Tired of ads? Want to support our progressive journalism? Click to learn more.LEARN MORE

The case against Donald Trump – simplified

Let's start with the basics. The US Constitution establishes a system of checks and balances consisting of three equal branches of government – legislative (Article I), executive (Article II), and judicial (Article III). On January 6, 2021, the head of the executive branch, Donald Trump, incited a mob to attack the legislative branch and then did nothing to stop it. As a result, Congress was unable to perform its constitutional duty, which was to certify the election of the candidate who beat him – President-elect Joe Biden.

That's an impeachable offense for which the Senate can and should convict Trump and bar him from ever holding federal office again.

The Facts are Undisputed

  • Pre-election polls showed Trump losing decisively to Biden. So months before November 3, Trump launched a pre-emptive attack on the election itself by claiming that he could lose only if it was "rigged."
  • Trump lost the election by more than seven million popular votes and 74 electoral votes. Continuing his assault on the right of the people to select their president, he refused to concede, claiming falsely that the election had been "stolen" from him. "Stop the Steal" became the rallying cry.
  • Trump and his allies then filed more than 60 unsuccessful court challenges seeking to reverse the outcome of a legitimate election. In none of those cases did any court find any evidence of the widespread fraud that he blamed repeatedly for his loss. Even Trump's loyal attorney general, William Barr, who went in search of such fraud, found nothing worth pursuing.
  • When the courts and Barr refused to call the election into question, Trump pressured state election officials to overturn the will of 81 million voters who wanted him out of office.
  • As the date for congressional certification of Biden's win approached, Trump pressured Vice President Mike Pence – as presiding officer of the session – to act unconstitutionally and decline to certify the vote.
  • When Pence refused, Trump spoke for more than an hour to an organized mob of thousands whom he had called to the capital on the day of certification for a "Stop the Steal" rally. He continued to lie about the election, saying:
    • "We will never give up. We will never concede. It doesn't happen. You don't concede when there's theft involved."
    • "We won this election, and we won it by a landslide. This was not a close election."
    • "I hope Mike is going to do the right thing. I hope so. I hope so, because if Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election… All Vice President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify, and we become president, and you are the happiest people."
  • As the congressional certification process began, Trump concluded his speech by inviting the mob to join him in marching to the Capitol. "We fight like hell," he said. "If you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore… Our exciting adventures and boldest endeavors have not yet begun… We're going to the Capitol. We're going to try and give them [Republicans] the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country."
  • But Trump didn't walk to the Capitol as he had promised. Instead, he watched the violence unfold on television from the White House where officials reported that he was "borderline enthusiastic because it meant the certification was being denied." In fact, as the mob was overrunning the Capitol, Trump made a phone call to Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), urging him to delay certification further by endorsing numerous frivolous objections.
  • After the mob had been inside the Capitol for more than two hours, Trump finally tweeted a scripted video. It opened with inflammatory rhetoric reiterating his lies.
  • "I know your pain. I know you're hurt," he began. "We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election and everyone knows it, especially the other side."
  • After telling his supporters to go home in peace, he continued, "There's never been a time like this where such a thing happened where they could take it away from all of us — from me, from you, from our country. This was a fraudulent election, but we can't play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace. So go home. We love you. You're very special. You've seen what happens. You see the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil."

The Law is Clear

  • Impeachable conduct – "Treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanors" – encompasses a defeated presidential candidate's attempted coup d'etat against the legitimate constitutional government of the United States. Constitutional scholars across the political spectrum have echoed Prof. Michael Stokes Parkman's view: "If Trump's misconduct is not impeachable, nothing is."
  • Proof of a crime is not required for impeachment, but Trump probably committed several federal felonies. "Seditious conspiracy" is an agreement by at least two people to hinder the execution of federal law or to seize federal property. The agreement need not be express and can be inferred by willful participation in the unlawful plan with intent to further it. Conviction can lead to imprisonment for up to 20 years. "Inciting rebellion or insurrection" against the authority of the United States can result a 10-year prison term.
  • The felony-murder rule might even apply. In some circumstances, a person who engages in a violent felony can be held responsible for deaths that occur during the course of that crime. For example, suppose two people try to rob a bank and a bank security guard pulls out a gun and kills one robber while the other is waiting in the getaway car. The driver of the getaway car could be held liable for the death of his fellow robber. Trump's incitement led to five deaths, including the mob's murder of a Capitol Police officer.

What's the Defense?

Trump is throwing everything against the wall in the hope that something will stick. Nothing will. His defenders rely principally on the First Amendment, but there is no constitutional right to incite an insurrection. According to the US Supreme Court, the Constitution does not protect conduct that is "directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to produce such action."

