The Second Impeachment Trial of President Trump and the Consequences of his Acquittal
Statement for the Congressional Record on the Second Impeachment Trial of Former President Donald Trump
For the second time in over a year, events compelled the Senate to hold an impeachment trial for President Donald Trump. By once more acquitting the President despite overwhelming evidence of his guilt, the Senate has again abdicated its responsibility to the American people and our democratic republic.
The Founders fashioned our constitutional system to at once defy history and reflect its enduring lessons. They understood that since the first human societies, rule of the strong had prevailed across ages of warlords, monarchs, emperors, and tyrants. From the examples of ancient Greece and Rome, they also knew that rule by the people was the fragile, flickering exception.
To ignite America’s experiment in self-government, the Founders handed us a Constitutional system unique in human history — with inalienable rights for the people, free and fair democratic elections, the rule of law, and co-equal branches of government to check the unbridled ambitions that risked dragging us into tyranny. Our system was never perfect — far from it — but over 234 years, Americans have fought and sacrificed to make it more democratic, more fair, and more free.
The Founders also understood that, however well-crafted the Constitution may be, its fate would inevitably depend on the public officials sworn to protect it. They could give the Senate the unique power to convict a President, but they could not guarantee senators would exercise that power when the moment required it.
Their fears were realized on February 13, 2021, when the Senate failed to convict President Trump, a man who defied every standard of conduct and decency the Founders expected of public officials.
Months before Americans cast their ballots, Donald Trump made our democracy his enemy — manufacturing false claim after false claim to undermine the 2020 election. He warned the election would be stolen or rigged, dead people would vote, and voting machines were not trustworthy. He repeated these claims incessantly on social media, at his rallies, and in interview after interview on cable news. He repeats these lies to this day.
When Donald Trump lost the election by over seven million votes, he refused to concede. Instead, he waged a monthslong war against the peaceful transition of power. First, he challenged the election results in court. He lost 61 out of the 62 cases, often being howled out of court by federal judges (many appointed by the President) for failing to produce any evidence of widespread fraud. Former Attorney General William Barr, one of the president’s most steadfast allies, confirmed that there was no such evidence.
So the President changed course. He threw the weight of his office against state and local officials hoping he could coerce them into overturning their states’ lawfully conducted election. He called election officials in Wayne County, Michigan. He summoned state senators from Michigan and Pennsylvania to the White House to urge the legislature to intervene. His aides hounded the Governor of Arizona to echo the President’s baseless claims about the election. Most notoriously, he browbeat Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in a recorded phone call to “find” another 11,780 Trump votes and badgered the Vice President to reject the certification of the electoral results. In my view, these actions alone warranted impeachment. But he didn’t stop there.
In the end, President Trump stopped at nothing. As Congress gathered on January 6 to certify the Electoral College results, he incited a mob to invade the Capitol and “stop the steal.” They scaled, as if it were an enemy rampart, the platform built for President-elect Biden’s inauguration and the peaceful transition of power. They chanted President Trump’s name as they smashed doors, broke windows, and looted private offices. They repeated the President’s lies as they cursed, speared, and bludgeoned the men and women of law enforcement who defended our democracy.
At virtually every step of the way, our constitutional system held its ground because patriotic Americans fulfilled their obligation to our republic. From the Capitol Police to the nonpartisan election officials to the state and federal judges to the Vice President of the United States — all refused to bend to the President’s lawless demands. We should shudder to think how events would have unfolded if these Americans had made a different choice.
Yet somehow, confronted with these examples of individual patriotism and the overwhelming evidence of the President’s impeachable offenses, 43 senators still voted to acquit — including the Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The Minority Leader refused to contest the case laid out by the House Managers. He conceded that President Trump was “practically and morally responsible for provoking the events” of January 6, committing, what he called, “a disgraceful dereliction of duty.”
Instead, the Senator hid behind a strained reading of history and dodged his duty to hold President Trump accountable on the feeble ground that the Senate lacked jurisdiction. Through this sophist sleight of hand, the Minority Leader tried to place one foot on the right side of history without taking the hard vote it actually required. In doing so, he provided cover to every Republican senator who joined him to acquit President Trump — including many who have failed to denounce the former president for anything he has done to undermine American democracy.
The Constitution grants the legislative branch authority to hold accountable any President who would seek to undo our democratic system of government. This Senate’s refusal to exercise this authority and convict Donald Trump is a stain on this body. We had the responsibility to serve as a check on his anti-American actions and reassert the standard of government our Founders imagined. We chose otherwise.
With the permission of the Senate’s acquittal, Donald Trump refuses to admit his defeat, and continues to mislead his supporters that the election was stolen. In so doing, he continues to perpetuate, in another form, the insurrection he unleashed on January 6.
Our democracy stands today, not as a result of our actions, but those of law enforcement officials at the Capitol and state and local officials in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona and Wisconsin — men and women who didn’t surrender to President Trump’s tyrannical demands.
Nearly two months later, the United States Capitol remains ringed with razor-wire. As I have walked through the perimeter each morning, I have reflected on those who kept us safe from the President’s anti-democratic mob — the law enforcement officials, the people who maintain and clean the Capitol, Congressional staff. They risked life and limb, not only to defend Senators and Representatives, but to defend basic American principles of our constitutional order: free elections, the peaceful transition of power, the rule of law, and the separation of co-equal branches of government.
And then I think about the state and local officials, many Republicans, who held their ground under pressure from the President of the United States, often accompanied by threats from angry citizens caught up in his Big Lie, that an election he lost by over seven million votes was somehow stolen from him. These brave men and women did their duty to protect our constitutional system.
They are true patriots no different than the millions of other citizens who have done their part to defend the way of life we share under our Constitution. They join the African-American regiments who defended the Union in the Civil War, the code talkers in World War Two, and the sons and daughters of immigrants who have defended our country from Yorktown to Normandy to Kandahar.
The Constitution of the United States is not a machine that runs itself; it is an exercise in self-government. American citizens — including those elected to serve them in the Senate — must keep it working and always ensure that it becomes more democratic, more fair, and more free.
As Americans, we should take comfort that there have been many — from Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony to the other courageous citizens who rose to moments far more difficult than our own to protect the republic and push it closer still to our highest ideals.
They are why the United States remains, for now, the longest-lasting government by the people in human history. But as the Founders understood, democracy will always be vulnerable to demagogues who stop at nothing to hold on to power. History will record the names of those who stood on the side of the Constitution, passing down to the next generation the high standard of citizenship our democracy demands. Hopefully, a future Senate will meet that standard.