The disqualification trial against Donald Trump, based on the 14th Amendment, commenced in Colorado on Monday. A group of voters is seeking to utilize this Civil War-era amendment to prevent the former president from appearing on the 2024 ballot, citing his involvement in the January 6, 2021, insurrection.
Within a Denver courtroom, Trump’s legal team clashed with those challenging his candidacy, criticizing their case as an “anti-democratic” attempt to thwart Trump’s campaign without affording voters a voice. The challengers contended that their legal action was an unfortunate but necessary measure to ensure a “fair” 2024 election by preventing an ineligible candidate from being on the ballot.
Apart from the opening statements, testimony was provided by a US Capitol Police officer who was present during the violent assault and Rep. Eric Swalwell, a Democrat who recounted the harrowing experience of fleeing from the pro-Trump mob, all in support of the challengers’ position.
This case revolves around Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which disqualifies US officials who have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution if they have “engaged in insurrection” or have “given aid or comfort” to insurrectionists. However, the Constitution provides limited guidance on how to enforce this disqualification, and it has been invoked only twice since the 19th century.
The trial is anticipated to span one week, with the judge aiming to deliver her decision by Thanksgiving, allowing time for appeals before the commencement of the ballot-printing process in January for the GOP primary in Colorado on March 5, 2024.
Here are the key developments from the inaugural day of this historic trial:
Trump ‘betrayed’ his oath, challengers say
During their opening statements, lawyers representing the Republican and independent voters who initiated the lawsuit articulated their objective as “ensuring a fair election in Colorado with qualified candidates.” This effort enjoys the support of the left-leaning watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
Eric Olson, an attorney for the challengers, emphasized, “Our Constitution prohibits individuals who have betrayed their solemn oath, as Trump did in this case, from holding office again.” He went on to state that Colorado’s laws empower these voters to safeguard the integrity of their votes by approaching the court and guaranteeing that only eligible candidates make it onto the ballots. Olson asserted that Trump’s involvement in the insurrection disqualifies him from appearing on the ballot, emphasizing that “no individual, not even a former president, is exempt from the law.”
The presentation also incorporated video footage from the fatal events of January 6 at the US Capitol, as well as clips from the 2020 campaign where Trump lauded the violent actions of his supporters, including his well-known directive to the right-wing Proud Boys group to “stand back and stand by.”
Crucially, linking Trump to the violence constitutes a pivotal component of the voters’ case, despite facing a challenging path. Citing evidence from the January 6 committee, Olson contended that Trump “summoned and organized” the mob and was cognizant of their being “armed and dangerous.” He further noted that Trump failed to deploy resources to suppress the attack, actively aiding the assailants.
Trump lawyer blasts ‘fringe’ lawsuit
Scott Gessler, attorney for Donald Trump and former Colorado secretary of state, vehemently criticized the legal proceedings, characterizing the case as “feeble,” “anti-democratic,” and rooted in “fringe” theories. He implored Colorado District Judge Sarah Wallace not to “meddle” in the 2024 election by disqualifying Trump from the ballot.
Gessler contended, “This court should refrain from interfering with that essential democratic principle. The right to decide lies with the people, and this lawsuit attempts to undermine that principle.”
A pivotal element of Trump’s defense revolves around the argument that the events of January 6 did not constitute an insurrection as envisioned by the 14th Amendment, which was ratified in response to the full-scale rebellion during the Civil War.
Gessler emphasized, “When it comes to determining who should lead our nation, that decision falls to the people of the United States of America, not to six voters in Colorado,” alluding to the plaintiffs.
Congressman describes ‘haunting’ Jan. 6 experience
Testifying in support of the challengers opposing Trump, Swalwell recounted the “chilling” ordeal of seeking refuge in the House chamber on January 6 while a right-wing mob surrounded the vicinity.
Swalwell, a passionate Trump critic and California Democrat, shared how he realized in real-time that Trump was putting him and his colleagues in jeopardy by urging his supporters to march on the Capitol. The challengers utilized Swalwell’s testimony to establish a connection between Trump’s words and actions and the violent rampage perpetrated by his followers.
“(Trump) directed his supporters towards the Capitol by declaring that he was standing with them, heading to the Capitol – many of us in the cloakroom exchanged concerned glances, realizing the potential gravity of the situation,” Swalwell recounted.
As the rioters forcefully breached the building, they came dangerously close to reaching the House chamber. Swalwell described how the situation grew increasingly dire, with the suspension of the Electoral College proceedings, police instructing members to don gas masks, the House chaplain offering prayers, and distant gunshots ringing out.
He revealed that he prepared for a potential confrontation and worked closely with Rep. Ruben Gallego, an Arizona Democrat and former Marine, to assist lawmakers in donning gas masks, at times resorting to “using his teeth to tear them open.” Additionally, Swalwell mentioned that Gallego handed him a pen from the table, instructing him, “if any of them get near you, just put this in their neck.”
Colorado election official looks for guidance
Speaking outside the courtroom, Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold expressed her hope that the trial would offer clarity regarding Trump’s eligibility for the ballot.
“We’ve never faced a situation like this where a sitting president incites an insurrection and then seeks re-election. There are genuine questions about whether Section 3 of the 14th Amendment disqualifies him. I eagerly await the judge’s guidance on this matter,” Griswold, a Democrat, remarked during an interview on “CNN News Central.”
The defendants in this case include Trump and Griswold, who has refrained from taking a stance on whether the former president is disqualified, emphasizing her commitment to abiding by the judge’s orders.
On CNN, Griswold conveyed her belief that Trump had incited the January 6 insurrection. However, she stressed that it was the judge’s prerogative to determine whether his actions constituted engagement in the insurrection, leading to disqualification from office.
Furthermore, Griswold dismissed the notion that the lawsuit might be viewed as a politically motivated misuse of the legal process aimed at the GOP front-runner.
“Filing a lawsuit is an appropriate course of action. What is inappropriate are attempts to subvert an election, incite an insurrection, orchestrate a scheme involving fraudulent electors, and engage in discussions about tampering with or seizing voting equipment,” Griswold stated. “A legal case like the one unfolding here, I believe, is perfectly reasonable.”
Using Trump’s words against him
The group opposing Trump extensively utilized his own statements against him, showcasing excerpts from his infamous election night speech in 2020, during which he falsely declared victory, as well as from January 6 when he called on his supporters to “fight like hell” at the US Capitol.
They also presented Trump’s social media posts from the turbulent period following the election, including a December 2020 message in which he encouraged his supporters to converge on Washington, DC, for the “wild” protest on January 6.
Sean Grimsley, one of the attorneys representing the anti-Trump challengers, explained to the judge that the purpose of presenting this material was “to illustrate President Trump’s state of mind and his messages to his supporters.”
Furthermore, the challengers referenced numerous findings from the bipartisan House committee that conducted an investigation into the events of January 6. This committee recommended Trump’s disqualification in accordance with the 14th Amendment.
In response, Trump’s legal team argued that many of the videos and tweets lacked context, and they repeatedly raised objections to admitting these materials into the court record.
“I’m not even sure where to begin with this,” Gessler expressed while objecting to certain aspects of the committee’s report. “How can we cross-examine any of this evidence that contains speculation and opinion? This… exemplifies the very worst aspects of the January 6 commission.”