  • Although Trump claims that his January 6 speech to the mob was "totally appropriate," it wasn't, especially in the context of the speeches preceding his. Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, called for "trial by combat." Donald Trump Jr. told the mob, "If you're going to be the zero and not the hero, we're coming for you, and we're going to have a good time doing it."
  • Members of the mob were already heading toward the Capitol when Trump himself exhorted them, "We fight like hell. If you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore… Our exciting adventures and boldest endeavors have not yet begun… We're going to the Capitol. We're going to try and give them [Republicans] the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country…"
  • But even if Trump's words and deeds did not meet the Supreme Court's test, the First Amendment still wouldn't save him. High-level government officials can be held accountable for their speech in ways that private citizens cannot. As Prof. Ilya Somin notes, "Donald Trump himself has fired numerous cabinet officials and other subordinates because they expressed views he didn't like." And for the same reasons that impeachment does not require proof of a president's criminality, the fact that his speech might not lead to civil or criminal liability is not a defense anyway.

During the House debate on impeachment, some Republicans complained that the process had not involved hearings and witnesses. There was no need. Trump's impeachable conduct occurred in plain sight. Newspapers and allied governments around the world correctly labeled the attack on the Capitol an attempted coup.

Finally, unlike a criminal proceeding, conviction in the Senate does not require proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The purpose of impeachment is to get a president out of office and then, by subsequent majority vote in the Senate, assure that he never returns.

Saving American Democracy Begins with Truth and Accountability

Most Republicans argue that Trump's impeachment undermines efforts to unify the country. The opposite is true.

A US president encouraged a mob to attack a co-equal branch of government and then watched the violence unfold for hours on television. But in the eyes of most Republicans, Trump remains blameless. Although 70 percent of the GOP believe that the mob was undermining democracy and must be held accountable, 70 percent also say that the president who incited it is somehow protecting democracy. Even more of them – 87 percent – say that Trump should not be removed from office.

Without accountability for subverting the nation's political system, unity is impossible. That requires a common understanding and acceptance of facts. America's body politic cannot heal without first ridding itself of the infection that Trump's lies have caused. Impeachment is a necessary first step in that cleansing process.

As Trump and his allies dissemble in the days ahead, remember that the vote to impeach him was bipartisan. Ten Republicans, including Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) – the GOP's No. 3 leader in the House and a reliable Trump defender throughout his presidency, finally broke away from Trump's spell. On January 12, Rep. Cheney declared:

"On January 6, 2021 a violent mob attacked the United States Capitol to obstruct the process of our democracy and stop the counting of presidential electoral votes. This insurrection caused injury, death and destruction in the most sacred space in our Republic.

"Much more will become clear in coming days and weeks, but what we know now is enough. The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack. Everything that followed was his doing. None of this would have happened without the President. The President could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence. He did not. There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.

"I will vote to impeach the President."

The prosecution rests.

Insurrection Timeline: First the coup -- and then the cover-up

The Department of Defense's January 8, 2021 press release purports to "memorialize the planning and execution timeline" of the deadly insurrection that it calls the "January 6, 2021 First Amendment Protests in Washington, DC."*

The memo's minute-by-minute account creates a false illusion of transparency. In truth, its most noteworthy aspects are the omission of Trump's central role in the insurrection and the effort to shift blame away from Trump and his new Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller.

Who is Christopher Miller?

By November 9, every news organization declared that former Vice President Joe Biden had won the election. On that day, Trump fired Acting Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and replaced him with Miller, an Army retiree who worked for a defense contractor until Trump tapped him as his assistant in 2018. Miller's promotion began a departmental regime change that embedded three fierce Trump loyalists as top Defense Department officials: Kash Patel (former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA)), retired army Gen. Anthony Tata (pro-Trump Fox News pundit) and Ezra Cohen-Watnick (former assistant to Trump's first national security adviser, Mike Flynn).

At such a late date in Trump's presidency, many asked why the shake-up at the Department of Defense? We may be learning the answer.

Prior to the Attack

The department's January 8, 2021 memo ignores Trump's central role in igniting and then encouraging the January 6 insurrection. In fact, the only reference to Trump appears in a January 3 entry, when Miller and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Milley meet with him and he concurs in activation of the DC National Guard "to support law enforcement."

Other than that, Trump is conspicuously absent, along with the most important parts of the story. In the date and time entries that follow, only those in italics and preceded with "(DoD Memo)" summarize items from the Defense Department's January 8 memorandum. The memo ignores every other fact set forth in this post.

