Former President Donald J. Trump would have been convicted in last week’s impeachment trial if senators had been allowed to cast ballots in private, according to one of the House Democrats who prosecuted the case.
“Would he be convicted on a secret ballot? Hell yeah. Without question,” Del. Stacey E. Plaskett (D-USVI) told Zenger News in her first formal post-trial interview. Plaskett was among the House impeachment managers and spoke to the full Senate during the trial. She blamed Trump’s acquittal on senators making political calculations before deciding whether to support or condemn him.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) could have mustered enough Republican votes to convict Trump, said Plaskett, but made his own calculation about hanging on to his leadership position. Seven Republicans crossed the aisle and voted against Trump, well short of the 17 needed to form a supermajority of two-thirds.
“He could have brought 17 over,” said Plaskett, “but I think he knew that he needed to bring over more than half of his caucus, because without half of his caucus he would not be able to maintain his minority leadership.” That would be 25, plus McConnell himself.
Plaskett told Zenger that McConnell is “obsessed with maintaining his place of power.” He doesn’t like Trump, she said, but saw the former president as “a means to an end.”
Reached on Monday, McConnell communications director David Popp had no comment but referred Zenger to McConnell’s floor speech after the trial concluded — in which he argued the impeachment itself was unconstitutional even though Trump’s behavior was worthy of condemnation.
“We have no power to convict and disqualify a former officeholder who is now a private citizen,” McConnell said then, moments after condemning Trump for mounting “the campaign of disinformation and rage that provoked” the deadly Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Trump, now uniquely acquitted in two impeachment trials, is free to run for office again. But Plaskett said House Democrats achieved a key goal anyway.
“I think that we have destroyed the reputation of Donald Trump — at least that’s what I hope we have done — by showing his absolute betrayal of not only his oath of office, but his trust as a citizen of our nation,” she said.
Plaskett also said Trump had a specific purpose in egging on his supporters on Jan. 6 from the opposite end of Pennsylvania Avenue: “to try and assassinate a vice president, simply to maintain power. I think that’s what people saw. That’s what I hope they saw.” Then-Vice President Mike Pence had said he would not stand in the way of Congress certifying the election of President Joseph R. Biden Jr., enraging Trump.
What followed, she said, was the tail end of Trump’s strategy to hold on to the presidency “by any means necessary,” including by causing Pence’s death. Plaskett said Trump “had run out of nonviolent means” in the weeks following the 2020 election.
“Let’s think about what would have happened if what he [Trump] wanted to do had transpired, right?” said Plaskett. “So what if the vice president had been killed? What if the speaker had been harmed? Would Donald Trump have been able to declare martial law? Would he still be sitting in the White House now? Who knows, right?”
Trump spokesman Jason Miller did not respond to texts and phone messages seeking comment.
Plaskett believed while she was speaking at the Senate rostrum that she was reaching some specific Republican senators, and might sway them. Ultimately none of them voted to convict the former president.
“I can recall a couple of points in time looking at them and seeing senators nodding in agreement with me, shaking their head in disgust, and even some tearing up. And all of those that I just said did that were not the ones who voted with us,” she said. “I don’t trust them, so it didn’t really move me.”
(Edited by David Martosko and Kristen Butler, Visuals Produced by Claire Swift, Jorge Diaz and Allison Itz, Director of Photography, Todd Nash)
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