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Pretrial Impeachment Brief Holds Trump Responsible For Jan. 6 Attack

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We now have the words of a brief from House impeachment managers who have sent a document over to the United States Senate in preparation for former President Trump's impeachment trial. They call the president's actions on and leading up to January 6 a grievous betrayal of his oath of office. The nine House managers say Trump created a powder keg, striking a match and then seeking personal advantage from the ensuing havoc. That's how they describe the way a mob of his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol. And the managers add, if provoking an insurrectionary riot against a joint session of Congress after losing an election is not an impeachable offense, it is hard to imagine what would be.

NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell is with us now. Hi there, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi there.

INSKEEP: So everyone knows about the attack on Congress January 6. How do Democrats - House Democrats here, the House managers, connect that attack to the former president?

SNELL: They are making the argument that Trump was personally responsible for that attack because, they say, rioters were chanting, President Trump sent us and hang Mike Pence as they were marauding through the halls of the Capitol. You know, they include a lot more analysis here of how they say Trump went about animating and driving the rioters to violent outcomes. They have videos. They have evidence of the way that the rioters were interpreting his actions and his words.

You know, they say his actions were so severe that elections alone cannot be a sufficient safeguard against future abuse. And this is a quote here. They say, "It is the electoral process itself that President Trump attacked and that must be protected from him and anyone else who would seek to mimic his behavior."

INSKEEP: Although we have to note, these papers are going to a Senate where a large minority, enough to acquit the president, have already voted that it's just not time yet to go after the former president. Forty-five Senate Republicans voted that they felt the trial was unconstitutional. How did the House managers answer that?

SNELL: It is a central question here. In fact, they spent 30 of the 80 pages of this brief focused on addressing that question. You know, it was something that that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer asked them to address in their brief. But they say that Trump committed the impeachable offenses during the last days in office. And they say that the Constitution demonstrates that a former official remains subject to trial and conviction for abuses that were committed while in office.

You know, we've heard the lead impeachment manager, Jamie Raskin, repeat this line that the Constitution applies on the first day of a president's term and the last day of a president's term and every day in between. And they're saying that impeachment is a constitutional tool. So if the Constitution applies, then they can hold a president accountable for actions taken while in office.

But having said all of that, this would be the first impeachment of a former president.

INSKEEP: We do have to note, though, there was at least one former official who was impeached and convicted, so we know what the precedent is. But 45 Republicans have decided to disregard that in favor of the former president. Do we know more about how the House managers will try to sway some of them?

SNELL: You know, they are going to be trying to move the conversation away from that process, away from talking about whether or not this is constitutional. They say that it is, and they make that argument clear. But they want to focus on, you know, the visceral - the videos, the evidence that - these are all senators that experienced much of the evidence themselves. They want to focus on the way that this was perceived in the room. And, you know, they also want to focus on swaying people who are watching this on TV. They - staying with the conversation about the process and the constitutionality isn't the way to get to people's hearts and minds through the television, so they're going to try to keep it about the actions and the horror of that day.

INSKEEP: NPR's Kelsey Snell, who covers Congress and who will therefore be covering the impeachment trial next week. Kelsey, thanks so much.

SNELL: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.