Violence at the United States Capitol on Jan. 6 was worse than it originally appeared and was clearly incited by former President Donald Trump, Sen. Sherrod Brown said Wednesday.
Brown, a Democrat from Cleveland, hosted a conference call with reporters prior to the first full day of arguments in Trump’s second impeachment trial and argued the Republican should be convicted of inciting his supporters to attack the Capitol.
“I don’t know how you could watch those images and videos we saw yesterday of domestic terrorists attacking Capitol police officers, killing one of them, storming our seat of government, the president egging them on, telling them to ‘remember this day forever’ and not conclude that the president’s words and actions led to this,” Brown said.
“We now know that things were so much worse than they appeared in the original reporting as more and more details have come out. These terrorists gouged someone’s eyes out. They killed a Capitol police officer. They injured 140 police officers. They threatened to kill the vice president. They brought a noose to the Capitol and paraded symbols of white supremacy. They brought equipment to take hostages.”
The impeachment trial began Tuesday with arguments about whether the proceeding were constitutional. The Senate voted 56-44 to proceed with the trial with all Democrats voting in favor of proceeding along with six Republicans – Bill Cassidy (Louisiana), Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Mitt Romney (Utah), Ben Sasse (Nebraska) and Pat Toomey (Pennsylvania).
“This is the most bipartisan (presidential) impeachment in American history,” Brown said. “Ten members of the House, already six members of the Senate are very troubled by this. We need to send a clear message that presidents cannot encourage violent insurrections and that our democracy is worth defending.”
One of the 44 Republican senators who voted against proceeding with the trial, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, released a statement Wednesday arguing the impeachment proceedings are unconstitutional.
“There is no question in my mind that former President Trump bears some responsibility for the tragic events of January 6, through his words and actions,” the Republican from Cincinnati said. “I have called his comments that day inexcusable. I’ve also consistently said that I believe there are serious constitutional questions surrounding holding a Senate trial with the intent of convicting of a former president. The text of the Constitution prescribes removal from office as the punishment upon conviction, and former federal officials by definition are no longer in office.
“Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution says: ‘The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.’ This text, in my view, makes clear that the framers reserved the tool of impeachment for removal of current presidents, not private citizens. A president who is no longer in public office cannot be removed from office, regardless of how inappropriate we may deem their conduct. That’s why I voted that the Senate does not have jurisdiction. The more appropriate place to hold private citizens accountable would be the criminal justice system.”
Brown, meanwhile, said precedent shows a former official can be impeached, such as the impeachment of former Secretary of War William Belknap, who served in President Ulysses S. Grant’s cabinet. Belknap resigned minutes before the House of Representatives voted to impeach him in 1876 and ultimately was acquitted by the Senate.
“Almost every major constitutional lawyer in this country including very conservative ones like (Steven) Calabresi and Chuck Cooper and others have said there is no question this is constitutional to do this,” Brown said. “This has happened in American history a number of times, not with presidents but with others who left office.”
Brown said the idea that a former official can’t be impeached simply is a shield for his Republican colleagues who want to avoid taking a stand on Trump’s actions.
“If you follow the logic of people who say this is unconstitutional, a president could do anything he wanted and then quit and then not be held liable for any of it,” Brown said. “And obviously that doesn’t make any sense.”
While Brown thinks it’s clear that Trump incited his supporters to attack the Capitol, he conceded it’s unlikely two-thirds of the Senate will vote to convict the former president. At least 17 Republican senators would have to vote to convict to reach the two-thirds threshold.
In spite of the long odds, Brown said it’s important to proceed with the trial.
“We can’t allow leaders to spread lies as President Trump did from election night on about this election and about other things that incited this kind of violence,” the senator said. “We can’t let them get away with it.
“I think the country needs to see every part of what happened. More information is coming out. More evidence has been accrued.”
Brown also pushed back on the idea that the impeachment trial is wasting time that should be spent on other priorities such as dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and its fallout.
“We have three jobs in the Senate over the next week – most importantly to defeat the virus, always that’s the No. 1 priority, to get more help to the American people and to hold the people who attacked our democracy accountable,” Brown said.
“We can do three things at once. Impeachment starts in the afternoon. All morning I’m working with staff, working with others on what we do, how we put together this Biden plan in getting through to the Senate, working on language, particularly in the Banking and Housing Committee, language on the Defense Production Act, language on public transit, language on rental assistance, language on helping small business.
“Of course we can do more than one thing at once.”
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