The House impeachment team closed its presentation against Donald Trump on Thursday with doses of guilt and shame for Republican senators who might vote to acquit the former president, suggesting they need only common sense and courage to hold him accountable for the Jan. 6 insurrection.
If not, they argued, the Senate will erode the United States’ standing as a beacon of democracy in the world, set a terrible new standard for presidential misconduct, unleash “unfathomable horrors” of more violence and even let Trump mount another attempt to override an election to seize the power of the White House.
“President Trump declared his conduct totally appropriate,” Maryland Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin, the lead impeachment manager, said during a segment on Trump’s state of mind during the attack. “So if he gets back into office, and it happens again, we'll have no one to blame but ourselves.”
And later, Raskin asked senators what makes them think the nightmare of Trump and his mob is over: “If we don't draw the line here, what's next?”
The House team spent small portions of their time on legal arguments, ahead of Trump’s defense team's presentation that starts Friday. But they focused the vast majority of Thursday on the ramifications of an acquittal on a personal, political and global scale.
With an uphill battle to secure the 17 votes from Republicans needed to convict their party’s de facto leader, the House impeachment team highlighted fellow members of their party who had called Trump’s actions shameful, disgraceful and wrong.
Senators watched videos of Republican governors of Utah, Massachusetts, Ohio, Maryland and Vermont blaming Trump for the riot. They heard audio of former Trump chief of staff John Kelly saying that the attack was a direct result of Trump “poisoning the minds of people with the lies and the fraud.”
They saw John Bolton, Trump's former national security adviser, agree that Trump has blood on his hands. They saw two other highly regarded former members of Trump's national security team -- James Mattis and H.R. McMaster, both retired generals -- make comments that the assault was fomented by Trump. And they saw former Speaker John Boehner’s tweet that the attack “incited by some entrusted with power” was a disgrace.
In one video clip, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said how the attack might lead terrorists to realize it’s not that hard to get into government buildings, and in another former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Trump caused the protest and was the only one who could make it stop.
But most personal was a slide of comments from Trump administration officials who resigned after Jan. 6, because it included then-Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, the wife of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
McConnell kept his hands in his lap and did not move a muscle when California Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu read a line from her resignation letter that said the Jan. 6 attack “has deeply troubled me in a way that I simply cannot set aside.”
If the tactics worked, there were few signs of it Thursday afternoon as Republicans made similar comments to reporters as prior days of the trial that were critical of the impeachment team’s case.
Several Republican senators met with Trump's lawyers later Thursday, including
Ted Cruz of Texas. Cruz told reporters senators were talking about the
Trump legal strategy and the senators' thoughts.
The House team, assured of their argument that the facts clearly demonstrate Trump incited the insurrection, repeatedly challenged the senators to action. Rhode Island Democratic Rep. David Cicilline described the harms to people in the Capitol during the attack and asked senators: “Is this OK? If not, what are we going to do about it?”
“These people matter. These people who risked their lives for us. So I ask you, respectfully, to consider them, the police officers, the staff of this building, when you cast your vote,” Cicilline said. “These people are in deep pain because they showed up here to serve to serve the American people, to serve their government, to serve all of us.”
Texas Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro highlighted how China, Iran and Russia were using the attack in anti-American propaganda. But he said those countries don’t define the United States.
"We get to define ourselves by how we respond to the attacks on Jan. 6," Castro said.
Such a message would take courage, Castro added, the kind that several senators had shown when they stood up for civil rights, or put their lives on the line for military service. Left unsaid was that nine Republicans are military veterans, including Joni Ernst of Iowa, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Dan Sullivan of Alaska.
“There is a lot of courage in this room,” Castro said as senators silently listened. “Your country needs you one more time.”
The world watched Trump’s behavior and the mob attack, “and now the world is watching us, wondering if our constitutional republic will respond the way it’s supposed to,” Castro said.
To acquit Trump “would be to forfeit the power of our example as a North Star on freedom, democracy, human rights, and most of all, on the rule of law,” Castro said. “Let us show the world that January 6 was not America, and let us remind the world that we are truly their North Star.”
Colorado Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette told the Senate they are not there to punish Trump but “to prevent the seeds of hatred that he planted from bearing any more fruit.”
DeGette argued that Trump’s backing of violent behavior, as far back as his response to the violence at a 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., and as recently as the Jan. 6 speech ahead of the mob attack on the Capitol, stoked the flames.
“It was unfathomable to most of us to think that Charlottesville could happen, just as it was unfathomable to most of us that the Capitol could have been breached on January 6,” DeGette said. “Frankly, what unfathomable horrors await us if we do not stand up now and say, ‘No, this is not America?’”
Raskin, a constitutional law professor, repeatedly appealed to common sense, “because I believe that's all you need to arrive at the right answer here.” And at the end of the day he quoted from “Common Sense,” the pamphlet written by Thomas Paine that he said launched the American Revolution.
The passage speaks of how “the summer soldier, and the sunshine patriot, will shrink at this moment from the service of their cause in their country, but everyone who stands with us now will win the love and the favorite in the affection of every man, and every woman.”
“Good luck in your deliberations,” Raskin concluded.
Katherine Tully-McManus and Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.