Jamie Raskin has always recognized that the real danger of letting Donald Trump off the hook for inciting the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, has less to do with Trump than it does with the future of the United States as a constitutional republic.

It is this understanding that makes the U.S. representative from Maryland an essential member of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Assault on the United States Capitol, just as he was the essential figure in the impeachment trial that won 57 votes for the conviction of the most lawless president in American history.

Raskin will be in Madison Friday, Sept. 16, for a Capital Times Idea Fest discussion of the fight for accountability. The session is at 7 p.m. in Shannon Hall on the UW-Madison campus. It will be a rare chance to go deep with one of the greatest constitutional scholars ever to serve in Congress.

Raskin’s brilliance was fully on display in February of 2021, when he shredded the argument by Trump’s lawyers during the Senate impeachment trial that the former president should get a break because he committed his crimes in the last weeks of his presidency.

“This,” he said, “would create a brand-new ‘January exception’ to the Constitution of the United States of America. A January exception. Everyone can see immediately why this is so dangerous. It's an invitation to the president to take his best shot at anything he may want to do on his way out the door, including using violent means to lock that door. To hang onto the Oval Office at all costs and to block the peaceful transfer of power. In other words, the January exception is an invitation to our founders’ worst nightmare.”

Raskin’s argument had the benefit of being true. Yet what made it so powerful was the congressman's determination to infuse it with history, logic and passion for the rule of law.

“If we buy this radical argument that President Trump’s lawyers advance, we risk allowing Jan. 6 to become our future. What will that mean for America? Think about it. What will the January exception mean to future generations if you grant it? I'll show you,” he said, displaying a video of Trump inciting his supporters to “fight like hell” to overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election.

“Senators,” Raskin said, “the president was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives on Jan. 13 for doing that. You ask what a high crime and misdemeanor is under our Constitution? That’s a high crime and misdemeanor. If that's not an impeachable offense, then there is no such thing. If the president's arguments for a January exception are upheld, then even if everyone agrees that he's culpable for these events, even if the evidence proves, as we think it definitively does, that the president incited a violent insurrection on the day Congress met to finalize the presidential election, he would have you believe there is absolutely nothing the Senate can do about it. No trial. No facts. He wants you to decide that the Senate is powerless at that point. That can't be right.”

Jamie Raskin won that argument, securing the greatest bipartisan vote for the conviction of an impeached president in American history. Seven Republicans joined 50 Democrats in voting to convict Trump. That was not enough to secure the 67-vote super majority required to formally hold the 45th president to account.

But Raskin is still at it with the Jan. 6 committee. And history will recognize that he has defended the Constitution as ably as any member of Congress in the long history of the republic.

John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. jnichols@captimes.com and @NicholsUprising. 

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