Washington — In a memorandum filed ahead of the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, the House Democrats who will prosecute the case argued that Mr. Trump was “singularly responsible” for the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of his supporters that left five people dead.
On January 6, a mob of insurrectionists overran the Capitol in a deadly assault with the goal of overturning the election results, as Congress met to reaffirm President Biden’s Electoral College victory. In a pre-trial brief filed Tuesday, themake the case that Mr. Trump encouraged this attack by repeatedly refusing to concede the election while promoting baseless claims about voter fraud and encouraging his supporters to challenge the results.
“President Trump’s responsibility for the events of January 6 is unmistakable,” the managers said in their 80-page brief, adding that the former president’s “conduct must be declared unacceptable in the clearest and most unequivocal terms.”
The nine Democratic managers, led by Congressman Jamie Raskin, a lawyer from Maryland, said the Senate has an obligation to hear the case against Mr. Trump, despite some Republicans arguing that it is unconstitutional to hold a trial for a president who is no longer in office.
“President Trump endangered the very constitutional system that protects all other rights, including freedom of expression,” the managers wrote. “It would be perverse to suggest that our shared commitment to free speech requires the Senate to ignore the obvious: that President Trump is singularly responsible for the violence and destruction that unfolded in our seat of government on January 6.”
Mr. Trump’s campaign launched lawsuits challenging the election results in several states, but these efforts failed. Even federal judges who had been nominated by Mr. Trump found that his attempts to overturn the election were invalid.
The impeachment managers argued that Mr. Trump “fixated” on January 6 after it became clear that his campaign’s efforts to challenge the election with lawsuits would fail.
“Even as he continued improperly pressuring state officials, DOJ, and Members of Congress to overturn the electoral outcome, he sharply escalated his public statements, using more incendiary and violent language to urge supporters to ‘stop the steal’ on January 6. He insisted that the election had been ‘rigged’ and ‘stolen,’ and that his followers had to ‘fight like hell’ and ‘fight to the death’ against this ‘act of war,’ since they ‘can’t let it happen’ and ‘won’t take it anymore!'” the brief said. Mr. Trump tweeted about the rally on January 6 in Washington several times in the weeks leading up to it, and encouraged his supporters to attend.
“President Trump’s effort to extend his grip on power by fomenting violence against Congress was a profound violation of the oath he swore. If provoking an insurrectionary riot against a Joint Session of Congress after losing an election is not an impeachable offense, it is hard to imagine what would be. The Framers themselves would not have hesitated to convict on these facts,” the impeachment managers said.
They also preemptively pushed back against the Republican argument that the House voted to impeach the president too quickly — just one week after the events of January 6 — and without any due process for the president.
“This case does not involve secretive conduct, or a hidden conspiracy, requiring months or years of investigation,” the brief said. “Indeed, hundreds of people have already been arrested and charged for their role in the events of January 6. There is no reason for Congress to delay in holding accountable the President who incited the violent attack, inflamed the mob even as it ransacked the Capitol, and failed to take charge of a swift law enforcement response because he believed such dereliction of duty might advance his political interest in overturning the results of an election that he lost.”
Several Republicans in the Senate have argued that it is unconstitutional to impeach Mr. Trump now that he is no longer in office. But the Constitution does not explicitly say whether a president needs to be in office in order for him to be impeached and tried. Democrats have also pointed to a case in 1876 when a former Cabinet official was impeached by the Senate after he resigned.
The impeachment managers argued that the Senate further has jurisdiction to try the president because he was still in office on January 6.
“There can be no doubt that the House had authority to impeach him at that point. So the question is not whether a former official can ever be impeached by the House-though, as we will explain, this is indeed authorized. The only issue actually presented is whether the Senate has jurisdiction to conduct a trial of this impeachment. And Article I, Section 3, Clause 6 provides a straightforward answer to that question: ‘The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments’ (emphasis added),” the brief said.
Former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not agree to call an emergency session before the Senate was set to reconvene on January 19, the day before Mr. Biden took office. If he had done so, then Mr. Trump could have been tried while he was still in office.
The impeachment managers also said that Mr. Trump’s behavior “conduct endangered the life of every single Member of Congress, jeopardized the peaceful transition of power and line of succession, and compromised our national security,” and so needs to be held accountable.
“This is precisely the sort of constitutional offense that warrants disqualification from federal office. President Trump has proven his willingness to break and brutalize the law in his quest for power. The Senate must establish beyond doubt, for all time, and for officials of all political parties that President Trump’s behavior was intolerable,” they said.
The brief also noted that Mr. Trump did not encourage his supporters to stand down for several hours after they overran the Capitol. At one point, he released a video on Twitter urging them to go home, but reassuring them that they were “special” and “loved.” Several of the rioters were seeking to harm or even assassinate officials at the Capitol, including Mr. Trump’s own vice president.
The managers argued that not only should Mr. Trump be convicted, he should be disqualified from ever holding office again.
“President Trump’s incitement of insurrection requires his conviction and disqualification from future federal officeholding. This is not a case where elections alone are a sufficient safeguard against future abuse; it is the electoral process itself that President Trump attacked and that must be protected from him and anyone else who would seek to mimic his behavior,” they said. “The Senate must make clear to him and all who follow that a President who provokes armed violence against the government of the United States in an effort to overturn the results of an election will face trial and judgment.”
Mr. Trump’s attorneys must release their response to the article of impeachment on Tuesday as well. They have one week to provide their rebuttal to the impeachment managers’ brief.
Mr. Trump is not expected to be convicted after the impeachment trial, as 67 votes are required to convict a president. Forty-five Republicans voted last week to dismiss the trial on constitutional grounds, demonstrating that a majority of Republicans would not vote to convict the president. Nonetheless, Democrats argue that it is important to hold the trial as a show of accountability for the president.