Dec. 19, 2020: Trump tweets: "Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!"

Jan. 3, 2021: Replying to a tweet from one of the rally organizers, Trump tweets: "I will be there. Historic day."

Jan. 4: The National Park Service increases the crowd estimate on the January 6 rally permit to 30,000 — up from the original 5,000 in December.

January 6, 2021:

8:17 a.m.: Trump tweets: "States want to correct their votes, which they now know were based on irregularities and fraud, plus corrupt process never received legislative approval. All Mike Pence has to do is send them back to the States, AND WE WIN. Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!"

Noon: Trump begins to address the mob and continues speaking for more than 90 minutes.

  • "We will never give up. We will never concede. It doesn't happen. You don't concede when there's theft involved."
  • "We won this election, and we won it by a landslide. This was not a close election."
  • "I hope Mike is going to do the right thing. I hope so. I hope so, because if Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election. All Vice President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify, and we become president, and you are the happiest people."

1:00 p.m.: While Trump continues his rant to the mob, some members of Trump's crowd have already reached the US Capitol Building where Congress assembles in joint session to certify President-elect Joe Biden's victory. An initial wave of protesters storms the outer barricade west of the Capitol Building. As the congressional proceedings begin, Pence reads a letter saying that he won't intervene in Congress's electoral count: "My oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority."

1:10 p.m.: Trump ends his speech by urging his followers to march down Pennsylvania Avenue. "We're going to the Capitol. We're going to try and give them [Republicans] the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country…If you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore."

The Attack

If the District of Columbia were a state, its governor alone could have deployed the National Guard to crush the riot. Instead, Trump and his Defense Department had that responsibility, and an unprecedented assault on a sacred institution of government succeeded, if only for a few hours.

(DoD Memo) 1:26 p.m.: The Capitol Police orders the evacuation of the Capitol complex.

1:30 p.m.: The crowd outside the building grows larger, eventually overtaking the Capitol Police and making its way up the Capitol steps. Suspicious packages — later confirmed to be pipe bombs — are found at Republican National Committee headquarters and Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington.

(DoD Memo) 1:34 p.m.: DC Mayor Muriel Bowser asks Army Secretary Ryan McCarthywho reports to Millerfor more federal help to deal with the mob.

Bowser is told that the request must first come from the Capitol Police.

(DoD Memo) 1:49 p.m.: The Capitol Police chief asks the commanding general of the DC National Guard for immediate assistance.

2:15 p.m.: Trump's mob breaches the Capitol building – breaking windows, climbing inside and opening doors for others to follow.

(DoD Memo) 2:22 p.m.: Army Secretary McCarthy discusses the situation at the Capitol with Mayor Bowser and her staff.

They are begging for additional National Guard assistance. Note the time. It's been almost an hour since Bowser requested help.

2:24 p.m.: Trump tweets: "Mike Pence didn't have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!"

After erecting a gallows on the Capitol grounds, the mob shouts, "Hang Mike Pence." Rioters create another noose from a camera cord seized during an attack on an onsite news team.

2:26 p.m.: Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund joins a conference call with several officials from the DC government, as well as officials from the Pentagon, including Lt. Gen. Walter E. Piatt, director of the Army Staff. Piatt later issues a statement denying the statements attributed to him.

"I am making an urgent, urgent immediate request for National Guard assistance," Sund says. "I have got to get boots on the ground."

The DC contingent is flabbergasted when Piatt says that he could not recommend that his boss, Army Secretary McCarthy, approve the request. "I don't like the visual of the National Guard standing a police line with the Capitol in the background," Piatt says. Again and again, Sund says that the situation is dire.

(DoD Memo) 2:30 p.m.: Miller, Army Secretary McCarthy and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff meet to discuss Mayor Bowser's request.

(DoD Memo) 3:04 p.m.: Miller gives "verbal approval" to full mobilization of the DC National Guard (1,100 members).

It has now been more than 90 minutes since Mayor Bowser first asked Army Secretary McCarthy for assistance. It took an hour for Defense Department officials to meet and another half hour for them to decide to help. And Bowser still doesn't know the status of her request.

(DoD Memo) 3:19 p.m.: Pelosi and Schumer call Army Secretary McCarthy, who says that Bowser's request has now been approved.

(DoD Memo) 3:26 p.m.: Army Secretary McCarthy calls Bowser to tell her that her request for help has been approved.

The Defense Department's notification of approval to Bowser came two hours after her request.

While Miller and his team were slow-walking Mayor Bowser's request, she had sought National Guard assistance from Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R). At about the same time, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called Northam directly for help and he agreed.

