A Broken Party Acquitted Donald Trump In His Second Impeachment

The ex-president’s boast he could get away with murder proved true.

Back in January 2016, before Donald Trump won his first presidential primary, before he secured his position atop the Republican Party and before he won the White House, he mused about the unbreakable bond between himself and his supporters with a joke about murder.

“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,” Trump said, to a laughing audience, while pointing his finger at them like a gun. “OK? It’s, like, incredible.”

What was once true of his supporters is now true of nearly the entire Republican Party. The Senate voted 57 to 43 on Saturday to convict Trump, now an ex-president, of inciting an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 as part of his plan to overturn an election he lost.

Just seven Republicans joined all 50 Democrats and independents to vote to convict, despite a mountain of evidence presented by the House impeachment managers. It was short of the 67 votes needed to convict.

Trump stood in the middle of Washington, D.C., pointed his supporters at Congress and fired. Seven people ― three police officers, including two by suicide, and four Trump supporters ― died as a result of the president’s actions. And his party let him off the hook.

Trump’s first impeachment acquittal, over his attempt to bribe a foreign president with congressionally approved funds to interfere in the 2020 election on his behalf, revealed that the Constitution’s impeachment power was broken beyond repair due to the asymmetric polarization of the political parties. His second impeachment acquittal shows the Republican Party no longer places limits on the actions it will excuse.

The Republican Party remains fully under Trump’s thumb. Just 10 Republicans in the House voted to impeach Trump and seven in the Senate voted to convict after he aimed his supporters at the Capitol and they sacked it, screaming bloody murder for Vice President Mike Pence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others.

“I hope ― I trust we could all agree that if the president incites a violent insurrection against our government that that’s impeachable conduct,” Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), one of the House impeachment managers, said during the trial.

It was not.

Minority Rule

Trump supporters erected a gallows as they chanted "Hang Mike Pence!" and hunted for Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the Capitol.
Trump supporters erected a gallows as they chanted “Hang Mike Pence!” and hunted for Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the Capitol.

Despite Trump’s historically consistent unpopularity and the GOP’s loss of the House, the Senate and ultimately the White House during his four years in office, his support from the party’s base ― those who would excuse him shooting someone on Fifth Avenue ― remains strong enough that any vote to hold him accountable is likely to be politically toxic for Republican lawmakers.

Those who either voted to punish or refused to endorse Trump’s election lies now face censure and reprimand from their home-state parties and primary challenges from pro-Trump candidates.

Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), Tom Rice (R-S.C.), Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) and Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) have all been censured or reprimanded by their respective state or local Republican Party committees for voting to impeach Trump. The Arizona Republican Party censured Gov. Doug Ducey (R) for not illegally overturning President Joe Biden’s win in the state as Trump demanded. Most recently, the Louisiana Republican Party reprimanded Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) for voting for a motion deeming it constitutional to hold a trial of an ex-president in the Senate.

This threat was made clear during the impeachment trial when Trump’s lawyer Bruce Castor played video of Trump threatening to back primary challengers to Republicans who did not do his bidding. (The video was ostensibly to show that Trump used the word “fight” in a rhetorical sense, and that he was only urging on elected officials.)

“Nobody in this chamber is anxious to have a primary challenge,” Castor said in front of a room of Republican senators. “That is one truism I think I can say with some certainty. But that’s the way we operate in this country.”

Others who crossed the president by not helping him overturn the election results or by voting for his impeachment fear for their lives. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and his wife were targeted with a steady stream of death threats from Trump supporters after he upheld Biden’s legitimate win in the state. Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.) purchased body armor after receiving a number of death threats for voting to impeach Trump. Arizona state Sen. Paul Boyer, a Republican, faced threats from his fellow Republican state senators and death threats from the public after he cast the deciding vote against holding the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in contempt and authorizing their arrest for refusing to hand over 2 million ballots cast in the county as part of an investigation to prove Trump’s election lies.

These personal concerns may weigh on the minds of Republicans who hope to be reelected and remain alive, but so do broader political concerns. The conservative movement that brought about Richard Nixon’s “Silent Majority” and Ronald Reagan’s “Moral Majority” has withered to a minority status. Republican presidential candidates have now lost the popular vote in seven out of the last eight elections, which is the longest such drought for a party since the 19th century.

But Trump showed that Republicans can win without popular support. He showed them a path to minority rule.

