second day of the Senate trial, releasing shocking video from inside the Capitol during the January 6 insurrection. The footage shows violent Trump supporters were just 58 steps away from lawmakers’ offices. John Nichols, national affairs correspondent for The Nation, says impeachment managers aimed to show that Trump bears clear responsibility for what happened and that the mob attack represented “a genuine threat” to the transition of power. “This is the most important impeachment trial in American history,” says Nichols. “It goes to the heart of why the impeachment power was created in 1787. It is to hold presidents to account when they act in a manner that might be that of a monarch or a king, when they take actions to perpetuate their own power that are dangerous to the republic.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Democratic House impeachment managers laid out their case against former President Donald Trump Wednesday as the trial entered day two. They released shocking video from inside the Capitol during the January 6 insurrection showing violent Trump supporters were just 58 steps away from lawmakers. Democrats outlined how Trump spent months inciting his supporters by spreading the “big lie” that the election was stolen. This is the lead House impeachment manager, Congressmember Jamie Raskin of Maryland.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: The evidence will show you that ex-President Trump was no innocent bystander. The evidence will show that he clearly incited the January 6th insurrection. It will show that Donald Trump surrendered his role as commander-in-chief and became the inciter-in-chief of a dangerous insurrection. And this was, as one of our colleagues put it so cogently on January 6th itself, the greatest betrayal of the presidential oath in the history of the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by John Nichols, The Nation's national affairs correspondent, his most recent book, The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party, also the author of The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders' Cure for Royalism.

John, welcome back to Democracy Now! Thanks for joining us from Wisconsin. Why don’t we start out by you responding to what was revealed yesterday? Much of this footage, we have not seen before, coming from the Capitol’s closed-circuit TV. When they would show that, it was silent, and they would narrate it.

JOHN NICHOLS: Well, thanks for having me, Amy. And I think the best way to understand it is that Tuesday was the procedural day. They explained why this trial was both legitimate and necessary. And Wednesday was the evidentiary day, where they explained why this is so important, the evidence confirming that.

And the evidence that you saw was, as you suggest, in many cases, new footage and new material, but it was also a timeline. And what the various impeachment managers sought to do — and I think, actually, quite brilliantly — was to establish that Donald Trump had a constant interaction with this run-up to January 6th and what happened on January 6th. And once that was established — obviously, you’re talking about the impeachment and trial of Donald Trump — then you showed what happened and why it was so jarring, so horrifying and so significant.

In effect, what they’re saying to the jurors — and the senators are 100 jurors — is, A, this trial should be occurring; B, this trial is targeted at the right individual, Donald John Trump; and, C, this trial is of enormous consequence, because the incidents involved were in fact a genuine threat, as Jamie Raskin suggested, to the transition of power in the United States, one of the most vital constitutional constructs of the country.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, John,, Jamie Raskin has asked Trump to testify in the trial, but, of course, his senior adviser, Jason Miller, said he will not testify in what he considers an unconstitutional proceeding. Now, the House had the option of issuing a subpoena to Trump to get him to testify, but they didn’t do that. What do you think is going to happen? Trump has no intention of testifying.

JOHN NICHOLS: Trump has no intention of testifying, and it’s still an open question whether there will be any testimony or any witnesses. This is a fast-moving trial, and I think the managers have focused a lot of their attention on what they describe, accurately, as facts, as what you can show people — the president’s tweets, the video from the Capitol, the video of the president’s speeches, all of these pieces. Once they’ve done that, then there will be the question of whether you might call a witness.

I am inclined to suggest that they probably won’t attempt to subpoena Donald Trump. He has said he does not want to testify. And frankly, his testimony, I think, would probably add little to the process.

But there is still the possibility that you will see witnesses. And the fascinating part of this is that some of the most compelling witnesses are jurors in the trial. It’s notable that, for instance, Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina was on the phone to the White House and has, in interviews, said some, frankly, quite damning things about Donald Trump’s, A, seeming enthusiasm for the people that were involved and, B, lack of engagement with and lack of willingness to intervene to try and stop the violence.

