Jamie Raskin: Lead Trump impeachment trial manager was made for this moment

Maryland congressman a sympathetic figure even among GOP colleagues

Griffin Connolly
Monday 08 February 2021 14:10 GMT
Donald Trump could be criminally liable for endangering Mike Pence, says Liz Cheney

Jamie Raskin has been preparing for this moment his whole life.

Back in the summer of 2018, just over a year into his first term in Washington, the Maryland Democratic congressman skipped off the House floor into the adjoining Speaker's Lobby where reporters routinely mill about seeking impromptu interviews with the nation's most powerful men and women.

A newcomer, mild-mannered and distinctive in appearance for his frizzy black tonsure, Mr Raskin drifted lazily towards the northeast elevator nose-deep in a hefty paperback. Eyes locked on the pages, he pinballed his way through the throngs of journalists and lawmakers.

So absorbed in his volume was the congressman that he hardly looked up when he bumped into a reporter passing the ladies' restroom near a side marble staircase that has served for decades as a quick getaway for members eager to duck questions on the trot back to their offices after votes.

Mr Raskin had no such use for the staircase in those days — a staunchly liberal freshman from a safe Democratic seat in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC, the Capitol Hill media then had little use for his thoughts.

"What's that you're reading, congressman?" asked the reporter, also in just his second year on Capitol Hill.

Mr Raskin peeled his eyes from the pages and smiled a bit sheepishly.

"Oh this?" he said, clearly surprised someone was addressing him.

He turned the cover over in his hand. It was some recently published historical tome arguing something-or-other about the framers' intentions when they penned the Constitution, the latest scholarship on what has been, and forever will be, a foundational topic bandied about in fierce debate here in the halls of Congress.

This was a full 12 months and change before House Democrats would launch an impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump for undermining US national security policy in Ukraine in an effort to pressure the country's new president into smearing Joe Biden, his domestic political rival.

Mr Raskin, the Harvard Law School graduate who later taught constitutional law at American University for several years, launched into Professor Mode. Eagerly unpacking the author's premise, he was oblivious to the fact he'd locked the young reporter in conversation jail.

"Fascinating stuff, don't you think?" he concluded.

This was Mr Raskin's idea of pleasure reading.

The reporter nodded agreeably. They exchanged names as the congressman stepped into the elevator, almost certainly forgetting the encounter the moment the doors slid shut.

If anyone can go toe-to-toe against the Trump defence team about the constitutionality of this week's Senate impeachment trial, it's Raskin, whose 58 years on this earth have been a lifelong study of America's four-page founding document.

That's why on 12 January, the third-term Maryland congressman was named Democrats' lead impeachment manager, charged with prosecuting the case that Donald Trump incited a bloody insurrection at the US Capitol on 6 January as Congress was certifying Joe Biden's electoral victory.

Mr Raskin, a member of the House Judiciary Committee that traditionally oversees impeachments, began drafting the article against Mr Trump, "Incitement to Insurrection," the same night of the chaos at the Capitol.

Within a week, the House passed that impeachment article on a bipartisan basis, with 10 Republicans, including House GOP Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney, voting in lockstep with the entire Democratic majority.

Mr Raskin differs from recent lead impeachment managers in that he is a largely sympathetic figure even among Republicans, who regard the Maryland Democrat as a "delightful human being," Oklahoma GOP Congressman Tom Cole told the New York Times in January.

Mr Raskin has been publicly grieving the recent loss of his son, Tommy, 25, who committed suicide this past New Year's Eve.

"Please look after each other, the animals and the global poor for me," Tommy wrote to his parents in a final letter, the congressman divulged in a heart-wrenching blog post last month.

The Raskins buried Tommy's remains on 5 January.

"I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to live up to those instructions," Mr Raskin later said of his son's suicide note.

The day after the funeral service, Mr Raskin and dozens of his colleagues were forced to scramble for cover on the floor of the US House as a pro-Trump mob descended on the legislature, smashing windows, smearing excrement on walls, and parading Confederate flags through the nation's sacred hallways.

The grieving father's in-the-moment response to the mayhem appears in the Democrats’ statement of facts from their pre-trial brief. It is gutting.

As rioters stampeded through the building, Mr Raskin “asked his chief of staff to protect his visiting daughter and son-in-law ‘with her life’ – which she did by standing guard at the door clutching a fire iron while his family hid under a table”, the impeachment managers write.

Mr Raskin and the eight other impeachment managers will be delivering an emotional appeal for their case in addition to the legal one, as the riot has left hundreds of people on Capitol Hill traumatised – from lawmakers, staffers and police officers to journalists and maintenance workers.

On the doorstep of the impeachment trial, Mr Trump's lawyers and Republican senators have mostly resorted to arguments against its process, claiming it is unconstitutional to hold an impeachment trial for a president who no longer holds office, merits of the case be damned.

Mr Raskin's brief from 2 February enumerates multiple cases throughout US history where a former official has been tried.

The memo also highlights the obvious loopholes for justice permitted by a reading of the Constitution that prohibits post-service trials.

“The Constitution does not allow officials to escape responsibility for committing impeachable offenses by resigning when caught, or by waiting until the end of their term to abuse power, or by concealing misconduct until their service concludes,” the Democratic memo argues.

What’s more, it points out, the language of the Constitution plainly states in Article I, Section 3, Clause 6: “The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments.”

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