Treat Insurrection as a Crime
Terry H. Schwadron
Jan. 15, 2021
One hallmark of all the lawsuits and legislative challenges in Donald Trump obsessive, false claims of election fraud always was that the courts and state officials were sticking to procedural issues in striking the claims, and not listening to the substance of the arguments.
Ironically, then, it was odd to hear Republican speaker after speaker during the impeachment arguments relied exactly on procedural issues rather than the substance — including why the vote was rushed, why there were no evidentiary committee hearings, and why impeachment was logical only days before Trump would be leaving anyway.
Now, after the vote to impeach, Republican senators already are pouncing on, yes, procedure, as a prime defense.
The suddenly mercurial Senate Majority-soon-to-be-Minority Leader Mitch McConnell declined any emergency timing because of Senate rules, even while he signals that he is open to impeachment on the merits. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark,, already is floating the line that a post-presidency impeachment is not allowed, and others are attacking the shape and scope of the impeachment charge itself.
It’s all in an apparent attempt to have Trump skirt conviction — or to avoid looking as if individuals are not publicly backing Trump. There are lots of off-the-record news reports with Republicans who say they voted against impeachment to protect themselves from threats of violence, for example.
Meanwhile, citizen Trump could face a passel of criminal and civil charges, as well as lawsuits stemming from the substance of the insurrection.
Where’s the Beef?
What Republican supporters in Congress apparently don’t want to deal with is the substance here.
Just why are we talking about “fanning the flames of division” while it is necessary to deploy 20,000 National Guard troops to the Capitol? Why are the FBI and intelligence agencies warning openly of armed revolts in Washington and across the country for next week’s Inauguration? Why can’t Trump acknowledge that his words were not “very appropriate,” and did light a match on an insurrection attempt? To what degree did the very presence of Trump political appointees in the federal agencies or the fear of offending them squash preventive alarms and dispatch of backup troops to the rioting?
Maybe the humiliation of double-impeachment, the Twitter ban, the pledge by businesses to shun Trump and his company are enough to politically disqualify Trump from any 2024 election comeback. But that conclusion, too, is procedural; doing more legally to disqualify Trump requires conviction.
The substance here is that a crime was committed, and the Senate is supposed to try Trump for that crime, not for timing of the act or the arc of his supposed achievements, which, in any case, are pretty awful to a majority of American voters. It’s not about cancel culture or sustained Democratic opposition to Trump or weird comparisons to Black Lives Matters protests — all of which have created their own backlashes.
We’re being led to think that only if real violence breaks out in the next week will a sufficient number of Republican senators so associate it with Trump as to provide a two-thirds vote with Democrats and the few moderates to make an actual judgment on the issues. As things stand, there are too many Republican senators saying the procedural issues make this moot.
Are we really saying that the self-professed Law & Order party is only going to be moved by a vast, armed uprising against the government? How much more do they need to see? Would we feel the same in another other sort of crime?
The number of tangent issues is proliferating.
Indeed, one important marker in the whole Insurrection Day saga is its hopscotch nature to jump from one convenient issue to the next without stopping to consider the whole. That more complete picture: A lying, undemocratic president focused solely on self-promotion, aided by party loyalty enforced by the power of money and political abuse, misled supporters, invited and sent an armed crowd of anti-government warriors towards the Capitol, where a mob rampaged and killed.
Yet we see Republican loyalists, themselves caught in the riot, still talking about election procedures rather than crime. We’re hearing that the Republican majority circulating a memo to decapitate Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., from her party post for supporting impeachment over their objection. These are not the central issues. We’re arguing over whether Congress members are objecting to going through a metal detector, and at least one Republican lawmaker is complaining about not being able to carry a gun.
The Washington Post reported that “Stop the Steal” movement organizer Ali Alexander claimed that three House Republicans — Reps. Paul A. Gosar, R-Ariz., Andy Biggs, R-Ariz. and Mo Brooks , R-Ala., helped plan his D.C. rally. Biggs and Brooks denied doing so, and the others said nothing.
Primarily, this insurrection remains a crime story. We should treat it that way. Until sentencing, we don’t consider whether a murder had been a good guy up to that moment of the killing; we adjudge in court whether the defendant committed the crime. And, often, we get upset as an American public when it turns out that the criminal is released on a technicality.
The crime story demands detail on reports that some Capitol police abetted rioters and that unnamed Republican legislators and staff may have led rioters on reconnaissance tours of the building. We need formal explanations from the extremely silent federal officials about the delays in sending in the Guard and on efforts to match actual insurrectionists with substantial federal charges.
The impeachment is the price of obsession gone mad.