Fit to be tried
Ensconced at Mar-a-Lago, more than a month removed from Twitter, former President Donald Trump has tried to affect a relaxed view of his second impeachment trial. "Right now Trump is thinking, ‘I’ve got 45 votes, all I have to do is go golfing and not do anything,’ " a Trump aide told Politico before Tuesday's Senate proceedings on the charge that he incited the deadly U.S. Capitol insurrection.
Whoops, make that 44 votes. Trump's legal team of Bruce Castor and David Schoen was so outmatched and outclassed by the House Democratic impeachment managers that one Republican senator — who in a Jan. 26 test vote deemed the trial of an ex-president unconstitutional — changed his mind.
"The House managers made a compelling, cogent case, and the president’s team did not," said Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, becoming the sixth Republican to favor moving ahead with the trial on a Tuesday afternoon vote that passed 56-44 with unanimous Democratic support. "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 almost as if they were embarrassed," Cassidy said afterward.
Even GOP senators who stuck with Trump again rated his lawyers' disjointed performances embarrassing, especially that of Castor. "I don't think the lawyers did the most effective job," said Ted Cruz of Texas. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said, "I thought I knew where it was going, and I really didn’t know where it was going." North Dakota's Kevin Cramer, who earlier derided holding the trial as "the stupidest week in the Senate," said the ex-president's attorneys had a "rocky start."
And how did Trump take it while watching on TV? He was almost screaming as Castor made a meandering opening argument, sources told CNN. Trump was stunned when Castor praised the presentation of the Democratic prosecutors "well done," ABC News was told. On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the angriest, Mr. Trump "was an eight," one person familiar with his reaction informed The New York Times.
Still, Trump is a long way from losing. Even if all six Republicans who favored holding the trial also were to find him guilty, that's no lock — 11 more would have to join them to form a two-thirds Senate majority for conviction.
Castor pronounced himself pleased with his work — "I thought we had a good day" — and shrugged off losing Cassidy's vote. "I don’t think anything of it," Castor said. "If it leaks down to 34 [for acquittal], then I’ll start to worry."
If this isn't impeachable, what is?
The Democrats' presentation was as riveting as the Trump team's was baffling. Cruz, an arch-conservative and ardent Republican, said the lead impeachment manager, Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, was "impressive. He's a serious lawyer."
Raskin welled up with tears as he recalled that his 24-year-old daughter and son-in-law — visiting the Capitol for Congress' affirmation of Joe Biden's election victory by counting the Electoral College votes— feared they were going to die as they hid during the rampage by Trump supporters.
His presentation began with graphic video — as shocking and harrowing now as it was on Jan. 6 — showing Trump whipping up a rally crowd to march to the Capitol and "fight like hell" against his reelection defeat, followed by images of the violence and destruction. "That’s a high crime and misdemeanor," declared Raskin. "If that’s not an impeachable offense, then there’s no such thing." (Watch the video presentation — be warned the language and scenes of violence are raw.)
To the Trump argument that he didn't seek violence or insurrection, Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), another impeachment manager, pointed to a since-deleted Trump tweet after the siege ended that excused and celebrated his supporters. "These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long," Trump had tweeted. "Remember this day forever!" Said Cicilline: "Every time I read that tweet, it chills me to the core."
Castor said that no member of the former president’s defense team would do anything but condemn the violence of the "repugnant" attack. Schoen turned the trial toward red-meat partisanship, charging that Democrats are fueled by a "base hatred" of the former president and "seeking to eliminate Donald Trump from the American political scene."
Attacking Democrats for showing the video of the violence, Schoen accused them of using impeachment as if it "were some sort of blood sport" and claimed: "This trial will tear this country apart, perhaps like we’ve only seen once before in our history," an apparent reference to the Civil War.
The Constitution and the calendar
Trump was impeached on Jan. 13, a week before leaving office, but the trial is being held after he left.
House impeachment managers said that if the Senate accepted Trump's lawyers’ argument that it cannot hold an impeachment trial for an ex-president, it would create a new constitutional loophole — a "January exception."
Trump's lawyers are arguing that "if you commit an impeachable offense in your last few weeks in office, you do it with constitutional immunity," said Raskin. Castor's retort: "After he’s out of office, you can go and arrest him."
