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CNN Live Event/Special
House Impeachment Managers Present Case to Convict Trump. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired February 11, 2021 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D-TX): The light that inspires people fighting across the world for fundamental human rights, and the light that inspires us to believe in something larger than ourselves.
And this trial is an opportunity to respond and to send a message back to the world.
And I say this as somebody who loves my country, our country, just as all of you do. There is a lot of courage in this room, a lot of courage that has been demonstrated in the lives of the people in this room.
Some folks have stood up for the civil rights of fellow Americans and risked their careers and their reputations, their livelihoods, and their safety standing up for civil rights. Many members of Congress have risked their lives in service to our country in uniform, fighting in the jungles of Vietnam, patrolling the mountains of Afghanistan.
You served our country because you were willing to sacrifice to defend our nation as we know it and as the world knows it. And although most of you have traded in your uniform for public service, your country needs you one more time.
The world watched President Trump tell his big lie. The world watched his supporters come to Washington at his invitation. And the world watched as he told his supporters to march here to the Capitol.
And President Trump, our commander in chief at the time, failed to take any action to defend us, as he utterly failed in his duty to preserve, protect, and defend.
And now the world is watching us, wondering whether our constitutional republic is going to respond the way it should, the way it's supposed to, whether the rule of law will prevail over mob rule, because the answer to that question has consequences far beyond our own borders.
Think of the consequences to our diplomats and negotiators as they sit at tables around the world to enforce our agenda on trade, the economy, and human rights. To fail to convict a president of the United States who incited a
deadly insurrection, who acted in concert with a violent mob, who interfered with the certification of the Electoral College votes, who abdicated his duty as commander in chief would be to forfeit the power of our example as a North Star on freedom, democracy, human rights, and, most of all, on the rule of law.
And to convict Donald Trump would mean that America stands for the rule of law, no matter who violates it. Let us show the world that January 6 was not America. And let us remind the world that we are truly their North Star.
REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): Representative -- Representative Neguse and I will now address the First Amendment argument that's being offered by President Trump's lawyers to try to excuse his incitement to this insurrection.
And Mr. Neguse will begin.
REP. JOE NEGUSE (D-CO): Mr. President, distinguished senators, good afternoon.
You have heard over the course of the last several days overwhelming evidence that President Trump incited an insurrection. But, as lead manager Raskin mentioned, as we prepare to close, we'd be remiss if we didn't just briefly address apparently the principal defense that the president will offer to excuse his conduct.
And that is this notion that he can't be held accountable for what happened on January 6 because his actions are somehow protected by the First Amendment.
Now, let's stop a moment and try to really understand the argument that they are making.
According to President Trump, everything he did, everything we showed you that he did was perfectly OK for him to do and for a future president to do again. And the Constitution, apparently, in their view, forbids you from doing anything to stop it.
That can't be right. It can't be. And it isn't right.
Their argument is meant as a distraction. They are concerned not with the facts that actually occurred, the facts that we have proven, but with an alternative set of facts, where President Trump did nothing but deliver a controversial speech at a rally.
Of course, that's not what we have charged in the article of impeachment. And it's not what happened.
You will hear from my colleague lead manager Raskin the many myriad reasons why this argument that they make is wrong on the law completely, not just around the edges. They make major fundamental mistakes of constitutional law, the kind that lead manager Raskin tells me wouldn't cut it in his first-year law course, which, of course, he certainly would know, since he has taught this subject for decades.
And that explains why so many lawyers who've dedicated their lives to protecting free speech, including many of the nation's most prominent conservative free speech lawyers, have described President Trump's First Amendment claims as -- quote -- "legally frivolous."
There's another quote from a recent letter from prominent free speech lawyers that -- quote -- "The First Amendment is no bar to the Senate convicting former President Trump and disqualifying him from holding future office."
Their argument is wrong on the facts, wrong on the law, and would flip the Constitution upside down.
Let's start with the facts, because, as you will see, his free speech claim depends on an account of what he did, of why we're here, that has no basis in the evidence. To hear his lawyers tell it, he was just some guy at a rally expressing unpopular opinions.
They would have you believe that this whole impeachment is because he said things that one may disagree with.
And, make no mistake, they will do anything to avoid talking about the facts of this case. That, I can assure you. Instead, we expect they will talk about a lot of other speeches, including some given by Democratic officials. And they will insist with indignation that the First Amendment protects all of this, as though it were exactly the same.