And so, we have some fascinating questions as regards witnesses. But at the end of the day, I still think the most compelling part of this trial is the presentation, the opening argument from the impeachment managers.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, John, could you also talk about where Republicans stand on the impeachment trial? Republican Senator Bill Cassidy has joined Democrats in voting against ending the impeachment trial, though he said that that does not mean that he would vote in favor of convicting Trump. He’s among only six Republicans who have said the trial should not end. And you’ve written a piece called “Trump’s Congressional Co-Conspirators Are Just as Guilty as the President.” Could you talk about that and where you think other Republicans will go on this?

JOHN NICHOLS: Certainly. To establish upfront, you need 67 votes, if all senators are voting, in order to convict. And the point of this trial is to reach a conviction. At least that is the point of the impeachment managers. And right now they have five or six Republicans who have seemingly indicated some openness to a conviction vote. As you well point out, it’s not even sure that all of them will. But if you had that group, you’d have roughly 55, 56 votes for impeachment — or, for conviction. That’s a large vote. That’s significant, because, remember, no president has ever been convicted. However, it is insufficient.

The question in this Senate is whether Mitch McConnell, who really is the key force — and then, I think, John Thune at his side — whether they might at some point determine to lead a group of senators either to not vote or to vote for conviction. I think that’s really an outside prospect, but it’s certainly the one that Jamie Raskin and the impeachment managers are aiming at.

What we do know — I think what we can be very assured of — is there are a number of members of the Senate who absolutely will not vote to convict Donald Trump, because they are actually part of the conspiracy or part of the problem. And I would point especially to Josh Hawley from Missouri, whose own home state newspapers have said should be expelled from the Senate, Ted Cruz from Texas, whose own home state newspapers have said should resign, both because of their actions around January 6th, also people like Ron Johnson from Wisconsin. The fact is, we don’t have enough time in this program to detail all of the intersections between the statements and actions of folks like Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, Ron Johnson and others in this run-up to January 6th and in what happened on January 6th. So, it’s a bizarre situation where you have jurors who actually are, as I’ve suggested, I believe, as guilty — in the case of Josh Hawley, maybe even more guilty — than Donald Trump.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to House impeachment manager, Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas.

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO: You have seen all the evidence so far. And this is clear: On January 6th, President Trump left everyone in this Capitol for dead. …

When he wanted to incite his supporters to show up on January 6th, President Trump tweeted 16 times between midnight on January 5th and his noon rally speech the next day, 16 times to get them to do something he wanted. And his message in those 16 times was clear: fight, stay strong, be strong. But when the violence started, he never once said the one thing everyone around him was begging him to say: “Stop the attack.” He refused to stop it. …

Donald Trump did not send help to these officers, who were badly outnumbered, overwhelmed and being beaten down. Two hours into the insurrection, by 3 p.m., President Trump had not deployed the National Guard or any other law enforcement to help, despite multiple pleas to do so.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Joaquin Castro. Now I want to go to the House impeachment manager, Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline, who laid out what Donald Trump was tweeting as the mob attacked the Capitol.

REP. DAVID CICILLINE: Nearly an hour after the rioters breached the Capitol perimeter, at 1:49, Donald Trump released a propaganda reel of his “Save America” speech that he had given an hour before. I want to be clear: The events I just described, the rioters are breaching the Capitol, attacking law enforcement. The violence is being broadcast all over the television for the whole world to see, including the president of the United States. And I want to show you, this is what is happening right before Donald Trump sends that video out again and as he does it.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore. And that’s what this is all about. And to use a favorite term that all of you people really came up with, we will stop the steal, because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.