See the takeaways by Newsday's Tom Brune from Tuesday's proceedings. With the constitutionality argument now settled by the Senate's vote, the trial moves on at noon Wednesday to the central issues: Is Trump guilty of inciting insurrection, and should he be barred from holding federal office in the future?
Janison: Hoaxes past sell-by date
The beginning of the end beckons for twin right-wing hoaxes of 2020, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. The election proved legitimate; so did the medical rationale for face masks and distancing.
False denials of both facts now lose power as the exhaust fumes of the Trump administration fade. Even the ex-president's C-list team of impeachment lawyers gives no hint of trying to revive his election-fraud canards against Biden. No, the lawyers' best argument is that the First Amendment gives Trump the right to mislead with weaponized words.
Both canards have cost citizens' lives. Trump's vote hoax and virus hoax explicitly crossed paths when he tried to deter mail-in balloting that was expanded as a health measure during the coronavirus pandemic.
Whether Republican leaders continue to bend and pander to irrational cults remains to be seen. For their part, mainstream Democrats in New York City seem to have stopped echoing fevered "defund the police" shouts of last summer. Extreme slogans are perishable. At least they won't be fanned for a while from the Biden White House.
Twilight of the vampire tweet
Neera Tanden, Biden's nominee to head the Office of Management and Budget, appeared for her first confirmation hearing on Tuesday with apologies for her history of caustic, hyperpartisan tweets ripping Republican senators, posted while heading a liberal think tank.
"You wrote that Susan Collins is, quote, ‘the worst.’ That Tom Cotton is a fraud. That vampires have more heart than Ted Cruz. You called Leader McConnell ‘Moscow Mitch’ and ‘Voldemort,’ " complained Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). "How do you plan to mend fences and build relationships with members of Congress you have attacked through your public statements?"
Tanden told members of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs that she regretted the tone of some of her tweets, and she noted that she had deleted many of them. "For those concerned about my rhetoric and my language, I'm sorry," Tanden said. "I'm sorry for any hurt that they've caused." She also promised to work in a bipartisan manner if she's confirmed.
With Democrats in control of the Senate, Tanden's confirmation is expected whether or not feelings are soothed.
Biden broom at DOJ
The Justice Department will ask U.S. attorneys who were appointed by Trump to resign from their posts, as the Biden administration moves to transition to its own nominees. There were two exceptions.
Delaware U.S. Attorney David Weiss has been asked to remain in office, where he is overseeing the tax probe of Hunter Biden, the president's son. John Durham, appointed as special counsel by former Attorney General William Barr to reinvestigate the origins of the Trump-Russia probe, also will continue his work, but Durham is expected to resign as U.S. attorney in Connecticut, a Justice official told CNN.
Distrust of Trump-era appointees led the Biden administration to appoint a career Justice Department official, Monty Wilkinson. as acting attorney general while it waits for the Senate to confirm Merrick Garland, the president's nominee to lead the department.
More coronavirus news
See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments on Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Lisa L. Colangelo and Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.
What else is happening:
- Vornado Realty Trust, run by longtime Trump friend Steven Roth, is exploring ways to extricate itself from a partnership with the former president's real estate company, The Wall Street Journal reported. When Vornado last year tried to sell two properties in which Trump held 30% stakes, no buyers or lenders stepped up. Roth's company thinks the Trump connection may be why.
- Biden will travel to Milwaukee to appear in a CNN town hall event next Tuesday night. It will be his first official trip since his inauguration.
- Democrats are pressuring Biden to find a way to get rid of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump donor and supporter who they blame for months of mail delivery delays, CNN reported. Biden doesn't have the direct power to do that; he would have to shift the balance of the Postal Service Board of Governors, which appointed DeJoy.
- A Farmingdale man is the latest person from Long Island arrested by FBI agents for being in the Capitol mob, reports Newsday's Robert E. Kessler. Greg Rubenacker, 25, was among a group that was apparently smoking marijuana in the Capitol rotunda, after illegally entering the building, officials said.
- A CBS News poll measured how Americans on one political side see the other. By 57% to 43%, more Republicans describe Democrats as enemies right now than as merely political opposition. Among Democrats, 41% saw Republicans as enemies and 59% took the milder view.
- With Trump out of office and living in Florida, the security presence at Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue has been reduced and East 56th Street has been reopened to traffic for the first time since December 2016, News 4 New York reported.