We trust you to know the difference, because you have seen the evidence that we have seen. You have seen, as we have proven over the last three days, that his arguments completely misdescribe the reality of what happened on January 6.
They leave out everything that matters about why we're here and what he did, because President Trump wasn't just some guy with political opinions who showed up at a rally on January 6 and delivered controversial remarks. He was the president of the United States.
And he had spent months -- months -- using the unique power of that office, of his bully pulpit to spread that big lie that the election had been stolen, to convince his followers to stop the steal, to assemble them just blocks away from here on January 6 at the very moment that we were meeting to count the Electoral College votes, where he knew, where it had been widely reported that they were primed and eager and ready for violence at his signal.
And then, standing in the middle of that explosive situation, in that powder keg that he had created over the course of months, before a crowd filled with people that were poised for violence at his signal, he struck a match, and he aimed it straight at this building, at us.
You have seen all that evidence. There's no denying it. That's why the House impeached him. That's why he's on trial.
No president, no matter their politics or the politics of their followers, conservative, liberal, or anything else, no president can do what President Trump did, because this isn't about politics. It's about his refusal to accept the outcome of the election and his decision to incite an insurrection.
And there's no serious argument that the First Amendment protects that. And it would be extraordinarily dangerous for the United States Senate to conclude otherwise, to tell future presidents that they can do exactly what President Trump did and get away with it, to set the precedent that this is an acceptable, now a constitutionally protected way to respond to losing an election.
And you will notice something, certainly something lead manager Raskin and I noticed, which is that, by all accounts, it doesn't appear that President Trump's lawyers disagree. I mean, they don't insist that, if the facts we have charged, the facts that we have proven, the facts supported by overwhelming evidence are true, as, of course, you now know they are, that there's nothing you can do.
They're not arguing that it's OK for a person to incite a mob to violence. At least, I don't think they're arguing that. Instead, what they are doing is offering a radically different version of what happened that day, totally inconsistent with the evidence.
And then they insist that, if that fictional version of events, if that alternate reality were true, well, then he may be protected by the First Amendment. That's their argument.
But you are here to adjudicate real evidence, real facts, not hypothetical ones. And for that reason alone, you should reject their argument, because it has been advanced to defend a situation that bears no resemblance to the actual facts of this case.
With that, I want to turn it over to my colleague lead manager Raskin to address the many legal flaws, as I mentioned, in President Trump's position.
RASKIN: So, Mr. Neguse has explained why President Trump's last-ditch First Amendment argument has got nothing to do with the actual facts of the case.
He's been impeached for inciting violent insurrection against the government. Incitement to violent insurrection is not protected by free speech. There is no First Amendment defense to impeachment for high crimes and misdemeanors. The idea itself is absurd.
And the whole First Amendment smokescreen is a completely irrelevant distraction from the standard of high crimes and misdemeanors governing a president who has violated his oath of office.
Yet President Trump, we know, has a good way of treating up as down and wrong as right. He tried to pull off the biggest election fraud in American history by overturning the results of the 2020 election, even as he insisted that his own fraud was, in fact, an effort to stop the steal, to stop a fraud, a vast conspiracy that he blamed on local and state officials of both political parties, the media, election officials, the judiciary, federal, state, members of Congress, many others.
Anybody who wouldn't go along with him was part of the conspiracy. He violated his own oath of office by inciting mob violence to prevent Congress from counting the Electoral College votes, as we're assigned to do by the 12th Amendment and the Electoral Count Act, even as he attacked Vice President Pence at a rally for violating his oath of office and going along with an egregious assault on democracy.
Now he argues that the Congress is violating his free speech rights, when it was Donald Trump who incited an insurrectionist attack against us that halted speech and debate on the floor of the House and the Senate during the peaceful transfer of power and that imperiled the very constitutional order that protects freedom of speech in the first place, along with all of our other fundamental rights.
As a matter of law, as a matter of logic, President Trump's brazen attempt to invoke the First Amendment now won't hold up in any way.
The basic flaw, of course, is that it completely ignores the fact that he was president of the United States, a public official. He swears an oath, as president, that nobody else swears. In exchange, he's given greater powers than anybody else in the entire country, maybe on Earth.
He or she promises to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States and our government institutions and our people. And, as we all know, the power we entrust to people in public office, in government office, especially our presidents, comes with special obligations to uphold the laws and the integrity of our republic.
And we all swear that oath.