3:29 p.m.: Gov. Northam announces mobilization of Virginia's National Guard. But there's a hitch. Federal law requires Defense Department authorization before any state's National Guard can cross the state border onto federal land in DC. That approval doesn't come until almost two hours later.

(DoD Memo) 3:47 p.m. Governor Hogan mobilizes his state's National Guard and 200 state troopers.

The Defense Department "repeatedly denies" Hogan's request to deploy the National Guard at the Capitol. As he awaits approval, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) calls Hogan from the undisclosed bunker to which he, Speaker Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have been evacuated. Hoyer pleads for assistance, saying that the Capitol Police is overwhelmed and there is no federal law enforcement presence.

4:17 p.m.: Trump tweets a video telling rioters, "I know your pain, I know you're hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election and everyone knows it, especially the other side…It's a very tough period of time. There's never been a time like this where such a thing happened where they could take it away from all of us — from me, from you, from our country. This was a fraudulent election, but we can't play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace. So go home. We love you. You're very special. You've seen what happens. You see the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil."

(DoD Memo) 4:18 p.m.: Miller gives voice approval notifying surrounding states to muster and be prepared to mobilize their National Guard personnel.

(DoD Memo) 4:32 p.m.: Miller gives verbal authorization to "re-mission" DC National Guard from city posts where most have been directing traffic and monitoring subway stations "to conduct perimeter and clearance operations" in support of the Capitol Police force.

4:40 p.m.: More than 90 minutes after Governor Hogan had requested federal approval to send his state's National Guard troops to DC, Army Secretary McCarthy calls and asks, "Can you come as soon as possible?" Hogan responds, "Yeah. We've been waiting. We're ready."

5:40 p.m.: The first DC National Guard personnel arrive at the Capitol.

(DoD Memo) 5:45 p.m.: Miller signs formal authorization for out-of-state National Guard personnel to muster and gives voice approval for deployment to support the Capitol Police.

The first Maryland National Guard personnel don't arrive at the Capitol until January 7 at 10:00 a.m. The first Virginia National Guard members arrive at noon.

6:01 p.m.: Trump tweets: "These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!"

(DoD Memo) 8:00 p.m.: The DC Capitol Police declare the Capitol Building secure.

The Aftermath of the Attack

8:31 p.m.: After widespread media reports that Pence, not Trump, had actually given the order to deploy the National Guard, Kash Patel — Miller's chief of staff and former top aide to Rep. Nunes — tells the New York Times, "The acting secretary and the president have spoken multiple times this week about the request for National Guard personnel in D.C. During these conversations, the president conveyed to the acting secretary that he should take any necessary steps to support civilian law enforcement requests in securing the Capitol and federal buildings."

But according to the Defense Department's January 8 memo, the only such conversation with Trump occurred on January 3.

Jan. 7: Trump releases a video in which he lies, saying, "I immediately deployed the National Guard and federal law enforcement to secure the building and expel the intruders." Defense Department officials confirm that they did not speak to Trump on January 6.

Jan. 8: Trump tweets: "The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!"

Shortly thereafter, he tweets again: "To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th."

Jan. 8: Twitter issues a statement saying that it has banned Trump because his "statement that he will not be attending the Inauguration is being received by a number of his supporters as further confirmation that the election was not legitimate…and encouragement to those potentially considering violent acts that the Inauguration would be a 'safe' target, as he will not be attending."

Twitter's statement continues, "The use of the words 'American Patriots' to describe some of his supporters is also being interpreted as support for those committing violent acts at the US Capitol. The mention of his supporters having a 'GIANT VOICE long into the future' and that 'They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!' is being interpreted as further indication that President Trump does not plan to facilitate an 'orderly transition' and instead that he plans to continue to support, empower, and shield those who believe he won the election."

The statement concludes: "Plans for future armed protests have already begun proliferating on and off-Twitter, including a proposed secondary attack on the US Capitol and state capitol buildings on January 17, 2021."

Understand what is happening. The US Department of Defense is reframing an attack on the Capitol and attempted coup as a "First Amendment Protest." That benign label isn't just a dog whistle. It's a megaphone that blesses a violent insurrection, disguising it as the exercising of a constitutional right.

Another cover-up is underway. Another false narrative is in the works. And another agency of the federal government has revealed that Trump has co-opted it.

The fight to save American democracy is now down to a single defining question:

Which side are you on?

*[Note: Late in the afternoon on January 11, 2021, the Defense Department changed the title of its January 8 memorandum and reissued it "to more appropriately reflect the characterization of the events at the U.S. Capitol on January 6."]

