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Saturday’s session of former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial started with a brouhaha about witnesses and concluded with a vote, but it didn’t end all that much.
Sure, it finished after all senators proclaimed the former president guilty or not guilty. While 57 out of 100 voted to convict Trump, he was acquitted because two-thirds was needed.
But the result was less than a vindication. It was the most bipartisan presidential impeachment trial vote ever and the first time since 1868 that more than half the senators deemed a president guilty. Although Republican senators were divided, very few defended what Trump did.
And it followed a remarkably revealing trial.
The House managers’ presentations were a mix of polish, passion and utterly terrifying details. Earlier, their 80-page brief had laid out some of the horrors of Jan. 6 and what led up to it, and looked closely at the history and text of the impeachment clause to explain why it was constitutional to impeach a former office holder.
What they showed exposed the incredible danger of the insurrection and revealed Trump’s incitement and dereliction of duty.
Some Capitol invaders were bent on killing Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi — both in the line of succession — and others. If not for the bravery of the undersupported police, the insurrectionists could have succeeded.
If the crowd had murdered Pence, House members and senators, what would have happened with the presidency and American democracy itself? Our very republic was in danger.
So, putting aside political implications, what comes next?
First, Trump may face additional accountability mechanisms.
Criticizing Trump for inspiring the mob’s “lawlessness and violence” and not responding to pleas for help as “loyal allies frantically called the administration,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell noted that “former presidents are not immune from criminal prosecutions and civil proceedings.” (McConnell voted to acquit because Trump isn’t in office but had refused to receive the articles when Trump was president.)
It’s unclear, but Congress might be able to apply Section 3 of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, a post-Civil War provision that prevents some “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” from holding office.
Second, we need to know more about what happened. Congress can hold hearings.
However, we really need another body to investigate and to put together a coherent narrative. This should be modeled on the 9/11 Commission, which had bipartisan leadership, an appropriate budget and an excellent professional staff. It issued a thorough, readable report.
Such a commission can hear from witnesses over time in a way that wouldn’t have worked for the Senate trial and wouldn’t have made a difference for those voting to acquit because they thought the Senate didn’t have jurisdiction over a former office holder.
President Joe Biden should consult with congressional leadership to name commission members. This should be supported by the entire Maine congressional delegation and have widespread support in Congress.
Third, in response to the horrific effort to thwart the people’s will and the peaceful transfer of power, we should further support voting rights and democracy.
But not all voter suppression then or now has been carried out violently. And, as Michael Waldman observes, Trump’s “same Big Lie is the sole justification for the new wave of restrictive laws being readied in states across the country. Since January, state legislators have introduced 165 bills in 33 state legislatures making it harder for people, primarily people of color, to vote.”
To ensure access to the ballot, Congress should pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the For the People Act. So that all citizens are entitled to vote, statehood should be offered to Puerto Rico, the territories and Washington, D.C. If these are filibustered by the Senate minority, the filibuster should be ended to defend the basic principles of our republic.
With these steps, we can move beyond the horrors of Jan. 6 and toward a more perfect union.
Amy Fried is chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views are her own and do not represent those of any group with which she is affiliated.