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Maryland Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin was grieving on the morning of Jan. 6, having just experienced the most painful of tragedies: burying his 25 year-old-son, Tommy, a gifted student at Harvard Law School, who had taken his own life on New Year’s Eve after a bout of deep depression.
But this was the day Congress was to officially certify Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory — and with scores of Republican lawmakers vowing to object, Raskin, a constitutional law professor, had a job to do: He had been slated to help lead the Democratic response in a crisis that threatened to upend American democracy.
“Daddy, don’t go. I want you to stay home,” his daughter, Tabitha, pleaded, fearing possible violence. Raskin was insistent. “I swore a constitutional oath,” he told his daughter. “I’ve got to go.” He invited Tabitha to come with him. “We wanted to be together,” Raskin said in an interview on the Yahoo News “Skullduggery” podcast. “I wanted to be close to her, and she wanted to be close to me.”
Raskin’s courage was tested that day when a furious mob of Trump supporters assaulted the U.S. Capitol, breaking through barriers and smashing windows. A Capitol police officer was killed, and members of Congress and staffers, huddled together for hours in windowless rooms, were exposed to COVID-19 by Republican colleagues who refused entreaties to wear masks; at least five House members have since tested positive.
And Raskin, in turn, has been designated by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the honor — and burden — of leading the team of House managers who will prosecute President Trump in his upcoming impeachment trial in the Senate.
Raskin, wearing a torn black ribbon on his lapel as a sign of mourning, received an emotional standing ovation on the House floor that day as he rose to rebut Republican efforts to challenge the slate of electors from Arizona and other swing states won by Biden. But as the mob closed in on the House chamber, he and other members, were rushed out by security, first into a room where, he says, they donned gas masks to protect against chemical sprays while the crowd outside the doors screamed threats. “You could hear people shouting and yelling, you could hear, ‘Hang Mike Pence!’” recalled Raskin. “You could hear people screaming, ‘Where’s Nancy?’ You could hear people basically trying to barrel down the doors, and then they told us we were going to be shepherded out.
“It was complete mayhem. It was nightmarish. People were crying.”
But foremost on his mind: the welfare of his daughter. As he and other members were soon escorted to safety, Raskin and Tabitha were separated. She and Raskin’s son-in-law, Hank Kronick, the husband of another daughter, had accompanied him to the chamber that day. When the attack began, they barricaded themselves inside House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer’s office. Terrified, they hid under a desk as the rioters slammed repeatedly on the door, trying to break in. Raskin’s chief of staff, Julie Tagen, who was with them, grabbed a poker from the fireplace, ready to fight back and wield it against any rioters who made it in.
So for nearly an hour, Raskin, a week after the death of his son, feared for the lives of his daughter and son-in-law. They all survived, but an emboldened Raskin is now more determined than ever to uphold his constitutional duties and hold President Trump accountable for what took place.
“Really, all of us could have died at the hands of that violent insurrectionist white supremacist mob,” he said. “And I’ve got to tell you, when I finally sent Tabitha and Hank back home to be with the rest of my family … I said, ‘Tabitha, I promise you it’ll never be like this in the Capitol again.’”
In many ways, Raskin is uniquely qualified to lead the House case against the president. More than three years ago, Raskin was warning that the unstable behavior of Donald Trump could threaten the country and provoke a constitutional crisis. He focused then on the 25h Amendment, sponsoring legislation to create a body that would allow Congress, and not just the Cabinet, to initiate the process that could remove the president on the grounds that he is unable to fill the duties of his office. “In case of emergency, smash glass,” he told Yahoo News at the time.
The legislation never got far. At that time, the threats Raskin warned about seemed remote. But this month, the impact of Trump’s actions became frighteningly real. “As Congresswoman [Liz] Cheney put it, ‘He summoned the mob, he assembled the mob and he lit the match that led to that confrontation,’” he said. “None of this would've happened without Donald Trump.”
Even while still mourning Tommy’s death, Raskin is immersed in the details of building a case that he and the other House managers will present to the Senate in a trial that could begin as early as this week, within days after Trump leaves office. But what kind of trial, and how long it will take, are unanswered questions. “We’re not going to test anybody’s patience,” he said. “This is not going to be an affair that goes on for a long, long time.”
But he is adamant that the story of Trump’s offenses will be heard. “We’re going to try and tell a very cogent story about how this president mobilized all the resources in his office to undermine and thwart and nullify this election,” he said. “I think we will end up with tremendous bipartisan convergence around that factual conclusion, and it will lead irresistibly to a verdict of guilty.”
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