Inside the Trump administration's coverup at the Cleveland Clinic

The Cleveland Clinic boasted that co-hosting the first presidential debate along with Case Western Reserve University was an honor for both institutions and the city. As the health security adviser to the Commission on Presidential Debates, it publicized protocols to protect everyone at their site on the Health Education Campus and at subsequent debates. It knew those protocols would also protect members of the public with whom all attendees would later come into contact.

Keep reading... Show less

Horrifying timeline shows the downfall of a key FDA commissioner amid the COVID-19 crisis

The Food and Drug Administration is responsible for assuring the safety and efficacy of any new medical treatment. But Donald Trump and FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn have destroyed the agency’s credibility. In fact, drug manufacturers are now reassuring the public that they won’t even submit any COVID-19 vaccine for FDA approval unless they believe it is safe and effective.

Keep reading... Show less

Here are 10 things you need to know about Trump's Post Office scandal

Don’t be fooled by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s tactical retreat. The crisis isn’t over. Ten facts frame the story of how Trump is using the pandemic and the Postal Service to undermine the integrity of the presidential election.

Keep reading... Show less

Mike Pence has enabled Trump's dangerous presidency -- and sacrificed core principles of democracy

Donald Trump’s disclosure of highly sensitive intelligence to the Russians and reported efforts to shut down the FBI’s investigation into former national security adviser Mike Flynn now shine a spotlight on the next person in line for the presidency. It should be withering, because Vice President Mike Pence (JD, Indiana — Robert H. McKinney School of Law, ’86) is not a solution to Trump. His consistent dishonesty is a central part of the problem America faces. But compared to the boss, whose dangerous tendencies he has enabled, Pence seems like a Boy Scout. That merely proves the depths to which the bar of acceptable behavior has fallen, if it even exists anymore.

Keep reading... Show less

Trump's incriminating tweet obscures the facts surrounding an even more important story

The media controversy over who wrote President Trump’s Dec. 2, 2017 tweet shifted attention away from a key point about the tweet itself: It is a double-barreled lie that obscures the facts surrounding a more important story.

Keep reading... Show less

This interactive timeline reveals everything we know about Russia and Trump

When it comes to Donald Trump, his campaign and their dealings with Russia past and present, sometimes it’s hard to keep track of all the players without a scorecard. We have one of sorts — a deeply comprehensive timeline detailing what actually happened and what’s still happening in the ever-changing story of the president, his inner circle and a web of Russian oligarchs, hackers and government officials.

Keep reading... Show less

Everything we know about Paul Manafort's ties to Russia

Special counsel Robert Mueller announced Monday the indictments of Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and Manafort’s former business associate, Rick Gates. Manafort joined the Trump campaign on March 29, 2016. By the time he resigned as campaign manager less than five months later, Trump had secured the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, and Russian efforts to defeat Hillary Clinton in the general election were well underway. Manafort departed amid allegations that he had received millions of dollars in improper payments from Ukraine’s pro-Putin former president.

Keep reading... Show less

Follow the money: They say it was about Russian orphans -- they're lying

Another Trump cover-up collapses. Like its predecessors, it involves Russia. Also like its predecessors, Trump is at the center. People lie for a reason. What was Trump’s reason this time?

Keep reading... Show less

Does a serial liar become truthful under oath?

“Would you be willing to speak under oath to give your version of the events?”

Keep reading... Show less

How Donald Trump Jr. destroyed Kellyanne Conway's favorite talking point

Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway (JD, George Washington, ’92) has a new assignment. She has to explain away a smoking gun that Donald Trump Jr. has aimed at the 2016 election. For months, she and everyone else in the White House vehemently denied that the Trump campaign had any contacts with Russians about the election. With a tweet on July 11, 2017, Don Jr. destroyed that talking point forever.

Keep reading... Show less

The ultimate lawsuit: Trump will eventually fire special counsel Robert Mueller -- and a lawyer games out what will happen next

Eventually, Trump is likely to fire special counsel Robert Mueller. Trump’s repeated statements about the Russia “hoax” — along with his apparent attempts to influence the FBI’s investigation — warrant a close look at the process by which he could do so. Equally important are the limited ways to stop him. Whether by design, inadvertence or a combination of both, Trump and his minions — including Newt Gingrich and Trump’s lawyers — have been laying the groundwork for what could become America’s defining moment.

Keep reading... Show less

Is Pence next? A timeline of the Vice President's role in Trump's Russia-related mess provides some clues

The Trump White House has produced what appear to be at least three cover-ups. They relate to:

Keep reading... Show less