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The first day of Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial did not go well for his legal team. Just ask some Republican members of the jury.
Maine Sen. Susan Collins told CNN after Tuesday’s proceedings that lead Trump attorney Bruce Castor “did not seem to make any arguments at all, which was an unusual approach to take.”
Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana said he thought the Trump team did a “terrible job” and was “disorganized” and “random.” Cassidy, who previously signaled a belief that it is unconstitutional to impeach a former president, changed his mind Tuesday and voted with Collins and four other Republicans to affirm the trial’s constitutionality. The vote passed 56-44, allowing the trial to proceed to opening arguments on the article of impeachment charging Trump with “incitement of insurrection” for his role in fueling the Capitol riot on Jan. 6.
“I said I’d be an impartial juror. Anyone listening to those arguments — the House managers were focused, they were organized, they relied upon both precedent, the Constitution and legal scholars. They made a compelling argument,” Cassidy said. “President Trump’s team were disorganized. They did everything they could but to talk about the question at hand, and when they talked about it, they kind of glided over it, almost as if they were embarrassed of their arguments.”
Perhaps we missed it, but we didn’t hear the defense fully acknowledge the reality — inconvenient for the sake of their argument — that Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives while he was still in office. Castor did acknowledge, however, that voters chose not to re-elect Trump in the 2020 election. That is not what his client has been saying for months.
Castor said that Trump was “removed by the voters.” Remarkably, that is further than Trump and some of his other lawyers have gone in expressly recognizing the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s election win.
This isn’t the only place with daylight between Castor’s words and the words of his client. The Capitol riot was “repugnant,” Castor said. “You will not hear any member of the team representing former President Trump say anything but in the strongest possible way denounce the violence of the rioters and those that breached the Capitol,” he told senators.
But that wasn’t Trump’s reaction, not at first. Not when it really mattered. On Jan. 6, even as Trump was telling people at the Capitol to go home, he was saying, “We love you. You’re very special.” He told them to “remember this day forever!” as if it were something to be celebrated for years to come.
This kind of inconsistency was almost a defining part of Trump’s legal defense on Tuesday. His lawyers also couldn’t seem to decide if Congress’ current impeachment proceedings have been too fast or too slow.
Now, as Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the lead House manager prosecuting the case against Trump, alluded to Wednesday, this trial is so much more than a competition between lawyers. It’s a matter of truth. And the truth is that the Trump team’s arguments, and not just their presentation, are lacking.
Trump lawyer David Schoen said that the House managers’ position on the constitutionality of impeaching a former president is a “radical constitutional theory.” Well, this theory is so radical that it seems to be the prevailing one among legal scholars, conservative and liberal alike. It’s such a new idea that a Republican senator was making similar points in the late 1800s.
Yes, there are some very smart people making thoughtful arguments about this constitutional question who come down on the side of it not being constitutional to impeach a former president. But even those arguments didn’t materialize in a coherent way on Tuesday. That says a lot about the state of Trump’s defense.
Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who has been involved in that defense, said Tuesday that “it’s hard to make a good case when you have an unconstitutional process.”
Well, Tuesday was the defense team’s chance to make that argument about the constitutionality of the process, and they left some Republicans “perplexed.” To us, that’s evidence of an unprepared legal team working with inferior arguments in defense of a clearly guilty client.