Tension, misery, laughs and a small moment of unity as Trump trial nears end

At end of long, hard day, an honor for Officer Eugene Goodman

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., talks with staff in the Senate Reception room on the fourth day of the Senate Impeachment trials for former President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill on Friday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/Pool) (The Washington Post/POOL)
Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., talks with staff in the Senate Reception room on the fourth day of the Senate Impeachment trials for former President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill on Friday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/Pool) (The Washington Post/POOL)
Posted February 12, 2021 at 8:48pm

On the fourth day in the chamber for the second presidential impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, senators grew antsy and animated as they listened to Trump’s attorneys mount their defense. They huddled and strategized what questions to ask the Trump legal team and House managers, their first chance to actively participate. 

Trump’s defense team claimed, contrary to facts, that Trump had consistently called for peace as the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol unfolded and had never glorified violence during his presidency or campaigns. 

Senators were chattier on Friday than earlier in the trial. Democrats balked during the Trump team's presentation and lawmakers from both sides broke into chatter during brief moments of silence between their colleagues' questions.

Question time

After three consecutive days of sitting quietly and listening to arguments, senators were finally invited to get involved in the impeachment process Friday afternoon, by submitting questions on small yellow cards for each side to answer. 

Democratic staffers in the back of the chamber were effectively holding office hours during the session, dealing with a rotating cast of Democratic senators seeking guidance on their questions. They scurried to and from senators’ desks who beckoned them over. 

Notes were flying during the question-and-answer session, some going to and from Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., others going to the House impeachment managers or among lawmakers themselves. Some were improvised on torn half-sheets of paper with a written note on one side and printed information on the other.

A question from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., prompted one fiery exchange. 

In response to a question from Sanders about whether Trump’s lawyers acknowledge he lost the election, Michael van der Veen said: “In my judgment? Who asked that?”

Sanders, clearly agitated, shouted: “I did.”

Van der Veen replied: “It’s irrelevant.”

Sanders then said from his desk: “You represent the president of the United States!”

Fellow Vermonter and President Pro Tempore Patrick J. Leahy had to admonish his junior colleague, reminding the chamber that debate is not permitted in response to answers from the defense team and managers. 

Sanders later scoffed as van der Veen avoided answering the question altogether. He then leaned in to talk to Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin to clarify if he had received an answer.

“Nope,” Cardin said.

Tension and misery

Tensions rose during the question-and-answer period, with raised voices and sarcasm coming from Trump’s lawyers and lead impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md. 

Van der Veen complained the trial was “the most miserable experience I’ve had down here in Washington, D.C.,” and went on to accuse Raskin of “doctoring evidence.”

Raskin responded with the basis of the trial itself.  “Counsel said before, ‘This has been my worst experience in Washington’,” he said. “For that, I say we’re sorry. But man, you should have been here on Jan. 6.”

Shortly after that, Leahy warned that “all parties in this chamber must refrain from using language that is not conducive to civil discourse.”

Louisiana Republican Bill Cassidy asked a key question about the timeline of Trump’s knowledge of the danger to Vice President Mike Pence. Cassidy surprised everyone with a vote to move forward with the trial on Tuesday, citing the defense team’s weak start. 

His pointed question drew the eyes of his colleagues on him. Nebraska Republican Ben Sasse glanced at him and Democratic senators looked across the chamber with great interest. 

Cassidy, who paced and paced around the chamber floor during Trump’s first  impeachment trial and again this year, halted his walking to listen to both sides answer his question. 

The question centered on whether Trump’s call with Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville at 2:15 p.m., and Trump’s tweet disparaging Pence at 2:24 p.m., meant that Trump “did not care that Vice President Pence was endangered or that law enforcement was overwhelmed.”

“Does this show that President Trump was tolerant of the intimidation of Vice President Pence?” Cassidy asked.

Van der Veen replied, “Directly, no. But I dispute the premise of your facts.”

