For Colorado Rep. Diana DeGette and other Democrats tasked with presenting an impeachment case against former President Donald Trump to the U.S. Senate, the challenge will be managing a trial unlike any that’s come before it.
Trump is the first president in U.S. history to be impeached twice, after the House of Representatives voted on Jan. 13 to refer an article of impeachment to the upper chamber. He’s the first impeached president whose Senate trial will occur after he’s left office. And the crime with which the House charged him — inciting the violent mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 — is one that directly involves the members of Congress who will be holding the trial.
“All of the senators, they’re not only the jury — they’re the victims, and the witnesses,” DeGette told Newsline in an interview.
“You can’t fully divorce yourself from it, but I really don’t think you have to,” she added. “You can see for yourself what happened.”
DeGette, a Denver resident and former civil rights attorney who has represented Colorado’s 1st Congressional District since 1997, was selected as one of nine impeachment managers who will argue the House’s case in Trump’s second Senate trial, which is expected to start the week of Feb. 8. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she will send the article of impeachment to the Senate on Monday.
With Rep. Joe Neguse of Boulder also serving as an impeachment manager in the upcoming trial, and Rep. Jason Crow of Aurora having served in that role during Trump’s first trial a year ago, Colorado Democrats have played an outsized role in impeachment proceedings against Trump. DeGette also presided over the floor debate preceding Trump’s first House impeachment in December 2019.
“I’m so proud to be a Coloradan, because we really are punching above our weight here,” she said. “We’ve been called upon by the speaker to step up.”
Within hours of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, DeGette became the first member of Colorado’s congressional delegation to call for Trump to be impeached again. In the days that followed, Democrats moved forward with an effort to remove Trump from office on the grounds of a single article of impeachment: “incitement of insurrection.” In a 232-197 vote held one week after the riot, the House approved an impeachment resolution stating that Trump “willfully made statements that, in context, encouraged — and foreseeably resulted in — lawless action at the Capitol.”
In contrast to Trump’s previous impeachment trial — which centered around hushed, high-level diplomatic communications in which Trump pressured Ukrainian officials to launch a corruption investigation into then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden — DeGette said that the case she and other managers will present this week involves a “wealth of facts,” most of which are out in the open.
“What you have here is a crime by Donald Trump right there on TV and on social media,” DeGette said. “You have Donald Trump telling everyone, ‘Come to Washington.’ He invites them down to the White House. They all get to the White House and he says, ‘Go up to the Capitol and stop the certification of the election results.’
With the Senate now split 50-50 following this month’s runoff elections in Georgia, impeachment managers will need to convince 17 Republicans to join the entire Democratic caucus in order to secure the two-thirds majority necessary for Trump’s conviction. But DeGette said that such political calculations aren’t what she’s focused on.
“I don’t see this as a partisan issue, like it would be if I was trying to pass a bill with Republican votes,” she said. “I think that the facts are so extreme that they do warrant (conviction). So I would hope that the senators would see that, and they would take their constitutional duty seriously.”
Despite calls for a speedy trial following the House impeachment vote, former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declined to convene the upper chamber in time to consider Trump’s removal before he left office upon Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration. But Democrats believe that even with Trump out of power, a vote to convict in the Senate — and a separate vote barring him from holding office in the future — is a message that must be sent.
”I don’t think that we can move on until we have closure here,” DeGette said. “You have a president of the United States who engaged in a conspiracy to get a mob to come to the U.S. Capitol and stop the certification of a legitimate election. We need closure, through convicting him and finding that he can never hold office again.”
Though some prominent Trump supporters argue that the impeachment case should now be dismissed for “lack of jurisdiction,” DeGette said that the law is clear. In 1876, Congress continued to pursue impeachment against former Secretary of War William Belknap despite his resignation prior to the House’s vote to impeach.
“It’s been done before, so that’s a bad argument,” DeGette said. “But it’s also really a bad message, because what it says is when you’re president, you can just do anything with impunity a month or so before you leave office, because they won’t have time to impeach you and have a trial. And that I think leads to a real danger.”
“It’s sort of like saying, ‘Well the bank robbery’s over, and we’ve got the money back, so let’s not prosecute the robbers,’” she added. “That’s just not how it works.”