SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:
When House Democrats begin their arguments in the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin will be leading the way. The former constitutional law professor is preparing to argue before the Senate that the rioting crowd that overtook the Capitol on January 6 did so at the direction and instigation of the former president. NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell has this report.
KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Impeachment is rare in American history, but Jamie Raskin says this impeachment is rarer still. The evidence played out on live television and was a direct attack on the same senators who will serve as jurors in the trial.
JAMIE RASKIN: There's nothing abstract or conceptual or academic about this high crime and misdemeanor for any member of Congress.
SNELL: Raskin will lead a team of nine Democrats tasked with arguing the single article of impeachment that Trump incited the violent mob insurrection on the Capitol. Their greatest challenge will be to sway the votes of some Republicans who say it is unconstitutional to impeach a president after they've left office. Raskin says if the violation happened when someone was in office, impeachment is still the remedy.
RASKIN: The Constitution applies on your first day of office, it applies on your last day in office and everything in between.
SNELL: Raskin says it will be Democrats' job to clearly connect the evidence. They'll argue that Trump's speech before the riot and his efforts to overturn election results directly led to what Raskin says was a traumatic attack. For Raskin, that day's events were an added layer of trauma. Days before the mob reached the Capitol, Raskin's 25-year-old son took his own life after struggling for years with depression. Raskin was grieving that loss when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on him to lead this impeachment.
RASKIN: I mean, it's a solemn and awesome responsibility, and I feel the weight of it all of the time.
SNELL: Raskin says he took all of that into consideration and talked it through with his wife and daughters.
RASKIN: I think that we all knew it was something that I needed to see us through.
SNELL: It's a decision that his colleagues and those who know him well say is unsurprising.
STEPHEN WERMIEL: It is taking the tragedy of the loss of his son and the tragedy of the attack on the Capitol and putting them together in a way that says, we have work to do; we have to carry on.
SNELL: That's Stephen Wermiel. He taught constitutional law with Raskin at American University in Washington. Raskin is obviously a Democrat, and his progressive politics influence his worldview.
WERMIEL: But I think he has the capacity to make the arguments principled arguments rather than political arguments.
SNELL: Florida Democrat Val Demings was on the impeachment team for Democrats last year. She and Raskin have worked closely together on the Judiciary Committee, and she is confident that nobody can make a constitutional argument like Raskin.
VAL DEMINGS: Jamie really believes in this country. He loves this country. And he loves the U.S. Constitution and what it stands for.
SNELL: She says this trial will be different than the one she helped argue. She doesn't expect senators will be fiddling with fidget spinners and struggling to stay focused. But that does not mean it will be easy to convince 17 Republicans to vote with Democrats to convict Trump. Raskin says this impeachment is about the important precedent of following through with a constitutional duty and because the nation needs to heal.
RASKIN: I think for the country to process this trauma and get through it, we have to remember it. And I think that's true in constitutional terms, it's true in political terms, and it's true in psychological and emotional terms.
SNELL: Democrats will spend the next two weeks finalizing their arguments, which Raskin will lead when the Senate trial begins in early February.
Kelsey Snell, NPR News, Washington.
(SOUNDBITE OF FLORIAN HOEFNER GROUP'S "THE LONG RUN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.