Tuberville sat at his desk, his hands twisting a pen and with a big binder open on his lap. 

Van der Veen called Tuberville’s call “hearsay,” despite the Alabama Republican telling reporters about the call with a precise timeline. 

When Trump’s attorney finished, Tuberville heaved a big sigh and closed the binder on his lap.

As Raskin responded to his question, Cassidy rubbed his forehead and pinched the bridge of his nose, then tipped back a small bottle of water and threw the bottle under his desk. 

Dozens of Democrats scoffed when, in response to an earlier question about Trump’s response to Pence being removed for his safety, van der Veen said “At no point was the president informed that the vice president was in any danger.”

Fight, fight, fight

Before the question-and-answer period, the Trump team delivered their opening arguments, showing lengthy and repetitive video clips of Democrats urging their supporters to “fight,” contrasted with videos of Trump calling for “law and order.” 

Democrats began stone faced, watching the video closely, but quickly broke into murmuring comments and some laughter as the presentation continued. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, whose 2020 presidential campaign centered on fighting inequality, was featured in a lengthy clip repeating over and over the word “fight” from her stump speech. 

The Massachusetts Democrat sat in stillness, one arm across the front of her body clasping the arm of her chair. Her other hand rubbed at a pen. After multiple minutes highlighting her on the trail, she rested her head on her hand, leaning her elbow on the back of her chair and glanced at her colleagues.

Warren has also authored two books with “fight” in the title: “This Fight is Our Fight,” and “A Fighting Chance.”

When the video moved on from Warren, much of the rest of the Democratic caucus got their time in the spotlight, saying the word “fight.”

Democrats took turns laughing during a long video montage of nearly every Democratic senator and other Democratic figures using the word “fight.” 

Sens. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Jon Tester of Montana each laughed when their own faces appeared on the screens.

Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois nodded and laughed when it showed him saying “bare knuckled fight.”

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island laughed so much with his colleagues in the back row, that his face turned red and he reached for a bottle of water.

Senate honors Goodman

After wrapping up the question-and-answer session, the Senate approved legislation to award Capitol Police Office Eugene Goodman a Congressional Gold Medal for his action defending the Senate during the siege of the Capitol on Jan. 6. 

Schumer paid tribute on the Senate floor to Goodman and offered the measure, which passed by unanimous consent.

“In the weeks after the attack on January the sixth, the world learned about the incredible bravery of Officer Goodman on that fateful day,” Schumer said. 

Senators stood to applaud Goodman, who was in the chamber as Schumer spoke and had been guarding the chamber and upper gallery doors earlier in the day.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he was “pleased to join the majority leader’s request,” and said that the attack on the Capitol “introduced our nation to a group of heroes whom we in Congress were already proud to call our colleagues and to whom we owe a great debt.”

He mentioned the personal nature of the Senate’s awarding the honor. New security footage presented during the trial brought to light that in addition to leading a mob away from the Senate chamber, he potentially saved Sen. Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican and frequent Trump critic, from the violent mob that breached the Capitol.

"Here in this trial we saw new video, powerful video showing calmness under pressure, his courage in the line of duty, his foresight in the midst of chaos and his willingness to make himself a target of the mob's rage so that others might reach safety," Schumer said.

“If not for the quick thinking and bravery of Officer Eugene Goodman in particular, people in this chamber may not have escaped that day unharmed,” said McConnell. 

Goodman was recently promoted to acting deputy Senate sergeant-at-arms. 

Dressed in a gray suit, pink patterned tie and a black face mask with a blue horizontal line across it, Goodman sat in the back of the chamber as the Senate lauded him. 

When the chamber gaveled out for the evening, senators flocked to Goodman, swarming him with fist bumps and elbow bumps. 

Armed Services Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., gave Goodman, a fellow Army veteran, a salute before ducking into the Democratic cloakroom. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, a current member of the Iowa Army National Guard, gave him both a salute and a hug.