The United States Senate has made history Tuesday prosecuting a past president for the first time. Defendant Donald Trump is also making history, as the first president to be tried twice. Congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins and White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor join Judy Woodruff to discuss the first day of trial proceedings.
The United States Senate has made history today, prosecuting a past president.
The first order of business was voting 56-44 that putting Donald Trump on trial again is constitutional.
Our congressional correspondent, Lisa Desjardins, begins our coverage.
For the second time in just over a year, the Senate convened as a courtroom.
Sen. Patrick Leahy:
The Senate will convene as a court of impeachment.
In front of the dais, newly installed tables separated the defense from the prosecution. And senators, already sworn in as jurors, gathered for the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump.
The former president is charged with inciting the deadly insurrection that, more than a month later, still has the Capitol Building on edge, surrounded by razor wire and heightened security.
We outnumber you a million to one out here!
Democrats began dramatically, with a video showing the attack on the Capitol and President Trump's actions and words that day.
After this, we're going to walk down. And I will be there with you.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
We're going to walk down.
We're going walk down to the Capitol.
Take the Capitol.
Take the Capitol!
We are going to the Capitol!
The team of House Democrats acting as impeachment managers were inside the Capitol themselves during the attack and stressed the danger they saw.
Rep. Joe Neguse:
What you experienced that day, what we experienced that day, what our country experienced that day is the framers' worst nightmare come to life.
Lead impeachment manager, Representative Jamie Raskin, was emotional, speaking of burying his son one day previously, and then, on January 6, fearing for the lives of his daughter and son-in-law, who were at the Capitol with him.
Rep. Jamie Raskin:
This cannot be our future of America. We cannot have presidents inciting and mobilizing mob violence against our government.
He and other Democrats pointed to the Constitution itself as evidence that this trial should go ahead, because it allows for officials to lose the right to run for office again.
Because the text of the Constitution makes clear there is no January exception to the impeachment power, that presidents can't commit grave offenses in their final days and escape any congressional response.
If Mr. Trump is convicted, senators could bar him from holding federal office in the future, this as dozens of constitutional and other lawyers, including conservative Charles Cooper, who published an op-ed, agree that the process is constitutional.
Democrats also pointed to historical precedent, the 1876 trial of Secretary of War William Belknap, who resigned before his trial.
When his case reached the Senate, this body, Belknap made the exact same argument that President Trump is making today, that you all lack jurisdiction, any power to try him, because he's a former official.
But the Senate then voted that it had the right to go ahead anyway.
The Belknap case is clear precedent that the Senate must proceed with this trial.
The Trump team started with a different approach.
One thing I have discovered, whether it be Democrats or Republicans, United States senators are patriots first, patriots first. They love their country. They love their families. They love the states that they represent.
Pennsylvania attorney Bruce Castor began by extolling the Senate and senators themselves, even praising his legal opponents.
We changed what we were going to do on account that we thought that the House managers' presentation was well done.
He and fellow Trump lawyer David Schoen argued that the impeachment trial is an unnecessary and rushed partisan exercise, showing their own video of Democrats calling for impeachment years ago.
Rep. Al Green:
I rise today, Mr. Speaker, to call for the impeachment of the president of the United States of America.
Rep. Maxine Waters:
I continue to say, impeach him! Impeach 45!
They argue the trial is divisive and unconstitutional.
The section I read, judgment, in other words, the bad thing that can happen, the judgment, in cases of impeachment, i.e., what we are doing, shall not extend further than removal from office.
What is so hard about that? What of those — which of those words are unclear? President Trump no longer is in office.
My overriding emotion is, frankly, wanting to cry for what I believe these proceedings will do to our great, so-long-enduring, sacred Constitution and to the American people on both sides of the great divide that now characterizes our nation.
Through it all, staff and senators watched, taking in the constitutional arguments that were more like opening arguments. Those officially are set to begin tomorrow.
And Lisa joins me now, along with our Yamiche Alcindor.
Hello to both of you. You were both watching this very closely.
Lisa, we could see only the speaker during today's proceedings, but you were in and out of the Senate chamber. Tell us the bigger picture there. How were senators reacting? What else was going on?
