WASHINGTON — Donald Trump’s historic second impeachment trial opened Tuesday with graphic video showing the former president whipping up a rally crowd to march to the Capitol and “fight like hell” against his reelection defeat, followed by images of the deadly attack on Congress that came soon after.
In an early test of the former president’s defense, Trump’s team lost a crucial bid to halt the trial on constitutional grounds. Senators confirmed, 56-44, their jurisdiction over the trial, the first of a president no longer in office. While six Republican senators joined the Democrats in proceeding, the tally showed how far prosecutors have to go to win conviction, which requires a two-thirds threshold of 67 senators.
Tuesday’s vote was on whether a former president could be tried after leaving office.
House Democrats prosecuting the case told senators they were presenting “cold, hard facts” against Trump, who is charged with inciting the mob siege of the Capitol to overturn the election he lost to Democrat Joe Biden.
Senators sitting as jurors, many who themselves fled for safety that day, watched the jarring video of Trump supporters battling past police to storm the halls, Trump flags waving.
“That’s a high crime and misdemeanor,” declared Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., in opening remarks. “If that’s not an impeachable offense, then there’s no such thing.”
Trump is the first president to face impeachment charges after leaving office and the first to be twice impeached. The Capitol siege stunned the world as hundreds of rioters ransacked the building to try to stop the certification of Biden’s victory, a domestic attack on the nation’s seat of government unlike any in its history. Five people died.
Acquittal is likely, but the trial will test the nation’s attitude toward Trump’s brand of presidential power, the Democrats’ resolve in pursuing him, and the loyalty of Trump’s Republican allies defending him.
Trump’s lawyers are insisting that he is not guilty of the sole charge of “incitement of insurrection,” his fiery words just a figure of speech as he encouraged a rally crowd to “fight like hell” for his presidency. But prosecutors say he “has no good defense” and they promise new evidence.
Security remained extremely tight at the Capitol on Tuesday, a changed place after the attack, fenced off with razor wire with armed National Guard troops on patrol. The nine House managers walked across the shuttered building to prosecute the case before the Senate.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden would not be watching the trial of his predecessor.
“Joe Biden is the president, he’s not a pundit, he’s not going to opine on back and forth arguments,” she said.
With senators gathered as the court of impeachment, sworn to deliver “impartial justice,” the trial started with debate and a vote over whether it’s constitutionally permissible to prosecute Trump after he is no longer in the White House.
Trump’s defense team has focused on that question, which could resonate with Republicans eager to acquit Trump without being seen as condoning his behavior.
Lead lawyer Bruce Castor said that no member of the former president’s defense team would do anything but condemn the violence of the “repugnant” attack, and “in the strongest possible way denounce the rioters.”
Yet Trump’s attorney appealed to the senators as “patriots first,” and encouraged them to be “cool headed” as they assess the arguments.
At one pivotal point, Raskin told the personal story of bringing his family to the Capitol the day of the riot, to witness the certification of the Electoral College vote, only to have his daughter and son-in-law hiding in an office, fearing for their lives.
“Senators, this cannot be our future,” Raskin said through tears. “This cannot be the future of America.”
Trump attorney David Schoen turned the trial toward starkly partisan tones, the defense showing its own video of Democrats calling for the former president’s impeachment.
Schoen said Democrats are fueled by a “base hatred” of the former president and “seeking to eliminate Donald Trump from the American political scene.”
It appears unlikely that the House prosecutors will call witnesses, in part because the senators were witnesses themselves. At his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, Trump has declined a request to testify.
Presidential impeachment trials have been conducted only three times before, leading to acquittals for Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton and then Trump last year.
Timothy Naftali, a clinical associate professor at New York University and an expert on impeachment, said in an interview, “This trial is one way of having that difficult national conversation about the difference between dissent and insurrection.”
The first test Tuesday was on the constitutionality of the trial, signaling attitudes in the Senate. Six Republicans joined with Democrats pursue the trial, just one more than on a similar vote last week. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana added to the ranks of Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
The House prosecutors argued there is no “January exception” for a president on his way out the door. Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., referred to the corruption case of William Belknap, a war secretary in the Grant administration, who was impeached, tried and ultimately acquitted by the Senate after leaving office.
