Rep. Jamie Raskin—who represents the 8th District of Maryland and was the lead House impeachment manager in former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial—spoke with Fordham Law students and faculty at a webinar, “Conversation with Congressman Jamie Raskin on Litigating Impeachment.”
“The intelligence, perseverance, empathy, and sensitivity of Jamie Raskin was on display for the entire world to see,” Professor Jerry Goldfeder said in his opening remarks before Raskin answered questions from the audience. “And I’m not embarrassed to say that I hung on his every word. The characteristics that he has are a rare combination in a person, let alone in a public official.”
Arguing the Case
Raskin delivered a sharp closing argument on Feb. 13 after five days of back-and-forth arguments, as he and other House impeachment managers contended to convict Trump in the Senate. “The president said, ‘Well Kevin [McCarthy], I guess these people’—meaning the mobsters, the insurrectionists—’are more upset about the election than you are,'” Raskin said on the floor of the Senate on Feb. 13, referencing a call that had been made on Jan. 6, when a mob of Trump supporters breached the United States Capitol in hopes of overturning the election.
He continued before the Senate, saying, “That conduct is obviously part and parcel of the constitutional offense that he was impeached for, namely incitement to insurrection, that is continuing incitement to the insurrection.”
In the end, the Senate acquitted Trump on the impeachment charge of inciting an insurrection. Only seven Republicans voted to convict. Seventeen Republican votes would have been needed for the two-thirds majority required for conviction.
Regardless of the odds that the House could come out victorious with a conviction, Raskin said he thought he was going to win up until the moment of the vote. “For the sake of accuracy that Donald Trump beat the constitutional spread of two-thirds, there’s no doubt about that. But, it also was a bicameral, bipartisan commanding majority of members, both in the House and the Senate, who determined as a matter of constitutional fact that the President incited violent insurrection to overthrow the 2020 election and the union and to install himself as president,” Raskin told the Fordham Law audience. “I think that even if you just look at the 57-to-43 [vote], he was convicted in the court of public opinion. He was convicted in the court of history.”
Raskin added, “What I had underestimated and understated … was the extent to which Donald Trump has seized and consolidated control over the Republican Party.”
Looking at the Future of Impeachment Proceedings
Professor Andrew Kent asked Raskin if he agreed with a claim that impeachment should not be thought of as a “tool of accountability for a president because of the inability to convict in the Senate.” Raskin disagreed.
“We have to keep impeachment alive at the very least, for those purposes, because that is for real,” Raskin said after explaining that impeached individuals who have been previously convicted were federal judges and officials, not presidents. “I’m not quite so despondent and dark about the whole thing. Again, I think 57 to 43 is a pretty decisive repudiation of Donald Trump, and I think that it has turned him into a political pariah in the country, not in the Republican Party.”
Raskin continued, saying that Section Three of the 14th Amendment—which says that anybody who engages in insurrection and rebellion against the government and has sworn an oath of office to the Constitution can never serve in federal office again—is something that needs to continue to be pursued in the future.
Professor Jed Shugerman inquired about the “slippery slope problem” that that framework presents, given the original meanings and historical contexts of the words ‘insurrection’ and ‘rebellion.’
Raskin concurred, saying when “high crimes and misdemeanors” were written into the Constitution, federal law did not yet exist. “If inciting a violent insurrection against the union to overthrow an election and keep yourself in office is not an impeachable offense, what is?” Raskin rebutted. “I don’t run away from that at all. It’s never happened before because no other president ever dreamed of going that far.”
Raskin’s Words of Wisdom
In closing, Raskin offered some parting advice to the Fordham Law students. “Elections call on parties to articulate programs and to give us a competitive dynamic,” he said after explaining political parties’ purposes. “I do think that we have a responsibility to try and lift ourselves up just a couple of centimeters above just thinking in partisan terms.”
“All of us have to try to keep in mind some notion of constitutional patriotism that we have some loyalty to what the Constitution says about elections and rights and so on—beyond whatever is going to give short-term political advantage to our party,” Raskin continued. “But, it’s a complicated set of calculations that the people have to keep in mind. It’s not always easy.”