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Opinion A conversation with Jamie Raskin

Lead House impeachment manager Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) speaks about the motion to call witnesses during the second Senate impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol on Saturday. (Senate Television via AP)
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Lead House impeachment manager Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) was still energetic, articulate and most of all optimistic Sunday morning after completing a grueling impeachment trial. I asked him by phone how he assembled such a granular timeline of events. “We had a wonderful team of managers and lawyers and researchers from the House Judiciary Committee,” he explained. “We also had the video from the security cameras and were able to draw from the public record.”

Even for the House managers, compiling all that material was eye-opening. “For people up on the Hill, they experienced it from their narrow vantage point,” Raskin said. The managers’ aim was to present the “entire outline” of events from Jan. 6 and, as important, the timeline of the former president’s effort to overturn the election. “The evidence was overwhelming, devastating, undisputable and undisputed.” As for the opposing counsel, Raskin called their lawyering “explosive and deranged.” He joked of the Joe Pesci movie, “They couldn’t get a summer internship with ‘My Cousin Vinny.’” In some sense, he suggested, the gap between the defense and the House managers’ teams (the “goofus and gallant” of lawyering) obscured that the House managers’ presentation would have shined even against competent counsel.

Raskin said it was both “good and terrible to watch” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) concede after the Senate vote that the House managers had proved their case and signaled that Republicans “felt the need to hang their hats” on an empty constitutional argument. All things considered, it was remarkable that the House managers got votes from seven Republicans.

I asked how Raskin got through the trial without breaking down emotionally. He replied, “It was very emotional. We could have lost it all. There were people calling their children to say goodbye. [Members] removed their pins” on Jan. 6 to avoid being identified by the invading mob. He continued, “I told managers we were going to make a lawyerly case but would not censor the emotion.” Indeed, some of the trial’s most powerful moments came when Raskin shared the experience of his daughter and son-in-law hiding from the mob and when other managers spoke about what they heard, such as the sound of banging on the door of the House chamber. “I will never forget that sound,” impeachment manager Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.) told senators.

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Raskin recognizes the scope of the problem the country faces. We went through a four-year ban on “critical thinking, science and reason” in which millions were “subjected to propaganda.” He acknowledged, “It’s a profound challenge to democracy.” He remains buoyed by the “millions and millions of true patriots in the country” who stood up for democracy.

He hesitates to opine on potential criminal prosecution of the former president. “I believe in prosecutorial independence,” he observed, noting that its destruction “was another casualty of the Trump administration.” Nevertheless, he noted, “there are a lot of criminal statutes being used” to prosecute the rioters who followed Trump’s lead. The former president, by contrast, refused to testify before Congress and did not defend (or condemn) his shock troops. “He is a profile in absolute cowardice,” Raskin said. “He betrayed the Constitution, the country and his people.”

Placing former vice president Mike Pence front and center was not a strategic choice for the impeachment managers; it was a recognition that Pence was the central player in the former president’s attempted coup. “There was a method to all [his] madness. This was the counting of the electoral votes,” Raskin said. Trump seemed to think that if he could just get Pence to throw out votes from a few states, that would stop the election’s certification and “he could deny the election to Joe Biden.” Under this thinking, the election’s outcome would go to a vote in the House, and Trump could “declare martial law” to put down the violence. “Vice President Pence became the linchpin” in this fanciful scenario. That is why Trump called Pence the morning of Jan. 6 and reportedly told him, “You can either go down in history as a patriot” or as an epithet.

Raskin said, “The American people understand who Donald Trump is. That kind of authoritarian relationship is a threat to democracy.”

Where do we go from here? Raskin said, “Trump’s followers need to understand he has no loyalty to them.” There is plenty of civic education that needs to continue. However, “President Biden and the Democrats need to speak to the needs, the fears” of the people, he said. “Donald Trump is the past. We need to deal with the future.”

Early on Jan. 6, The Post's Kate Woodsome saw signs of violence hours before thousands of President Trump's loyalists besieged the Capitol. (Video: Joy Yi, Kate Woodsome/The Washington Post, Photo: John Minchillo/AP/The Washington Post)

Read more:

Dana Milbank: Trump left them to die. 43 Senate Republicans still licked his boots.

The Post’s View: 57 senators got it right. But the Senate has more work to do.

Greg Sargent: The massive GOP betrayal of our democracy requires a forceful Democratic response

Jennifer Rubin: This is how bad McConnell really is

Ann Telnaes cartoons: Sketches of the second Trump impeachment trial