Were the irredeemable task of mounting a defense for Donald Trump at his Senate impeachment trial to fall to me, I would simply point to the presence of Josh Hawley among the jurors. Then I would rest my case.
If Trump’s chief accomplice in the incitement to insurrection on January 6 is allowed to continue to serve in the chamber, the cynical argument would go, how can senators seriously argue that the 45th president should be held to account?
Needless to say, I won’t be making that defense, or any other, for Donald Trump. I couldn’t with a straight face recommend that the disgraced former president be let off the hook. They’ve got him on tape—and on Twitter—inciting the violent mob that invaded the US Capitol in order to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Trump’s guilty of the high crime with which he has been charged. He must be convicted by the Senate and barred from ever again occupying public office.
Yet the Hawley conundrum remains. He is just as guilty as Trump, just as responsible for what happened on January 6.
Subscribe today and Save up to $129.
“But for him it wouldn’t have happened,” former Missouri senator John Danforth, a Republican who helped to launch his fellow Missourian’s career, says of Hawley’s role in the Capitol invasion. “But for him the approval of the Electoral College votes would have been simply a formality. He made it into…a specific way to express the view that the election was stolen. He was responsible.”
Hawley’s colleagues have a duty to address the Missourian’s incitement of insurrection as the Senate prepares for Trump’s impeachment trial, which is set to begin the week of February 8. This is about much more than partisanship. Senators who are intellectually honest must recognize that Trump was not the only prominent Republican who inspired the deadly riot that interrupted the certification of Electoral College votes. He had accomplices. And the worst of those accomplices sits among them.
While Trump encouraged the rioters who attacked the Capitol, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reminds us, “Hawley initiated and led the effort to interrupt [the process], and the protesters followed his lead.” The Missouri paper notes that the senator “did everything he could to encourage insurrection. Hawley’s website on the day the chaos broke out was headlined in bold letters, ‘JOIN ME AND PRESIDENT TRUMP,’ Stand Up for American Election Integrity NOW!”
Hawley was certainly not the only bad player in the Senate Republican Caucus. Texas Senator Ted Cruz aligned with the Missourian to challenge the count of electoral votes from the battleground states that decided the 2020 election. Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, as chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, used his position to lend “legitimacy” to Trump’s lies about the election—and in some cases went even further than Trump in peddling conspiracy theories.
But Hawley stands out because of his December 30 announcement that he would support challenges to the counting of the electoral votes that secured the presidency for Democrat Joe Biden. Trump’s allies in the House needed a senator to make the challenge. It looked in late December as if Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) might thwart the revolt. McConnell was actively discouraging objections by senators. But Hawley, who was determined to position himself as a 2024 Republican presidential contender with an appeal to Trump supporters, broke ranks. Once Hawley stepped up, it was clear that the challenges would go forward. That was the point at which Trump ramped up his rhetoric and things began to spin out of control.
Hawley relished his role as the leader of Trump’s sedition caucus. The Missourian even waved his fist in solidarity with the mob as he headed to the Capitol on January 6.
If Trump’s acts of incitement were dangerously wrong—and they were—then, surely, Hawley’s were just as dangerous and just as wrong.
If you like this article, please give today to help fund The Nation’s work.
That is why the two largest newspapers in Missouri have argued that Hawley should no longer serve in the United States Senate.
“Trumpism must die before it morphs into Hitlerism,” editorialized the Post-Dispatch. “Defenders like Hawley deserve to be cast into political purgatory for having promoted it.”
The Kansas City Star argued that if Hawley had a conscience, he’d resign. But Hawley is a man without a conscience, as his unrepentant stance since January 6 has confirmed. This reality led the Star to editorialize: “Hawley, who gave a raised fist of encouragement to the likes of that proud lout who put his feet up on a desk in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, cannot continue to be our man in Washington, and so will have to be expelled.”
The paper’s message to Hawley’s colleagues, both Democrats and Republicans, both liberals and conservatives, was blunt: “Those of you in the Senate who understand what he did, in full possession of the facts and the consequences of twisting them, must do more than censure his treasonous behavior.”
A few senators have recognized the challenge that Hawley’s continued presence in the chamber poses. Arguing that Hawley and Cruz “have betrayed their oaths of office and abetted a violent insurrection on our democracy,” Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) called for their resignations. “If they do not resign, the Senate must expel them.” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island said after the January 6 attack that the Senate Ethics Committee “must consider expulsion, or censure and punishment.”
Whitehouse, Brown, and four other senators are now seeking a formal investigation into actions by Hawley, Cruz, and perhaps others that “lent legitimacy to the mob’s cause and made future violence more likely.”
“The actions of which we know demand an investigation and a determination whether disciplinary action is warranted,” the senators wrote in a complaint filed with the Senate Ethics Committee. “Until then, a cloud of uncertainty will hang over them and over this body.” The letter asks the Ethics Committee to “offer recommendations for strong disciplinary action, including up to expulsion or censure, if warranted by the facts uncovered.”
The facts warrant expulsion, and the process should begin with the guiltiest man. If Trump incited insurrection—and surely he did—then so, too, did Josh Hawley.
John NicholsJohn Nichols is a national affairs correspondent for The Nation and the author of the new book The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party: The Enduring Legacy of Henry Wallace's Anti-Fascist, Anti-Racist Politics (Verso). He’s also the author of Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse: A Field Guide to the Most Dangerous People in America, from Nation Books, and co-author, with Robert W. McChesney, of People Get Ready: The Fight Against a Jobless Economy and a Citizenless Democracy.