Trump paved this path by juicing rural, white voter turnout in the right states to tilt the Electoral College with a poetic promise to Make America Great Again for the “true” people of the homeland who feel that their country has been taken away from them. To do so, he would crush their perceived domestic enemies, who make up the Democratic Party coalition.

Republican voters by 57%-43% view Democrats as “enemies” rather than “opponents,” according to a CBS News/YouGov poll. This compared to 41%-59% among Democrats. This view of Democrats as enemies is cultivated from a fear that conservative cultural dominance is long over and conservative political dominance is waning. Among Republicans, 79% believe that “the political system is stacked against more traditionally minded people,” according to a survey by the conservative think tank AEI. And, according to that same survey, 55% of Republicans believe that “the traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it.”

Considering both Trump’s electoral road map to success and the views of his voters, Republican lawmakers are clearly not eager to change direction by convicting Trump and disqualifying him to “hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit.”

After all, the same lawmakers who let Trump off the hook promoted Trump’s election fraud hoax along the way.

Complicity

"I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are," Trump reportedly told House Minority Leader Kevin McCa
“I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are,” Trump reportedly told House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) about his supporters as they engaged in hand-to-hand combat with police protecting the U.S. Capitol.

Months before the 2016 election, Trump claimed that he could not lose unless there was election fraud. His political consigliere Roger Stone registered a group called Stop the Steal at the time. But this turned out to be unnecessary. Still, Trump claimed falsely that he “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”

In 2020, as the House impeachment managers explained, Trump laid the groundwork for leveling false charges of election fraud as soon as the coronavirus pandemic led states to loosen mail-in voting rules to make their elections safer. He then used these lies to falsely claim victory early on the morning of Nov. 4, well before all valid votes were counted. He then fomented an invented tale of election fraud that included Venezuelan voting machines, Italian spies and anonymous white-hat hackers and filed a series of frivolous lawsuits, all of which failed. And Stop the Steal came back.

When Trump was asked if he would commit to a peaceful transfer of power, as every president who lost reelection had done before, he said, “We’re going to have to see what happens.”

Despite his clear intentionsRepublican leaders in Congress backed Trump as he engaged in an unprecedented effort to overturn a fair democratic election.

“The president has every right to look into allegations and request recounts under the law,” then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said.

More than half of the House Republican caucus, including Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), signed an amicus brief in support of a frivolous lawsuit filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) seeking to overturn the election results.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) opened his own investigation into Trump’s false allegations in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

McConnell, McCarthy and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) also voted to block the congressional inauguration committee from going forward with plans for Biden’s inauguration despite a lack of evidence for any reason to do so.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) backed up Trump’s election lies with a call to investigate Pennsylvania’s election results. Graham even called up election officials in Arizona, Georgia and Nevada to question their election process. Officials in Raffensperger’s office claimed that Graham suggested the secretary throw out some valid mail-in ballots. (Graham denies this, but the Fulton County district attorney is investigating.)

After the Electoral College affirmed Biden’s victory on Dec. 14, Trump’s efforts turned to Jan. 6, when the votes would be certified by Congress. And then he got support from Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas), among other senators, who promised to contest the results in states Biden won.

“What is the downside for humoring him for this little bit of time?” an anonymous senior Republican official told The Washington Post on Nov. 9. “No one seriously thinks the results will change.”

They Know Better

Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who died after being injured in the Jan. 6 attack by pro-Trump rioters, lies in honor
Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who died after being injured in the Jan. 6 attack by pro-Trump rioters, lies in honor in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 3.

Trump refused to concede his election loss. He then embarked on an unprecedented effort to overturn the results and install himself as leader. At the last minute, when Congress was meeting to count the electoral votes and secure Biden’s win, he gathered his greatest supporters, some of whom are members of violent militias and street-fighting gangs, pointed them at the Capitol and told them to “fight like hell, [or] you won’t have a country anymore.”

Everyone knows the “downside for humoring him” now.

While the insurrection was still ongoing, McCarthy reportedly called Trump pleading with the president to call off his supporters, as he was the one who sicced them on Congress. According to Rep. Jaime Herrera Buetler (R-Wash.), Trump at first pretended the insurrectionists were the left-wing anarchist group antifa, but when McCarthy informed him otherwise the president said, “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.” Even after this, McCarthy voted to overturn state election results and against impeachment.

