The phrase “crime of the century” has been used to describe the most enduring, sensationalist scandals that rocked our nation — the kidnapping of the Charles Lindbergh baby, the Son of Sam murders, the OJ Simpson case and the JonBenet Ramsey murder.
These were the crimes and tragedies that captivated America because they were so horrifying, so unbelievable, so awful, we could not look away.
The Capitol insurrection on January 6, 2021, is sadly — but easily — added to that canon.
Nothing made that clearer than Wednesday’s presentation at former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial, where the case against him unfolded more like a true-crime documentary than a staid political trial.
The photos, the videos, the phone calls, the affidavits — some of which had never been shared publicly before — were chilling, gut-wrenching, horrifying and at times even nauseating. It was a far cry from the usual testimonies of who-knew-what-when.
From the bloodcurdling calls from Capitol police, begging for backup as an angry, violent mob breached the Capitol, to the stunning footage of Officer Eugene Goodman diverting Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah away from an imminent threat of danger, to video of Vice President Mike Pence being hurriedly evacuated, and affidavits revealing rioters “would have killed Mike Pence if given the chance,” it is all unspeakably awful and somehow even worse than we knew.
It was a meticulous and forensic piecing together of a puzzle by House managers that separated this impeachment from all the others in modern history. In stark contrast, this one wasn’t just about obstruction of justice or abuse of power — though it could be argued it’s that, too — but a violent crime scene at one of our nation’s most hallowed citadels. Death and destruction.
If Americans couldn’t fully wrap their minds around the arcana of a phone call with the Ukrainian President or the complexities of Russian collusion, or follow the quibbling protests over what the meaning of the word “is” is, they could certainly follow the tragic events from the summer of 2020 up to January 6, which led to five people, including a police officer, losing their lives.
House managers laid them out methodically and holistically, revealing a deeply sinister, calculated plot to overthrow the government; overturn the election’ harm or even kill Pence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other lawmakers — and assault any police officers who’d get in their way.
They brought brace knuckles, stun guns and other weapons. They went “hunting” in the halls looking for lawmakers to hurt. They bragged afterward about how far they got.
They are the perpetrators of these awful crimes. But through all the evidence, the timeline, the visuals, the indisputable facts, it’s overwhelmingly clear that the instigator is Trump himself.
There’s no other way to see it, other than, as House impeachment manager Rep. Madeleine Dean argued Wednesday, the riots “never would have happened but for Donald Trump.”
The dots were meticulously connected, linking Trump’s incitement of his supporters in the months leading up to the November election to the insurrection at the Capitol. There was Trump in his own words, telling them to fight. There were his supporters in theirs, telling him they would.
As my CNN colleague Josh Campbell tweeted, “I’ve never seen a terrorist attack clearly captured on so many videos. This is so incredibly damning.”
With everything we now know — and we don’t even know it all yet — it’s clear this trial is not about politics. It’s not about Republicans or Democrats.
It’s not about free speech, and whether we should lock someone up for saying things we don’t like.
It’s about the near-overthrow of our government, the deaths of five people, the assault on our law enforcement, the unimaginable danger our elected officials, their staffs and in some cases their families were put in, and the clear-as-day connection to the most powerful man in the world, the President of the United States. It’s nothing less than the “crime of the century.”