House impeachment managers mount long-shot bid for Trump conviction

Most Republicans, raising constitutional concerns, say they're not open to conviction

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., talks with reporters as he leaves the Capitol after the first day of former President Donald Trump's second impeachment trial. Trump's acquittal is all but certain because 17 Republicans would need to join all 50 Democrats to convict him of the charge, "incitement of insurrection," but Cassidy's vote appears to be one in play. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., talks with reporters as he leaves the Capitol after the first day of former President Donald Trump's second impeachment trial. Trump's acquittal is all but certain because 17 Republicans would need to join all 50 Democrats to convict him of the charge, "incitement of insurrection," but Cassidy's vote appears to be one in play. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Posted February 10, 2021 at 8:00am

House impeachment managers officially begin their case against Donald Trump on Wednesday with the votes of only six Senate Republicans seemingly in play — 11 less than the 17 they’d need to join all Democrats in voting to convict the former president.

But the managers are hoping an emotional, gut-wrenching presentation illustrating how Trump allegedly incited the Jan. 6 insurrection on the Capitol may still persuade some of the 44 GOP senators who voted to dismiss the charge on constitutional grounds to ignore their procedural objections and decide to convict.

“I have faith that 100 senators are going to do their jobs as jurors sworn to render impartial justice,” lead House impeachment manager Jamie Raskin said.

The Maryland Democrat made the remark to reporters after the first day of the Senate impeachment trial Tuesday, in which his prosecuting team and Trump’s defense team debated for nearly four hours whether the Senate has the constitutional jurisdiction to try a former president. 

The Senate then voted 56-44 in agreement with the House managers that the trial is constitutional, allowing it to proceed. The outcome was never in doubt, and the tally only varied by a single vote from a similar but procedural vote the Senate held Jan. 26 on the constitutionality question. 

But that one switched vote, from Louisiana Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy, who described himself as an “impartial juror” who found that the prosecution’s arguments were better than the defense’s, gave the House managers some hope.

“We were told that it would be completely partisan and locked from the last vote, and it wasn’t, so people’s minds are open,” Raskin said. 

Earlier that morning, senior aides working on the impeachment managers’ team told reporters that they do not view the votes senators cast Tuesday as “dispositive,” explaining that as jurors they can and should consider the case on its merits after the constitutional objection is dismissed. 

“The managers are trying this case to move the hearts, mind and consciousness of all 100 jurors and expect to prevail in the end,” one aide said. 

Another, however, added that the managers are walking into the trial with their eyes open, acknowledging that “it is possible that tribalism and loyalty to Trump could overtake good judgment.” But the aide remained optimistic, saying, “It very well may be the case that reluctant senators change their minds and vote to convict.”

‘End as soon as possible’

Several Republican senators complimented the managers on their presentation Tuesday, while signaling they won’t be moved to convict Trump in a proceeding they believe is unconstitutional.

“They sent a better team this time,” said Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker, making a comparison to the team of managers the House appointed for Trump’s first trial. “In terms of advocacy they are very eloquent. I think they made their case as well as they possibly could.”

“The House, man, I don’t agree with their conclusion, but I think the House managers did a good job,” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said.  

Rubio said he’s looking for the trial “to end as soon as possible” because he can’t be convinced to convict. 

“We just don’t have jurisdiction,” he said. “I just don’t believe we should be in the habit of holding impeachment trials for people that are not in office. If someone did something wrong while in office and they’re no longer in office, they are accountable to the criminal and civil justice system.”

Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri said he also cannot be moved to convict because of the jurisdictional issue. 

“I will vote 'no,' ultimately, because as any court that does not believe it has jurisdiction, that’s the end of the inquiry, and it is for me,” Hawley said. 

Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota agreed, saying that despite his inclination to always keep an open mind, “I’m stronger for acquittal than in the last” trial.

“This takes some mental gymnastics to, on one hand, consider this to be an unconstitutional action and on the other hand consider conviction as part of it,” Cramer said. 

‘You never know’

Despite most Republicans signaling they’re solidified against conviction, some Democratic senators were hopeful their House colleagues’ case against Trump could still change some minds. 

“As a former prosecutor I know that trials take twists and turns,” Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said. “You never know where people are going to be in juries until it’s over.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, also a former prosecutor, was less optimistic. 

“I have hope. I have no great confidence because for four years I’ve been urging that they follow conviction and conscience, and of course they have been silent or worse in their complicity with Donald Trump,” the Connecticut Democrat said on MSNBC.

Blumenthal noted that even if senators can’t be swayed, perhaps the managers can convince some Americans to change their view on Trump.

“I’ve been a prosecutor and seen acquittals that had immense effect on the public’s view,” he said. 

In a glimpse of hope for Democrats, at least one Republican senator who voted that the Senate lacks jurisdiction to try a former president said she’d consider the arguments and evidence before making a decision on conviction.

“I’m going to listen to what the rest of the presentations are for sure,” West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito said. “I mean, that’s what I should do. I’m a juror.”

New evidence

The fact that many Republicans have said they’ve already made up their minds makes the managers’ task that much harder. It also doesn’t help that much of their presentation likely won’t be new to senators who were present for the Jan. 6 insurrection or Americans who watched it unfold on TV and social media. 

But the prosecutors’ aides say they have new evidence to present at the trial, declining to reveal what they obtained ahead of the formal presentation.

“There is compelling and overwhelming evidence. It’s on video. It’s elsewhere. We plan to fully utilize all the evidence available in all the forms, including evidence that nobody has seen before,” one of the aides said.

Klobuchar said she’s heard some of the new evidence is previously unaired videotapes from law enforcement.

Republicans who complained about the tediousness of Trump’s first impeachment trial welcomed the notion that the managers this time will have new evidence to present. 

“That would be better than the first impeachment where we had 45 minutes of evidence repeated 45 times,” Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt said.  

‘Bunch of drama’

The managers’ plan to rely heavily on videos can present a more captivating case for senators who often struggled to sit through lengthy arguments in Trump’s first trial. But the montages are unlikely to have an effect on most Republicans, with several saying the one the managers showed Tuesday didn’t get to the heart of their argument.

“If we’re gonna see a bunch of drama, a bunch of videos to further insight emotion in people ... then I’m going to be very disappointed,” Cramer said. “If there’s not new information, then I think it’s going to be a waste of time.”

With Republicans mainly basing their decisions on their reading of the Constitution, the managers are also making a curious decision not to spend much time in their main presentation reiterating the constitutional case for convicting Trump.

“It will be more like a violent crime criminal prosecution, because that is what it is,” one of the aides said. “Each chapter led by our extraordinary managers will build on the other. It will tell the story, the full story woven together in a way that it hasn’t been done before.”

That includes personal stories like the one Raskin told during Tuesday’s debate of his daughter Tabitha, who was with him Jan. 6 to witness the electoral vote counting, telling him she never wanted to return to the Capitol . But the managers won’t just tell their own stories; they plan to highlight the experiences of others present for the attack. 

“The managers will show to the American people and the Senate the grievous toll of Trump’s incitement and the deadly personal costs he inflicted on our brave law enforcement officers who were defending the Capitol and really the true extent of the danger that was faced by Vice President Pence and his family and staff, by senior congressional members, members of both chambers, their staff, the Capitol staff and [journalists] who were present,” another aide said. 

Despite all those plans, the first aide promised the managers’ presentation will be “succinct and to the point and nonrepetitive.” 

Raskin noted after Tuesday’s session that the managers forfeited 33 minutes of their designated time and indicated they likely won’t use the full 16 hours they have to present their case Wednesday and Thursday.

“We hope to maintain the cogency of our presentation,” he said.