Jonathan Ellis reports that, far from the sham hearing that Senators held to protect their drunk colleagues (one of whom is now the Republican nominee for Commissioner of School and Public Lands) with a pre-arranged outcome in 2020, last week’s historic Senate impeachment trial of killer Jason Ravnsborg was a real trial, with real stakes, and an unexpected outcome won by an persuasive prosecution:
Going into the trial, the attorney general’s team had counted votes. They were reasonably confident the Senate could not get to 24 votes, given the verbal commitments senators had made to Ravnsborg and his team.
But following an onslaught by the prosecution on the day of the trial, some of those verbal commitments switched their votes. As Ravnsborg tracked the votes during roll call, he learned he’d been betrayed by some. And when the magic number reached 24 on the first article of impeachment, his head slumped [Jonathan Ellis, “19 Months of Political Brutality Ends with Jason Ravnsborg’s Ouster,” Sioux Falls Argus Leader, 2022.06.27].
Prosecutors Alexis Tracy and Mark Vargo apparently made a difference. Going into the trial, at least ten Senators (only 33 attended the trial; 2 were absent; thus, it would only have taken 10 Senators, not 12, to prevent the Senate from mustering the 24 votes necessary to convict) had told Ravnsborg that they didn’t think he deserved to lose his job after killing a man. At least ten Senators were willing to leave this unethical, lying, habitually inattentive serial abuser of authority in office for six more months. Surely as cognizant as the defense of headcount, prosecutors Tracy and Vargo stepped into the politically thankless job of arguing the facts about Ravnsborg’s case and urging Republican Senators to admit that a Republican elected official had committed acts of unprecedented awfulness deserving his conviction and removal from office.
And the prosecutors succeeded. We do not know how many Senators they persuaded (Jason! send us your notes!), but they persuaded someone, obviously more than one on the second article of impeachment (which passed 31–2).
Last week’s trial mattered. The prosecutors made the difference between justice and corruption.