In his role as the lead prosecutor in President Trump’s second impeachment trial, Representative Jamie Raskin ’79, a former editor of The Augur Bit, did his alma mater proud.
Over the course of a weeklong trial in the Senate chamber, Raskin excelled in the simultaneous roles of constitutional scholar, team captain and impassioned orator. He balanced intellectual rigor with emotional force, thorough legal arguments with intimate anecdotes, gravitas to match the seriousness of the House’s charge of “incitement of insurrection” with personability towards the jurors he sought to convince—all in the wake of his son’s devastating death.
Throughout the trial, Raskin embodied the best of GDS’ values—speaking empathetically to those with whom one disagrees, employing arguments to persuade, caring passionately about our democracy and our future. He also exemplified many of the beliefs that we, as keepers of the Bit like he once was, strive to realize, such as the power of truth and storytelling.
His work and that of his eight fellow impeachment managers resulted in the most bipartisan Senate conviction vote of an American president in history, persuading seven Republicans to vote “guilty” and several others, including leader Mitch McConnell, to acknowledge the validity of most of the House’s case.
According to an analysis by The Washington Post, Raskin, who holds the highest office in American government that anyone molded by a GDS education has ever attained, was far and away the foremost speaker during the trial. He spoke more than 26 thousand words over five days, more than double the cumulative word count of any other participant, including the presiding officer, Senator Patrick Leahy, and all of Trump’s lawyers.
Some of Raskin’s most poignant words came on the first day of the proceedings, when he defended the constitutionality of holding a trial of a former president. In the words of The New York Times, his emotional speech “had senators sitting rapt.”
He described having brought relatives to the Capitol on Jan. 6 only a day after burying his son Thomas, who had tragically committed suicide. Raskin said that after a terrifying day, he’d told his daughter Tabitha Raskin ’15 that her next time on Capitol Hill would be a better experience.
Her response? “Dad, I don’t want to come back to the Capitol.” Speaking on the Senate floor, Raskin could barely hold back tears. His sheer humanity shined through; it was just what the moment called for.
Raskin is the only GDS graduate ever to serve in Congress. Having once excelled at history in the school’s old MacArthur Boulevard high school building, he was elected in 2016 to represent Maryland’s eighth congressional district, a strangely shaped zone encompassing some of the suburbs where a large portion of GDS’ current student body resides.
If, as is doubtlessly the case, Raskin’s time at GDS shaped his outlook in myriad ways, his presentations at the impeachment trial represented the school well. And the abiding trust he demonstrated in the power of truth reflects the core values of The Augur Bit, which, according to Washingtonian magazine, he once led.
On day three of the trial, Raskin quoted Voltaire to bolster his refutation of Trump’s counsel’s First Amendment defense. “We might take a moment to consider another Voltaire insight,” Raskin said, “which a high school teacher of mine told me when a student asked, ‘When was the beginning of the Enlightenment?’” The teacher responded, “I think it was when Voltaire said, ‘Anyone who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.’”
Americans across the country—and members of the GDS community especially—who tuned in to the impeachment trial came to appreciate Raskin’s candor, clarity and competence; his legal knowledge solidified by a quarter century as a constitutional law professor at American University; and his ability to convey what was important—and even to humbly acknowledge what wasn’t.
As the trial came to a close on Saturday, the House managers having made the determination that a prolonged witness process would do little to strengthen to their already rock-solid case in the eyes of senator-jurors, Raskin candidly told them that if the House’s argument against Trump wasn’t grounds for conviction, “then nothing is.”
To the very end, Raskin dared hope that facts and reasoning could still transcend the partisan divide. For that, we applaud him.
Although when the final roll-call vote arrived Republican senators, as expected, lacked the courage to convict the former president, the trial nonetheless ensured that history will no sooner forget Jamie Raskin’s patriotism and prowess in carrying out a difficult task than it will Donald Trump’s utter disgrace.