Now, what if a president publicly -- say a president publicly on a daily basis advocated replacing the Constitution with a totalitarian form of government and urged states to secede from the union and swore an oath of loyalty to a foreign leader or a foreign government?
Well, as a private, you couldn't do anything about people using those words to advocate totalitarianism, to advocate secession from the union, to swear an oath of personal loyalty to a foreign leader or foreign government or country. You couldn't. That's totally protected.
If you tried to prosecute somebody for that as a prosecutor, you would lose. But it is simply inconceivable, unthinkable that a president could do any of these things, get up and swear an oath to foreign governments or leaders, advocate totalitarianism, advocate secession, and not be impeached for it. It's just unthinkable that that could happen. Would that violate their First Amendment rights?
The opposite view pressed here by President Trump's counsel would leave the nation powerless to respond to a president who uses the unmatched power, privilege, and prestige of his or her office, the famous bully pulpit, in ways that risk the ruin of the republic, all for his or her own ambition and corruption and lust for power.
Everyone should be clear, there's nothing remotely exotic about what we're saying. It should be common sense to everybody, common sense about this understanding of the First Amendment as it applies to public servants, cops, firefighters, teachers, everybody across the land.
My daughter, who I mentioned earlier in the trial, she's a teacher in a public school. And courts have said, teachers teach, but if they go off-script and they start advocating totalitarianism, treason, or what have you, they're not living up to the duties of their office as teacher, they can be fired. Everybody knows that.
And it happens all the time, by the way, including to cops and firefighters and people on the front lines. Happens all the time. In fact, it happened countless times to people fired by President Trump for their statements or ideas about things, including on election fraud, not long ago.
There are people in the government who lost their jobs because the president didn't like what they said or what they wrote.
Now, as I mentioned yesterday, and I can't help but repeat it, Justice Scalia got it exactly right on this. He wrote on these cases about how the First Amendment affects people who take on a public office, who take on public employment.
And he summed it up like this. He said: "You can't ride with the cops, but root for the robbers.
"You can't ride with the cops, but root for the robbers." That's what Justice Scalia said.
And when it comes to the peaceful transfer of power to the rule of law, to respecting election outcomes, our president, whoever he or she is, must choose the side of the Constitution, must, and not the side of the insurrection or the coup or anybody who's coming against us.
And if he or she chooses the wrong side, I'm sorry, there's nothing in the First Amendment or anywhere else in the Constitution that can excuse your betrayal of your oath of office.
It's not a free speech question.
But there's more. Let's play make-believe and pretend that President Trump were just a run-of-the-mill private citizen, as my colleague Mr. Neguse said, just another guy at the rally, who's just expressing a deeply unpopular opinion, because we shouldn't overlook the fact that, while there were thousands of people in that violent mob, they represent a tiny, tiny, tiny part of less than 1 percent of the population, and the vast majority of the American people reject the kind of seditious mob violence that we saw on January 6.
But let's say that he were just another guy in the crowd that day. It is a bedrock principle that nobody, nobody can incite a riot. First Amendment doesn't protect it. Key case, Brandenburg vs. Ohio. There's no First Amendment protection for speech directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and likely to produce such action.
And for all the reasons you have heard, based on the voluminous, comprehensive, totally unrefuted, and we think irrefutable -- but we're eager to hear our colleagues -- based on all the evidence you have heard and for all the reasons you have heard, that definition of proscribable speech fits President Trump's conduct perfectly. This is a classic case of incitement.
And you don't have to take my word for it. The 144 free speech lawyers Mr. Neguse mentioned, who include many of the nation's most dedicated, most uncompromising free speech advocates, unlike Mr. Trump, of course, but these people agree that there is a powerful case for conviction under the Brandenburg standard, even if the president of the United States were just to be treated like some guy in the crowd.
And they add, the First Amendment is no defense to the article of impeachment leveled against the former president. And I mention the Brandenburg standard not because it applies here. Of course, it doesn't, since this is an impeachment. It's not a criminal trial, and there's no risk of jail time.
Let's be clear about that. The president doesn't go to jail for one week, one day, one hour, or one minute based on impeachment and conviction and disqualification from further office.
Rather, I mention it to emphasize that absolutely nobody in America would be protected by the First Amendment if they did all the things that Donald Trump did. Nobody made Donald Trump run for president and swear an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution on January 20, 2017.
But when he did, by virtue of swearing that oath and entering this high office, he took upon himself a duty to affirmatively take care that our laws would be faithfully executed under his leadership, all of the laws, the laws against federal destruction of property, all of the laws.
