They are wrong. A full trial won’t take too much time. It won’t keep Democrats from legislating. And it won’t alienate the public.
In fact, coming after Trump’s impeachment in the House for inciting an insurrectionist assault on our seat of government, it’s an entirely necessary response to his misdeeds.
Some Democrats have floated alternatives, such as a sped-up trial combined with censure. They no doubt fear a drawn-out affair will consume the political world’s attention as Trump’s first trial did.
But this trial isn’t going to be like Trump’s first one.
The events that led up to each impeachment were radically different. Last time, probing Trump’s shadowy plot to strong-arm a foreign ally required a complicated investigation and testimony from numerous government insiders. The trial involved complex arguments and presentations.
This time things are not at all clouded. The story itself is far more straightforward. Much of the event unfolded out in the open. Much of the evidence is on video. A trial will be a simpler matter.
So even if the trial took more than a week, there’s no reason for it to drag out for months. But the truth is that the instinct to rush the trial is itself deeply misguided.
Indeed, what we should be talking about is how the Senate can take the time to do the trial right. Because doing it right would provide a much fuller accounting of what Trump really did that day while the rioters stormed the Capitol.
There is no reason this needs to distract from other Senate work, congressional expert Norman Ornstein tells us. He notes that Senate workdays can be structured so part are devoted to the trial and the rest to fleshing out the Democratic agenda.
“The idea that this is a distraction is nonsense,” Ornstein says. “It’s not at all difficult to manage.”
Ornstein also notes that a lot of trial work — such as interviewing witnesses — can be done by staff, meaning that senators wouldn’t have to be present, as happened during President Bill Clinton’s trial. Video of interviews could then be shown during the actual trial later.
Another approach would be setting up a committee to handle this work, Ornstein says, though he cautioned that the Senate’s power-sharing arrangement would have to be completed first to ensure Democratic control over that process.
A real impeachment trial could provide grounds for a deeper investigative dive reconstructing not just Trump’s actions that day but also the roles of other important players.
A New York Times investigation has established that several GOP congressmen — notably Reps. Mo Brooks of Alabama and Andy Biggs and Paul A. Gosar of Arizona — had ties to groups involved in the insurrection, or promoted the “Stop the Steal” movement that culminated in the assault, and/or talked up the event itself.
Ornstein points out that interviewing people such as those under oath could establish what sorts of conversations they had with Trump leading up to and during the assault. They might refuse, and the legal situation would get murky, but this should at least be attempted.
A trial is also crucial to fleshing out Trump’s extraordinary misconduct. As a Post investigation established, members of Congress pleaded with the White House that day to get Trump to call off the mob. But, consumed with watching it all on TV, he was hard to reach and not initially receptive to such pleas.
Everything we know about Trump’s behind-the-scenes conduct is through anonymous sources and partial accounts. The only way to get “a full picture of what Trump did,” Ornstein says, “is with an impeachment trial.”
The citadel of American democracy was trashed. We can’t just put it behind us.
If Republicans are going to vote to acquit Trump, they should be made to defend him after being fully confronted with his extraordinary dereliction and malevolence. They should face a full account of how the lies their party sustained for weeks about the election inspired the violence.
The last thing Democrats should worry about is a backlash from voters. The public doesn’t care about procedural matters or “distractions.” With Trump himself gone from the public eye and a new president attending to all sorts of other business, a trial wouldn’t necessarily capture as much public and media attention as Democrats fear.
Instead of hand-wringing, Democrats should make a full case for Trump’s guilt. Meanwhile, they should get to work on passing legislation. Voters will only say, “You spent time impeaching Trump instead of delivering pandemic relief!” if they conduct the trial and fail to deliver pandemic relief. If they pass the relief bill, nobody will hold the trial against them.
Democrats can do it all: hold a real trial for Trump, finish the relief bill and get moving on the rest of their agenda. There’s plenty of time. All that’s missing is the will.