Senators certainly came ready to take notes, ready to be informed about the situation.
But I will tell you that they definitely seemed to be paying much more close attention to the Democrats' case than to the Republicans' case. I saw many senators, including some swing senators, taking copious notes during the Democrats' presentation.
And, of course, it's very significant that, when that video of the riot was played, senators had different reactions. Some didn't react at all. Some looked down and didn't watch. Others were emotional and turned away because of the emotion that they were feeling and watching.
In the midst of all of it, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, whose own words were put in that video, was reactionless. So, it was a fascinating spectrum of reactions.
But when Republicans began their case, when the Trump team began their case, I saw only one or two senators taking notes. And it was a clear difference in sort of the way, the gravity that senators took those two sides, at least today.
And we saw that in the vote, as an additional Republican senator joined Democrats, Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, to vote to keep this trial going.
And, Lisa, that's a reminder that, at the last impeachment trial for President — former President Trump, the vote came down almost entirely, finally, along partisan lines. Only one senator joined the Democrats.
What do you — what is your sense from reading the senators this time, in terms of how they may be receiving the arguments?
I have been able to speak to many senators — they were actually remarkably chatty after this session today — just in the past few minutes.
And something really stands out to me, I have never heard members of one party criticize an attorney representing their party the way that I have heard Republican senators in the last half-hour talk about Bruce Castor, including Senator Lindsey Graham, one of Trump's biggest allies, saying: "I thought I would figure out where he was going, but, in the end, I don't know where he was going."
Senator Lisa Murkowski told me it was a missed opportunity. Senator Susan Collins had this quote. She said: "I was perplexed by that first lawyer, who seemed to not make any arguments at all."
General agreement that the second attorney for President Trump, Mr. Schoen, did a better job, but a missed opportunity is how Republicans look at that.
On the other hand, they also think, I hear from Republicans and Democrats, that the Democratic team did better than the team we saw last year, that it was a more senatorial tone, less angry, less political, and more didactic and legal, something that senators seemed to be paying closer attention to.
Interesting that they said that, in that 44 of them, all but six, voted that it still was not constitutional to go ahead with the trial.
But, Yamiche, I know you had been in touch with the Trump defense team before today.
What struck you about the arguments they made?
Well, this was a Trump defense that was really at times meandering, at times really struggling to get to their point, and at times, frankly, confusing and contradicting the president, the former President Trump's own words.
That said, they did eventually to the point, which was that they feel like Democrats are doing this for political theater, and that really this is about Democrats wanting to make sure that President Trump can't be their political opponent in future elections.
Now, to Bruce Castor, who was that first attorney that Lisa and others are reporting is really getting bad, bad remarks from both Democrats and Republicans. He made this argument that President Trump was really a target of a political motivated attack here.
And he said something, though, that was really interesting, which is that he said the American people spoke and that they made sure to vote President Trump out of office.
That is a concession that President Trump himself has never made. It's also something interesting that he said was — in his long 50-minute speech. He said that he believes that no one on the Trump defense will be trying to at all defend the actions on January 6.
Now, let's — keep that in mind as I read this tweet by President Trump on January 6. He said: "These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is unceremoniously, ambitiously stripped away from great patriots."
So, that's President Trump defending the attack on January 6, that siege on the Capitol. But his attorneys now are saying they're not going to do that.
Getting to David Schoen, who is the person who was seen as more tactical, more precise, more focused, he really talked about, though, that Democrats were showing — quote, unquote — "movies," making the case that they were trying to be too emotional in their arguments.
But, of course, Democrats were showing real video from the attack on January 6, trying to remind lawmakers just all of what happened.
Something else that Bruce Castor said — I mean, something else that David Schoen said that was really interesting is that Democrats were too slow to send the impeachment articles to the Senate, but also they rushed the impeachment of this.
There are also, of course, those four lawyers that are going to make up the team for the Trump legal defense. We're going to see each of them. Today, we saw two of them. So, these are all some of the interesting things that stuck out to me, contradictory arguments, but still arguments that landed their punches when they finally got to the point.
All right, Yamiche Alcindor and Lisa Desjardins watching today, and you will be watching again for the rest of the week.
Thank you both.
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