BEFORE FORMER president Donald Trump’s second Senate impeachment trial, members of both parties wondered whether it was worth the effort. Democrats worried it would disrupt the early days of President Biden’s administration. Republicans, most of whom remain terrified of Mr. Trump, rallied to oppose his conviction on procedural grounds, all but guaranteeing in advance it would not occur. What good could a Senate trial do?
Two days in, it is clear that the proceedings are essential for the nation, even if they do not end in a formal verdict against Mr. Trump. The House impeachment managers’ presentation before the Senate has crystallized in graphic and compelling detail the horror of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot — and Mr. Trump’s deep responsibility for it.
On Tuesday, the House managers played a video showing Mr. Trump telling his supporters to “stop the steal,” and directing them toward the Capitol as they shouted about taking the building. They began streaming toward the sitting Congress even as Mr. Trump spoke. Then they ransacked the building, with then-Vice President Mike Pence and members of both houses still inside it. Footage showed a Capitol police officer screaming as the mob crushed him, just one of many injuries inflicted on those guarding the building. One rioter built a gallows with a noose. Meanwhile, Mr. Trump watched passively. Even as the occupation continued, he issued statements that did as much to inflame as to pacify the mob.
On Wednesday, the managers demonstrated that the violence was predictable. Mr. Trump planned the rally with the organizers of the second Million MAGA March, a previous pro-Trump event that had turned violent. House members detailed how Trump fanatics openly planned the Capitol invasion on pro-Trump websites that the White House reportedly monitored, and how government officials warned about the threat of extremist violence. And they showed how Mr. Trump nevertheless told his mob, “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” His acolytes, the presentation documented, had been primed by his previous support for violent acts, such as a Trump caravan’s attempt to run a bus of Biden supporters off a Texas highway.
Mr. Trump’s lawyers cannot credibly claim that the case is about a few careless words the then-president uttered in a single speech. He fed his mob lies, told them they were losing their country and directed them to the Capitol when it was obvious they did not mean to conduct orderly protest.
Most Republican senators nevertheless appear determined to acquit Mr. Trump, based on a flawed constitutional argument that former officials cannot be impeached. Forty-four Republican senators voted Tuesday against proceeding with the trial, signaling that there may only be a handful willing even to consider voting against Mr. Trump — nowhere near the 17 required for conviction.
Senators will bring disgrace upon their chamber if they fail to hold the former president accountable. No reasonable listener this week could fail to find him culpable for the Capitol assault. If the Senate fails to convict, Democrats should challenge Republicans’ constitutional dodge by introducing a censure resolution spelling out Mr. Trump’s responsibility for inciting an insurrection. Each senator should be obliged to go on the record to condemn or condone a president’s unprecedented assault on U.S. democracy.
President Trump’s Senate impeachment trial
The evidence: All of the exhibits presented in the Senate trial
What happens next: A guide to Trump’s impeachment
Graphic: Where Senators stand on impeachment
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