Pollak: 9 Takeaways from the Impeachment Trial, Part One

Capitol barbed wire (Samuel Corum / Getty)
Samuel Corum / Getty

The first half of the Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump has concluded. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and his team of House impeachment managers won a vote to declare the trial of a former official to be constitutional, though the fact that 44 Senators disagreed means it is extremely unlikely that Trump will be convicted.

The Democrats then made their case over the next two days. Here are the main points — the highlights, and the lowlights — thus far.

1. Democrats cannot prove incitement. Democrats cannot prove what the Article of Impeachment actually alleges — that Trump gave a speech that incited a crowd to storm the Capitol. They cannot overcome the fact that Trump told supporters to protest “peacefully and patriotically,” which would defeat any attempt to prosecute Trump for the crime of incitement in a court of law. So they have redefined “incitement” as really being a series of words and actions over a long period of time.

2. Democrats claim Trump planned the Capitol riot. The House managers came up with a new conspiracy theory, in which Trump used his speeches over the years to prepare his supporters to commit violence, primed them to use violence if he lost the election (including the “stand by” remark in the first presidential debate), followed violent messages posted on obscure extremist message boards, then used special words like “fight” to signal to the rioters to carry out their plan.

3. Some of the evidence is fraudulent. The House never conducted a proper impeachment inquiry, so House managers relied on media reports and mind-reading. At one point, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) moved to strike a statement that he said he never made, but which House managers had quoted. The next day, Raskin introduced the familiar fraud known as the Charlottesville “very fine people” hoax, omitting the part where Trump said neo-Nazis should be “condemned totally.”

4. House managers smeared Trump supporters. Democrats portrayed Trump supporters as violent, extreme, even as neo-Nazis. The House managers made little effort to distinguish between the vast majority of Trump supporters — at the January 6 rally, or at other rallies — and the extremist few who exist on the fringe, as they do on the left. They portrayed Trump supporters as mindless automatons obeying orders to invade (but, miraculously, not to protest “peacefully”).

5. House managers portrayed criticism of the election as incitement. The Democrats claimed that Trump’s tweets complaining about the election — for months beforehand — were all part of inciting violence. They portrayed legitimate questions about the conduct of the election as part of a campaign of incitement — ignoring evidence, confirmed just last week, that there had been a “secret shadow campaign” to change voting rules and suppress dissent on social media.

6. No reckoning with hypocrisy. Several of the House impeachment managers have cast doubt on elections in the past. Raskin himself objected to the certification of the 2016 election, and promised to impeach Trump as soon as he took office. Castro pushed the “Russia collusion” hoax. So did Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA), who once used a “cloud of illegitimacy” clock to mock Trump and urge his ouster. Castro had the audacity to lecture the Senate about accepting election results.

7. Fang Fang’s congressman made an appearance. The appointment of Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) as an impeachment manager went over very poorly among Republicans. Not only was Swalwell one of the most notorious proponents of the “Russia collusion” hoax, but Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has also retained him on the House Intelligence Committee despite his ties to a suspected Chinese spy. And yet the managers argued Trump threatened national security.

8. Trump’s lawyers were unprepared. Bruce Castor and David Schoen came to argue the constitutionality of the trial on the first day, but failed to learn from the first impeachment that Democrats would use procedural debates to present their core arguments. They had no answer for Democrats’ emotive, if deceptively edited, video of the Capitol riot. They never clearly outlined their theory of the case: no incitement; Democrats have incited violence; the trial is the wrong remedy.

9. Republicans weren’t buying it. Senate Republicans appear to have understood that much of the trial was directed at delegitimizing them, not convincing them. Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) were reported to have walked out after Raskin tried to argue that Trump spent six years encouraging his supporters to be violent. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) was also spotted at one point sitting in the gallery with his foot propped on a desk.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). His newest e-book is How Not to Be a Sh!thole Country: Lessons from South Africa. His recent book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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