Opinion: A damning legal brief makes it even more obvious why the Senate must convict Trump

President Trump speaks
Then-President Trump speaks at a Dec. 5 , 2020, campaign rally for Georgia Senate candidates Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue.
(Associated Press)

As they prepare for former President Trump’s impeachment trial, the House “managers” who’ll seek to convict him are reportedly considering an unusual tactic: trying to dazzle the Senate with a video linking Trump’s incendiary words on Jan. 6 with the siege of the Capitol by his supporters.

Showing is sometimes better than telling, but a brief filed by the House managers Tuesday makes a devastating case against Trump even without any cinematic special effects.

There is much in the House managers’ brief that requires careful reading by senators. The managers persuasively argue that Trump can be tried even though he has left office, and they refute the objection that his call for supporters to “fight like hell” was protected by the 1st Amendment or might not be successfully prosecuted as a criminal offense. (It quotes Alexander Hamilton as noting that impeachable offenses “are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.”)


But the brief is most impressive in providing a timeline that makes it clear not only that Trump is culpable for the storming of the Capitol, but that his speech on Jan. 6 was the culmination of a campaign to thwart the will of the people and cling to the presidency. Especially after various legal challenges failed in court, Trump’s continued attempts to overturn the election would be an impeachable offense even if he had never opened his mouth on Jan. 6.

The article of impeachment accusing Trump of “inciting insurrection” touched on this larger context, and it specifically mentioned Trump’s suggestion that Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger “find” enough votes to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in that state. But the brief makes it clear that Trump’s exhortations to “stop the steal” were only one aspect of a larger assault on democracy.

Trump’s latest batch of lawyers filed their response to the article of impeachment Tuesday, and it is unpersuasive. Trump reportedly wanted his lawyers to use the Senate trial to relitigate his preposterous claims of election fraud, and there is a hint of that in this tortured passage: “Insufficient evidence exists upon which a reasonable jurist could conclude that the 45th president’s statements were accurate or not, and he therefore denies they were false.”

(Trump’s lawyers also suggest that the former president considered election results “suspect” because “election laws and procedures were changed by local politicians or judges without the necessary approvals from state legislatures.” What Trump actually said was the election had been “rigged” and that the changes in election procedures led to “fraud on a scale never seen before.”)

The House managers may well mount a stunning audiovisual spectacle in the Senate. But it won’t be necessary if senators do their homework.