Why the GOP threat over calling witnesses reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of Trump's impeachment

Why the GOP threat over calling witnesses reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of Trump's impeachment
President Donald J. Trump listens as Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., addresses remarks during the federal judicial confirmation milestone event Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019, in the East Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Julianna Luz)

Lindsey Graham, who is, just as evidence that we have not yet exited the worst timeline, still the chair of Senate judiciary committee, went on Fox News Monday evening to deliver a threat. Should House impeachment managers attempt to call a single witness during Trump's trial before the Senate, Republican senators are going to want witnesses of their own. Which could make this trial last just ages.

But this time around Graham isn't threatening to call witnesses about such non sequiturs as what Hunter Biden did in Ukraine. Instead the threat is much stranger. If Democrats call even a single witness, it will "open up Pandora's Box," according to Graham. Because Republicans will "want the FBI to come in and tell us about how people actually pre-planned this attack." It's a threat that's not only not a threat, it's one that shows that Graham hasn't actually read the impeachment documents.

The reason that Graham, and other Republicans, are putting forward "calling in the FBI" as a threat is because of a very simple theme they've been repeating since before Trump was actually impeached, again, in the House. If the impeachment is all about Trump inciting the mob that marched on the Capitol, murdered a police officer, and ultimately caused more American deaths than Benghazi while erecting a gallows on the lawn; then the fact that many of those insurgents came prepared for sedition means it's not Trump's fault.

Not only is that argument completely foolish on its face, it ignores what's actually in the impeachment. The supporting materials submitted to the Senate make it explicitly clear that there is more to Trump's impeachment than a single morning or a single speech.

In the months leading up to January 6, 2021 President Trump engaged in a course of conduct designed to encourage and provoke his supporters to gather in Washington, D.C. and obstruct the process of the electoral votes that would confirm his defeat. That conduct spanned months and included frivolous and harassing lawsuits, direct threats to state and local officials, and false public statements to his supporters, all in an effort to incite his supporters into believing it was their patriotic duty to attack Congress and prevent the peaceful transition of power.

The incitement over which Trump was impeached took place not just on the morning of Jan. 6, but in the preceding months. During those months, Trump repeatedly lied about the outcome of the election, fed a rising tide of rage among his supporters with claims he knew were false, told white supremacist militias to "stand by," and called on his forces to gather on the day when electoral votes were counted for a "wild" event.

As the impeachment makes clear, Trump acted to "undermine confidence in the results of the election, spread dangerous disinformation, and stoke false and wild conspiracy theories." The whole body of that action is the reason for Trump's impeachment and the subject of his trial before the Senate. Trump specifically and repeatedly pointed out Mike Pence and members of Congress as targets for the hatred of the supporters he had inflamed with a stream of continuous lies.

So why does Graham think calling the FBI to speak to how the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and others came prepared to storm the Capitol and seek congressional hostages is somehow a threat to the Democratic case? That's because from the very beginning Republicans—and especially Republicans appearing on Fox and other right-wing media—have been repeating a claim that the impeachment is all about Trump inciting the march on the Capitol in his speech at the "Stop the Steal" rally that morning. According to the framing they've been selling Fox viewers, if Trump didn't expressly tell people to invade the Capitol that morning, he wasn't really responsible. And if any of the treasonous mob came prepared to violence, it's proof that the insurgency was not Trump's fault.

Unfortunately for Graham and others, this reading of the impeachment is as fantastical as the lies Trump told leading up to Jan. 6. The impeachment makes it clear that Trump worked for months to build anger and hatred among his supporters though repeated lies about the election. Trump supporters began planning violence against election supervisors in both Nevada and in Pennsylvania within hours of Trump standing up in the early hours of Nov. 4 to falsely claim victory. Trump encouraged that violence in every statement, every rally, every tweet between the election and Jan. 6. Trump didn't even disown the invaders while they were inside the Capitol, stepping out to say "we love you" and calling them "very special."

If Lindsey Graham thinks that calling the FBI is some kind of threat … call them. Call in the agents that have been imbedded with the Proud Boys and Ohio Militia. Call in the agents that have been warning of the increased threat of white supremacist violence, only to have their warnings swatted down. Call them all. If what it takes to purge Trump from the system is pouring out all the poison in public, let's do that.

It shouldn't be required. As Graham says in his interview on Fox, he "knows what happened that day." It should be more than enough to convict Trump and remove the possibility that he will ever again hold public office. But if it's not … witnesses, sir. Let us have the witnesses.

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