AMY GOODMAN: So, John Nichols, this is absolutely key. It’s this contemporaneous showing the times of what President Trump was doing and what the mob was doing, since he was watching it on TV and apparently getting repeated calls from Republicans pleading with him to do something. The news we had earlier of Senator Tuberville admitting that Trump called him, and he said to him, “I can’t talk right now,” Tuberville said. “Pence has just been evacuated because of the rioters.” And it was after that that Trump attacked Pence once again in a tweet. And then you see, of course, the rioters, both inside and outside, saying, “Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!” actually setting up a noose. This issue, after the speech, because some of these senators will say Trump has a right to say “Fight like hell,” and that doesn’t mean that he meant that people should be violent, but it’s as this was all happening. Explain the significance of revving them up, then telling them he loved them and they were patriots, as he learned how many police officers were down, were being attacked.

JOHN NICHOLS: Sure. You’re going right to the heart of the matter here, Amy, because in this prosecution of Donald Trump, obviously, there are two core arguments. One is that Donald Trump set this thing up, that he called it into being. But a second argument, which I think will get more and more attention as the days go on, is his dereliction of duty once things occurred.

Remember, he is the commander-in-chief of the United States. He is the most informed person, right? The president of the United States certainly knows what’s going on in Washington. And he is getting direct appeals, as well as appeals to his aides, saying, “Something horrible is happening, just blocks away from you. You have the ability to intervene. You have the ability to call for both your supporters, your allies here, to stand down, but also to call for additional help to those who are at the Capitol.” And instead of that, what we see is evidence upon evidence upon evidence that Donald Trump is, A, fascinated by — even, perhaps, in some reports, excited by — what’s happening at the Capitol and, B, not exercising, not acting in the manner that a president would be expected to do in such a circumstance.

That goes to the heart of why you would impeach, try and convict a president. And it’s one of the reasons why I suggest to you that this is the most important impeachment trial in American history. And the reason for that is that it goes to the heart of why the impeachment power was created in 1787. It is to hold presidents to account when they act in a manner that might be that of a monarch or a king, when they take actions to perpetuate their own power that are dangerous to the republic. And here, by putting together the images of the violence, as well as all of the evidence of Donald Trump’s enthusiasm for the protests on January 6th and his failure to respond to them, you sort of tie all the threads together for a classic — and, frankly, I think, difficult to argue with — vote for conviction of a president who has violated his oath of office.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, John, you’ve written extensively on the lead impeachment manager, Congressman Jamie Raskin, whom we heard from earlier. And you’ve also been talking to him. So, could you say a little about your conversations with him and also about his father, Marcus Raskin, whom you’ve also written about?

JOHN NICHOLS: Certainly. Jamie Raskin is a remarkable historical figure in and of himself. And I think, certainly, his speech at the close of Tuesday’s presentation, where he spoke about his personal experience, was so powerful, that my sense is it will go down in history as one of the great speeches, not merely in a impeachment trial, but, frankly, in the history of the Congress.

Jamie Raskin is a congressman from Maryland. Before he was a congressman, he was a longtime constitutional law professor. So you have this remarkable circumstance of a constitutional law professor actually at the center of a great constitutional moment.

Beyond that, Jamie Raskin, as people who have followed the trial know, had a horrible tragedy in his life, the suicide of his son on New Year’s Eve. He spoke about that and connected his own personal story, bringing his daughter and his son-in-law on January 6th to the Capitol, being separated from them, in his comments. So, he has a remarkable ability to weave the personal and the political.

And I think that does loop back to his father, a remarkable figure in American life, Marcus Raskin, who was an aide in the Kennedy White House, left the Kennedy White House to become a co-founder of the Institute for Policy Studies and emerged, really, as one of the great intellectual figures on the left in America from the 1960s into the 2000s. He died, I believe, in 2017. And Marcus Raskin was a brilliant thinker about democracy and how it worked and how the structures of government needed to defend it.

And so, it wasn’t surprising that his son, Jamie Raskin, quoted Marcus Raskin at the opening of Wednesday’s remarks — and I’ll make sure I say it right: “Democracy needs ground to stand upon. And that ground is the truth.” And Jamie Raskin, on Wednesday, framed many of his remarks around this, the notion that truth and facts are the tools by which you hold a leader to account, particularly a leader who has done the damage to a country that Jamie Raskin and the other impeachment managers assert, I think correctly, that Donald Trump has done.

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