'The Senate must convict -- America is watching': Watchdogs demand Trump be held to account
U.S. President Donald Trump departs Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on his way to Mar-a-Lago in Florida, U.S., February 15, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

As the Senate trial for former President Donald Trump began on Tuesday, watchdog groups insisted that Trump must be convicted and disqualified from future office-holding in order to protect democracy in the United States."We call on the Senate to stand up for democracy and send a clear signal to all Americans that those who levy violence and sedition against our country will be held accountable," the bipartisan "Trump Is Not Above the Law" coalition said in a statement.

"We are an imperfect nation, but one that was founded on a clear set of democratic ideals that must be upheld," said the coalition, which includes Public Citizen, Stand Up America, Common Cause, and more than a dozen additional organizations.

According to the coalition, "The president of the United States incited a murderous insurrection, then used his bully pulpit to fan the flames of hatred."

"He obstructed the National Guard's ability to quell the violent mob and protect the citizenry as he tweeted false conspiracy theories related to his electoral loss," the groups added. "He refused to make any outright condemnation of the violence and ordered his supporters to attack the Vice President for refusing to overturn the Electoral College vote."

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), the House's lead impeachment manager, kicked off the Senate trial by sharing video evidence depicting Trump's actions leading up to and during the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, which left five people dead.

"You ask what a high crime and misdemeanor is under our Constitution? That's a high crime and misdemeanor," said Raskin, pointing to the film screen in the Senate chamber. "If that's not an impeachable offense, then there is no such thing."

The "Trump Is Not Above the Law" coalition described the actions taken by Americans in all 50 states—including hundreds of thousands of calls made and letters sent to lawmakers as well as millions of petition signatures—to express the public's desire for the Senate to convict Trump and disqualify the former president from holding federal office ever again.

"A vote to convict Trump is a vote for accountability and protecting our democracy," the coalition continued. "It's a vote for justice for the lives lost as a result of this treasonous act. It's a vote to stand against those who believe they can use violence to invalidate the votes of millions of Americans."

Trevor Potter, the founder and president of the Campaign Legal Center and a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, echoed the coalition, arguing in a statement that "any elected official who incites mob violence as part of a campaign to subvert our democracy is unfit to hold public office in the future."

Potter called this week's trial "an opportunity for the public to hear the extent to which former President Trump used a campaign of disinformation to bully election officials and attempt to steal an election he had lost at the ballot box, leading up to the attempted insurrection by supporters carrying his flag on January 6."

"Trump's disinformation campaign included lies to his supporters," Potter continued, "but also blatant attempts to pressure state officials to break the law during the post-election period and an unprecedented demand of the vice president to circumvent the entire Electoral College once the vote had already been certified."

People died as a result, Potter noted, "and confidence in our system of government was shaken," with 71% of Americans now saying that "democracy in the U.S. is under threat."

"The outcome of this trial should be a lifetime ban on Trump holding federal office," Potter added. "We cannot begin to address this threat and rebuild trust unless we send a clear message that future presidents cannot incite an insurrection at the end of their term and get away with it. To prevent the most dangerous abuses of power in the future, we must first have accountability."

The coalition concluded its statement by pointing out that "this week's trial will occur in the same chamber where blood was shed at the former president's behest."

"There can be no unity without accountability, no healing without the restoration of the lawful order," the groups said. "Donald Trump must be held to account for the violence at the Capitol. The Senate must convict. America is watching."