At the heart of the case against President Trump levied this week by House prosecutors lies the violence itself — what it looked like up close, inside the Capitol. Video conveyed the intensity, danger, coarseness of language, and scent of blood that seethed through the vast premises. The House used shocking footage never before seen by the public, making clear that things were far worse than Americans had so far appreciated. Powerful.
Then again, too, if this footage was able to shock the nation four weeks after January 6, why must one assume that President Trump himself grasped what was happening at the time of the events? He was more than a mile away. He had expressed confidence that everyone at his rally would be marching to the Capitol building to “peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.” Then he’d returned to the White House.
The House would have the Senate believe that Mr. Trump was apprised, during a phone call with Senator Tuberville, of how dangerous the situation had become. By the senator’s own account, though, it was a glancing exchange in which the Alabaman informed the President that Vice President Pence had just been rushed from the chamber. Did the President, did anyone, fully grasp then what the House disclosed this week?
It disclosed, among other things, that not only had a gallows — mock or real — been set up in front of the Capitol, but that mobs were yelling for Mr. Pence to be dragged out and hanged. Speaker Pelosi, too. It was just bone chilling (its ghastliness reminded us of the tarring-and-feathering scene in the film “John Adams”). We don’t, though, believe for a second that Mr. Trump knew that was going on, let alone intended it.
Which brings us to the question of due process. Whatever one’s instinct about what President Trump knew and when he knew it, how could the House or the Senate have unraveled that question? It’s hard to see how it could have been done given this impeachment process. No witnesses were interviewed, let alone cross-examined, in a hearing in the House. So far, no witnesses have been called in the Senate.
Yesterday ended with an illuminating moment, when Senator Mike Lee declared that he’d been misquoted by the prosecution. A befuddled Senator Leahy, the juror who is presiding over the trial, tried to sweep the matter aside with a procedural motion suggested to him by an aide. It turns out that the prosecutors were quoting a news story. So the matter was resolved with the prosecutors saying they’d strike the objected-to quotation.
What, then, are we to make of the rest of the prosecution case? None of the Democrats’ narrative was subjected to the adversarial testing that Senator Lee sought and that is required in a genuine trial. Lack of due process leads to a lack of confidence. It is being said that to vote to acquit is to vote for a lie. Is that the only choice? Or could a vote to acquit be a vote for the principle that everyone in America is owed due process?
Just to mark the point, it’s not our intention here to assert that Mr. Trump is innocent. It’s only to mark the part of due process that requires that the burden rest entirely on the House. It is asking the Senate to bar a former president from public life until the end of his days. The fact is that the Democrats are scared of a Trump comeback, and the House made no secret of it.
On the contrary, it warned in open Senate against acquitting Mr. Trump, because that would leave open the possibility that he could rebound and run for president again. That is what the Democrats’ long campaign for impeachment has been about from the start — fear of the voters. It seems that the Democrats are impeaching not so much the former president but the 74 million Americans who voted for him and, they fear, might yet do so again.