Trump impeachment trial confronts memories of Capitol siege

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An honor guard carries an urn with the cremated remains of U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick and a folded American flag up the steps of the U.S Capitol to lie in honor in the Rotunda, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021, in Washington. (Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool photo via AP)

WASHINGTON – The impeachment trial of Donald Trump is more than an effort to convict the former president of inciting an insurrection. It's a chance for a public accounting and remembrance of the worst attack on the U.S. Capitol in 200 years.

In the month since the Jan. 6 siege by a pro-Trump mob, encouraged by his call to “fight like hell” to overturn the election, defenders of the former president say it’s time to move on.

Trump is long gone, ensconced at his Mar-a-Lago club, and Democrat Joe Biden is the new president in the White House. With the trial set to begin Tuesday, and a supermajority of senators unlikely to convict him on the single charge, the question arises: Why bother?

Yet for many lawmakers who were witnesses, onlookers and survivors of that bloody day, it’s not over.

One by one, lawmakers have begun sharing personal accounts of their experiences of that harrowing afternoon. Some were in the Capitol fleeing for safety, while others watched in disbelief from adjacent offices. They tell of hiding behind doors, arming themselves with office supplies and fearing for their lives as the rioters stalked the halls, pursued political leaders and trashed the domed icon of democracy.

“I never imagined what was coming,” said Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., recounted in a speech on the House floor.

Memory is a powerful tool, and their remembrances, alongside the impeachment proceedings, will preserve a public record of the attack for the Congressional Record. Five people died and more than 100 people have been arrested in a nationwide FBI roundup of alleged ringleaders and participants, a dragnet unlike many in recent times. While that is sufficient for some, assured the perpetrators will be brought to justice, others say the trial will force Congress, and the country, to consider accountability.

Todd Shaw, an associate professor at University of South Carolina, said the founders envisioned a check on the presidency and the trial provides a moment that will demarcate whether American democracy makes a course correction and says “things have gone too far” — or not, he said.