Trump’s case is hardly a run of the mill corruption charge, he said, but incitement of insurrection. If Congress stands by, “it would invite future presidents to use their power without any fear of accountability.”
In filings, lawyers for the former president lobbed a wide-ranging attack against the House case, suggesting Trump was simply exercising his First Amendment rights and dismissing the trial as “political theater” on the same Senate floor invaded by the mob.
Because of the COVID-19 crisis, senators were allowed to spread out, including in the “marble room” just off the Senate floor, where proceedings are shown on TV, or even in the public galleries above the chamber. Most were at their desks on the opening day, however.
Presiding was not the chief justice of the United States, as in previous presidential impeachment trials, but the chamber’s senior-most member of the majority party, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
Under an agreement between Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Republican leader Mitch McConnell, the substantive opening arguments will begin at noon Wednesday, with up to 16 hours per side for presentations. The trial is expected to continue into the weekend.
Trump’s second impeachment trial is expected to diverge from the lengthy, complicated affair of a year ago. In that case, Trump was charged with having privately pressured Ukraine to dig up dirt on Biden, then a Democratic rival for the presidency.
This time, Trump’s “stop the steal” rally rhetoric and the storming of the Capitol played out for the world to see.
The Democratic-led House impeached the president swiftly, one week after the attack. Five people died, including a woman shot by police inside the building and a police officer who died the next day of his injuries.
All four Kansas and Missouri senators voted against continuing the impeachment trial of now former President Donald Trump, agreeing with the defense’s notion that conviction after Trump left office would be unconstitutional.
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., each voted to stop the trial, which will continue because six Republican senators voted with all Democrats that the trial was constitutional. The trial will likely continue into next week.
Hawley, speaking with reporters on Capitol Hill before the proceedings, relied on a procedural argument that the text of the constitution doesn’t allow for conviction after a president or other civil officer leaves office. Republican senators have largely focused on the timing of the impeachment trial, while Democratic House managers, acting as prosecutors, forced the chamber to watch a video compilation of the violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6 that resulted in five deaths, including a police officer.
“I think that ... if you look at the text, then you look at the penalties the senate can impose... it says removal, and not further than removal, those things sit together (in the text),” Hawley said.
Marshall took aim at the tone of the House managers in an appearance on FOX Business, before the trial began.
“Listen to the tone of the Democrats opening statements and you’re going to hear the hatred and just the revenge and in their voices,” Marshall said. “More importantly is what this impeachment is not doing – it is keeping us from doing our jobs up here. It is raising the temperature across the country. We should be focused today on how we get vaccinations in people’s arms.”
Blunt previewed his vote in an appearance with reporters on Capitol Hill, saying he also believed the trial was unconstitutional.
“I’m going to vote like I voted the other day through the trial. I don’t think it’s constitutional, I don’t think we should be doing it,” Blunt said, according to Kansas City Star reporter Bryan Lowry.
Blunt dodged a question on impeachment from another reporter, saying he, “wondered if any of these impeachments serve the right purpose.”
Moran, considered a moderate member of the Senate, apparently made no public comments. A spokesperson pointed News-Press NOW to a statement he made on January 20.
“The Constitution is where I go to find answers. Unfortunately, the Constitution does not clearly answer whether a former president can be impeached and then tried by the Senate,” Moran said.
Some Republicans, even those that voted to end the trial, were unimpressed by the former president’s legal team.
“I thought the President’s lawyer, the first lawyer, just rambled on and on and on and didn’t really address the constitutional argument. It was not one of the finest I’ve seen,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said, according to CNN’s Manu Raju.
Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., switched his vote on constitutionality after hearing from the House managers. Cassidy previously voted that the impeachment trial was unconstitutional in a preliminary vote prior to the trial’s start on Tuesday.
“Anyone who listened to President Trump’s legal team saw they were unfocused, they attempted to avoid the issue. And they talked about everything but the issue at hand,” Cassidy said, according to Raju.
In a weekend operation to rescue human trafficking victims and arrest perpetrators in St. Joseph, multiple law enforcement agencies worked together under the Missouri Attorney General’s Human Trafficking task force.
Detective Sgt. Jason Strong with the St. Joseph Police Department said it takes working as a team to make a difference.