We expected him, in everything he said and everything he did, to protect and preserve and defend our constitutional system, including the separation of powers. But, instead, he betrayed us. And as Representative Cheney said, it was the greatest betrayal of a presidential oath in the history of the United States of America, the greatest.
As I mentioned yesterday, President Trump is not even close to the proverbial citizen who falsely shouts fire in a crowded theater. He is like the now proverbial municipal fire chief who incites a mob to go set the theater on fire, and not only refuses to put out the fire, but encourages the mob to keep going as the blaze spreads.
We would hold that fire chief accountable. We would forbid him from that job ever again. And that's exactly what must happen here. There are hundreds of millions of citizens who can be president. Donald Trump has disqualified himself. And you must disqualify him, too.
Just like the fire chief who sends the mob, President Trump perverted his office by attacking the very Constitution he was sworn to uphold. In fact, that's one reason why this free speech rhetoric at this trial is so insidious. His conduct represented the most devastating and dangerous assault by a government official on our Constitution, including the First Amendment, in living memory.
We wouldn't have free speech or any other rights if we didn't have the rule of law, peaceful transfer of power, and a democracy where the outcome of the election is accepted by the candidate who lost.
We had it all the way up until 2020. And the central purposes of the First Amendment are democratic self-government and civic truth- seeking, two purposes that President Trump sought to undermine, not advance, in the course of his conduct, as we have definitively demonstrated at this trial.
The violence he incited threatened all of our freedoms. It threatened the very constitutional order that protects free speech, due process, religious free exercise, the right to vote, equal protection, and the many other fundamental rights that we all treasure and cherish as citizens of the United States.
The First Amendment does not create some superpower immunity from impeachment for a president who attacks the Constitution in word and deed, while rejecting the outcome of an election he happened to lose. If anything, President Trump's conduct was an assault on the First Amendment and equal protection rights that millions of Americans exercised when they voted last year, often under extraordinarily difficult and arduous circumstances.
Remember, the First Amendment protects the right of the people to speak about the great issues of our day, to debate during elections, and then to participate in politics by selecting the people who will be our leaders.
And, remember, in American democracy, those of us who aspire and attain a public office are nothing but the servants of the people, nothing, not the masters of the people. We have no kings here. We have no czars. Here, the people govern, President Ford said, the people.
The most important words of the Constitution are the first three, "We, the people."
But all this, all this means little if a president who dislikes the election results can incite violence to try to replace and usurp the will of the people, as expressed in the states. He ignored the judicial branch of government, and then run over the legislative branch of government with a mob.
President Trump's high crimes and misdemeanors sought to nullify the political rights and sovereignty of the American people, our right as a people to deliberate, to form opinions, to persuade each other to vote, and then to decide who our president will be, the sovereignty of the people.
That's an attack on the First Amendment, I would say. In addition, President Trump's actions were a direct attack on our own freedom of speech here in the Capitol. Members of Congress are sent here to speak for their constituents.
That's why we have our little mini free speech clause, the Speech and Debate Clause. That's literally our job. We come here and represent the views of our people.
The attack that President Trump incited forced members of Congress to stop speaking and to literally flee for our lives and the lives of our staffs and our families. The man whose statements and actions halted speech in Congress, speech related to the peaceful transfer of power, has no right, no right to claim that free speech principles prevent this body from exercising its constitutional powers to hold him accountable for his offense against us.
You know, Voltaire said, famously -- and our founders knew it -- I may disagree with everything you say, but I will defend with my life your right to say it.
President Trump says, because I disagree with everything you say, I will overturn your popular election and incite insurrection against the government.
And we might take a moment to consider another Voltaire insight which a high school teacher of mine told me when a student asked, when was the beginning of the Enlightenment? And she said, I think it was when Voltaire said, anyone who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.
There's no merit whatsoever to any of the free speech rhetoric, the empty free speech rhetoric you may hear from President Trump's lawyers. He attacked the First Amendment. He attacked the Constitution. He betrayed his oath of office. Presidents don't have any right to do that.
It's forbidden, so that our republic may survive. The people are far more important than that. The precedent he asks you to create, which would allow any future president to do precisely what he did, is self- evidently dangerous.
And so there can be no doubt, none at all, the president lacks any First Amendment excuse or defense or immunity. He incited a violent insurrection against our government. He must be convicted.