• Daniel Ethan Finneran

The Second Impeachment Trial Begins

In accordance with the Constitution’s mandate to Congress, with whom the mighty power and solemn duty to Impeach such public actors as the “president, vice president, and all civil officers of the United States” uniquely resides, a rare and unexampled trial, a fascinating cause célèbre, has begun in the lofty chamber of the Senate.


This trial, of course, has convened to adjudicate the innocence or guilt, the purity or sinfulness, of the recently rejected president—and now private citizen—Mr. Donald J. Trump. The trial over which, in the absence of Chief Justice John Roberts, the Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy is, thus far, rather capably presiding, has as its focus one peculiar and weighty question: is Mr. Trump responsible for having incited an insurrection?


This is the case that the prosecution, or those assigned by the lower chamber as “House Managers”, will endeavor to prove. Or, in opposition to them, as Mr. Trump’s defense team will contend, is this but another “crime” of which, at best, the beleaguered owner of Mar-a-Lago can be only spuriously accused. Is this but a sequel to the “Ukraine Impeachment” trial by which, for none but political reasons, his reputation will be further tarnished, but his conviction won’t be obtained?


Is he, or is he not, culpable of having fomented a violent uprising (one to which his defiant and pugnacious words perhaps gave birth) by which the seat of our Legislative Branch was assaulted and, briefly, overwhelmed? Did the impassioned thoughts, familiar grievances, and rambling exhortations to which he gave voice that dread afternoon on the Ellipse result in the barbarian horde’s siege of the Capitol Building—that grand edifice in which Congress was jointly gathered, and electoral college votes were being counted? Just how taut is the causal link connecting his words to their actions? How compelling is the evidence that his utterances were, in fact, their chief influence, the kindling by which their mischief was so savagely enflamed?


Incitement, as we know, is the single article of which Mr. Trump was originally accused in the House of Representatives, and of which, in the tumultuous days to come, those levelling so grave and disquieting a charge hope him to be convicted in the Senate. Yet before that august body could deliberate over such a thorny and legally-difficult question (as that posed by the true definition of “incitement”), it first decided to vote on whether or not it was Constitutionally permissible to proceed with such a trial.


That was the theme of “Day 1”, the Tuesday on which the trial began. Indeed, a previous vote, brought to the floor by Kentucky’s Rand Paul, was held on this very question, to which the smallest of majorities answered “yes”.


On this occasion, when the second vote was held, that thin majority increased by a grand total of one. In all, six Republicans—a modest improvement on the previous five—voted that the trial of a since-retired public official was, in fact, constitutionally valid. Most agreed with the cogency of Lead impeachment manager Jamie Raskin’s point that there exists no “January Exception” in the text of the Constitution, a time during which a lame duck president’s misbehavior might be conveniently excused.


Raskin then abandoned logos for pathos, the mind for the heart, reason for emotion. Temporarily overcome by stately tears, he recounted his personal experience when the crowd of protesters penetrated the building in which he was working, and his family was gathered. With cheeks bedewed with his eyes’ excretions, Raskin described to the senators before whom he spoke how threatened his daughter felt, and how distasteful she found Washington D.C on that day.


The rejoinder offered by Mr. Trump’s defense was, to put it mildly, less than inspiring. The man tasked with so unenviable a job was Bruce Castor—a lawyer obviously unacquainted with eloquence and, maybe worse, unequal to the moment for which he was called. He was, as even the forty-fifth president’s staunchest defenders would have to agree, quite unprepared for the stage onto which he was thrust.


Here at Finneran’s Wake, his clumsiness will be treated with mercy. The best that we can say of his speech is that it was ambitious, garrulous, but feeble to the point of flaccidity.


“Day 2”, Wednesday, witnessed the presentation of unseen footage of the attacks on the Capitol. There were a few disturbing clips to which, hitherto, the public eye wasn’t completely privy. For thirteen difficult minutes, the crisply-edited video reminded the viewer of the horrors of that day, and sought to lay the felonious activity squarely at the feet of Mr. Trump.


More days are forthcoming, but the result, we’re told, is a fait accompli. Mr. Trump’s fortune was long ago preordained. For the conviction of a sitting or—as is the case—a retired president, two-thirds of the Senate must be convinced. At last count, seventeen members would have to forgo their fidelity to the Constitution or, depending on the case, their fealty to the president. This is a number unlikely to be reached.

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