“There was a lot of collaboration amongst several different disciplines. That’s what really makes you successful. What I’ve come to learn in the family crimes unit, as we participate on a lot of multidisciplinary teams when it pertains to child abuse, when it pertains to human trafficking, no one entity has the resources to handle a lot of these complex problems,” Strong said.
Working with multiple agencies allows them to learn new ways to approach an investigation.
“Everybody was at the table and so we have an opportunity to learn something from one another, which we did, and to bring back those best practices to our own agencies and continue to conduct enforcement acts and continue to do preventative measures,” Strong said.
Strong said it is important for the public to know that human trafficking can take place anywhere and often targets vulnerable individuals who can be children who have run away.
“Traffickers prey upon ... somebody that they can’t think that they can manipulate or fraud to engage in some sort of sex act,” Strong said.
COVID-19 has impacted the number of operations, according to Strong, and law enforcement has made changes to still go after offenders while following health safety measures.
Strong said these operations are focused on the victims and their recovery.
“We just want the victims to know that we’re here, we’re going to offer them assistance and we’re going to try to get them in a better place,” Strong said.
The city has created a $52 million plan to renovate the Krug Park Amphitheater in hopes to open for concerts by the summer of 2022.
According to the plan presented to the St. Joseph City Council, the project would be completed through a bond issue voted on by St. Joseph residents in August. The council would have to approve the issue being placed on the ballot.
This “aggressive” timeline requires the city to spend about $2 million in upfront costs before the bond election. Some on the council said this is too risky.
“There’s no way I’m going to approve any $2 million investment that is hanging on a whim that it might pass or might not, and not get $2 million back,” said Councilman Kent O’Dell.
The city has the option of not paying any upfront costs until citizens vote on the bond. However, this would delay the opening of the venue.
“It is risky to front some money when you’re not guaranteed the bond issue will pass,” said St. Joseph Mayor Bill McMurray. “Those are soft costs, so we wouldn’t have anything in a capital budget to show for it. I can appreciate that it’s a little bit of a risk, so let’s make it contingent upon the citizens saying, ‘Let’s do this.’”
Residents would vote on the general obligation bond, which would add about $83 per year onto property taxes for a $150,000 home over a 20-year period. This bond is the only financial option for the city to complete the project.
If the bond election is held in August, the project would require the approval of 66.7% of voters, but the election can be pushed back to a later date.
ASM Global, a venue and event management company, came to the city with a desire to revitalize Krug Park Amphitheater. It’s an attractive venue, as it sits a short drive away from major cities like Omaha and Kansas City. The venue also would be the largest outdoor amphitheater in the country, according to city officials.
“Every single promoter in the world is going to like this thing,” O’Dell said. “It being fed off of Kansas City, Omaha, Lincoln and being in the middle makes it that much easier that you’re catering to so many hundreds of thousands of people, millions of people, because they’re only about an hour away from each other. Then an amphitheater of 25,000 is a goldmine.”
Construction of the amphitheater would cost about $25 million. The city is in talks with Populous, an architectural firm, to design and plan the venue. About $5 million will be spent on “soft” costs and other design elements. The final $22 million would be used for infrastructure costs, including the extension of Cook Road to Interstate 229.
This extension likely will require property acquisition, according to the city’s plan. The city would need to acquire about seven homes. The possibility of eminent domain is being discussed, which would minimize the infrastructure and project costs.
While the timeline for a mid-2022 opening is ambitious, it would be ideal in the concert industry.
“According to ASM, there’s a lot of pent-up demand,” McMurray said. “There are a lot of people in the talent area who want to perform, who haven’t performed because of COVID. Then there are a lot of people in the audience who want to get out and do something. That would be an ideal time. You’d have a good chance of attracting a large crowd and some great talent.”
Right now, the amphitheater sits empty and is “one of the most underutilized facilities in St. Joseph,” said Parks Director Chuck Kempf. This revitalization would transform Krug Park and bring in a significant amount of money in revenue.
But despite this, some city officials think the cost of $52 million is too expensive.
“Let’s just get up there and fix the bathrooms, fix the sound system,” O’Dell said. “That back wall on that stage is ridiculous, it just blocks the view of all the beauty of our lagoon and everything. Let’s tweak it a little bit, run some shows and see if we can’t bring it back without dropping $50 million.”