After the insurrection, McConnell expressed his belief that this was Trump’s fault.

“The mob was fed lies,” he said on the Senate floor after the insurrection. “They were provoked by the president and other powerful people, and they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government which they did not like.”

But now McConnell has voted to acquit Trump of exactly this.

When Trump was acquitted in his previous impeachment trial for pressuring Ukraine to launch a corruption investigation into Biden in order to hamper his presidential campaign, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she believed “the president has learned from this case.”

“I believe that he will be much more cautious in the future,” she added.

He was not. But someone did learn a lesson. Collins voted to convict this time, as did Republican Sens. Richard Burr (N.C.), Bill Cassidy (La.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Mitt Romney (Utah), Ben Sasse (Neb.) and Pat Toomey (Pa.). Romney was the only GOP senator who voted to convict Trump both times.

Trump has now been acquitted in two impeachments. Every time that he transgressed the limits of his office, whether it was trying to get a foreign country to interfere in the 2020 election, lying about his election loss and then seeking to subvert democracy by inciting an insurrection on Jan. 6, most Republicans humored him.

In their final day of arguments, the House impeachment managers explained what it would mean to further humor Trump by not convicting him and disqualifying him from holding public office ever again.

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) said he was not worried about Trump running again and winning. “I’m afraid he’s going to run again and lose, because he could do this again,” Lieu said.

“If we pretend this didn’t happen, or worse, if we let it go unanswered, who’s to say it won’t happen again,” Neguse said.

And, finally, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), the lead House impeachment manager, asked if there is “any political leader in this room who believes that — if he is allowed by the Senate to get back into the Oval Office — Donald Trump would stop inciting violence to get his way?”

“Would you bet the lives of more police officers on that? Would you bet the safety of your family on that? Would you bet the future of your democracy on that?” Raskin asked. “President Trump declared his conduct ‘totally appropriate,’ so if he gets back into office and it happens again, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.”

But Republican senators acquitted Trump. And now we’ll have to see what happens.

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Fox hosts Dobbs, Bartiromo strike back in voting fraud suit

Three Fox News hosts — Maria Bartiromo, Lou Dobbs and Jeanine Pirro — are seeking the dismissal of claims against them and their employer as part of a $2.7 billion libel lawsuit brought by the voting technology company Smartmatic.

Bartiromo, Dobbs and Pirro, as well as Donald Trump lawyers Rudolph Giuliani and Sidney Powell, were sued this month for the eye-popping amount by Smartmatic, which accused them of conspiring to spread false claims that the company was involved in an effort to steal the presidential election from Trump.

In its motions, lawyers from Kirkland & Ellis, which is also defending Fox, argue Bartiromo, Dobbs and Pirro were doing their job in covering the biggest story of the day: unprecedented allegations by the president that the integrity of the electoral process was marred by fraud.

Smartmatic, in its 285-page complaint filed Feb. 4 in state court in New York, had cited at least 13 reports on Fox News in which guests or personalities falsely stated or implied that the company had somehow helped steal the election through easily tampered technology or in cahoots with Venezuela’s socialist government.

The complaint alleged that the “disinformation campaign” continued even after then-Attorney General William Barr said the Department of Justice could find no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

“Smartmatic is confident in its case and looks forward to briefing these issues for the Court,” J. Erik Connolly, attorney for Smartmatic, wrote Friday in a statement.

The lawsuit is being closely watched as the rise of far-right voices on social media and pro-Trump outlets like Newsmax and One America News challenge long-held assumptions about the limits of free speech.

The filings by the Fox personalities note instances in which they questioned Powell and Giuliani for evidence to back their claims, as well as Smartmatic's own denial of the charges. It also argues that Dobbs' statements appearing to validate the claims of his guests were constitutionally protected opinions, not statements of fact.

“The First Amendment protects the press when it informs the public about judicial proceedings regardless of the accuracy of the underlying allegations,” according to the motion filed on behalf of Dobbs.

All three hosts later aired a segment with an expert debunking some of the claims that had been made on its networks against Smartmatic and another voting technology company, Dominion.

The Fox Business Network dropped Dobbs’ show Feb. 5, a day after the lawsuit was filed. The network said the move was part of a planned programming shift and not related to the lawsuit.

Bartiromo in her motion suggests an alternate motive for what she calls Smartmatic's “headline-seeking” lawsuit: an attempt by the company to fill its coffers after reporting losses of $17 million on $144 million in revenue in 2019.

“This complaint is not just meritless; it is a legal shakedown designed to chill speech and punish reporting on issues that cut to the heart of our democracy,” her lawyers argue.

Roy Gutterman, a media law professor at Syracuse University, said Fox in its motion made reasonable arguments about First Amendment rights and its duty to fuel public discourse on important political issues.

“Whether the broadcaster is liable for providing a forum for speakers and what responsibility they have for dealing with false factual statements will be central to the court’s decision,” he said.

Still, he said, if Fox succeeds in persuading the court to dismiss the case, the individual guests — Giuliani and Powell — could still be liable for potentially false and damaging statements.

Smartmatic's participation in the U.S. election was restricted to a single district, Los Angeles County, which votes heavily Democratic.

That limited role notwithstanding, the company and its technology were widely and baselessly blamed by Trump supporters for somehow tilting the race in favor of Joe Biden. The effects of the negative publicity were swift and included death threats against an executive's 14-year-old son, the loss of business and an enduring stain on its reputation, Smartmatic says.

The company fears its entire business, once worth billions as it expanded to countries around the world — from Belgium to the Philippines — could now be valued near zero.

Like many conspiracy theories, the alleged campaign against Smartmatic was built on a grain of truth. The company's founder and CEO is Venezuelan, and Smartmatic’s initial success is partly attributable to major contracts from Hugo Chávez’s government, an early devotee of electronic voting.

Dobbs, in his motion to join the Fox request for dismissal, points out that he first covered Smartmatic a decade earlier, in 2006, when employed by CNN. At the time the company was facing scrutiny from U.S. lawmakers concerned about its purchase of an American competitor so shortly after it had helped organize elections in Venezuela that were marred by allegations of fraud.

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As Rioters Stormed Capitol, Trump Reportedly Mocked McCarthy In ‘Shouting Match’ Call

President Donald Trump, accompanied by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., speaks to members of the media as they arrive for a dinner at Trump International Golf Club in in West Palm Beach, Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018.

GOP leader Kevin McCarthy called Trump for help, but the former president reportedly told him the rioters were “more upset about the election than you are.”

When House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy called then-President Donald Trump on Jan. 6 to implore him to call off his supporters who were besieging the Capitol, Trump reportedly responded with mockery — prompting a “shouting match” to ensue between the two men.

“Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are,” Trump told McCarthy, according to a CNN report published Friday.

The California congressman reportedly responded with anger, telling Trump that as they spoke, rioters were breaking through the windows of his office. “Who the f--- do you think you are talking to?” McCarthy demanded of Trump, according to CNN.

McCarthy has previously discussed some details of that phone call. He told The Bakersfield Californian last month that the two men shared a “very heated conversation” as the riot was happening and that he’d urged Trump to “get help” to the Capitol. 

But new, disturbing details about the call have emerged this week, offering a glimpse into Trump’s immediate reaction to the insurrection. 

CNN’s report about the call cites several Republican lawmakers who were briefed on the conversation. One of them was Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.), who recounted McCarthy’s call with Trump at a virtual town hall earlier this week.

Herrera Beutler ― who was among the 10 Republican House members who voted to impeach Trump over his role in the Capitol attack ― described the call as “chilling.” 

Corroborating CNN’s reporting, she said Trump had told McCarthy the rioters were “more upset” about his election loss than he was. 

“The president was basically saying, ‘Nah, I’m OK with this,’” the congresswoman said. “Did he send anyone in to help? No. But he did place calls to senators while they were in lockdown? And you know what he said? He said, ‘Can you do something to further delay the electoral counting?’”

Trump ― who encouraged supporters to “fight like hell” and march to the Capitol during a rally on Jan. 6  ― only told the insurrectionists to “go home” many hours after they’d breached the building, forcing lawmakers to take cover and evacuate. Five people, including a Capitol police officer, were killed as a result of the attack.

For his role in inciting the riot, Trump was impeached ― for the second time ― by the House of Representatives before he left office last month. His impeachment trial in the Senate is currently underway, and several GOP lawmakers told CNN they believe Trump’s call with McCarthy should be considered by senators as evidence of Trump’s culpability.

McCarthy has said that Trump “bears responsibility” for the Capitol attack ― though he opposed impeaching Trump for his role.

“He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding,” McCarthy said of Trump last month. 

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