REGIONAL — Tri-Valley Congressman Eric Swalwell said this week that although the U.S. Senate acquitted President Donald Trump of inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection on the capital, he and his fellow House Managers won their case and have effectively prevented Trump from ever holding office again.
“The country saw who he is and who he isn’t,” Swalwell said in an interview with The Independent three days after 57 senators – seven of them Republicans – voted to convict Trump at the conclusion of a weeklong impeachment trial, short of the two-thirds needed for a guilty verdict.
“I believe we won,” Swalwell said, adding 60% of the public agreed that Trump was guilty and that history will ultimately reflect that opinion.
Swalwell found himself presenting some of the most emotional evidence during the trial. After Del. Stacey Plaskett of the U.S. Virgin Islands detailed former Vice President Mike Pence’s escape from the building, revealing security video not previously made public, Swalwell showed just how close the intruders got to the Senate and what the police officers endured as they protected the building and its occupants.
Swalwell said he has tried many cases as an assistant district attorney in Alameda County, but this was the first time the prosecutors and jurors were also the victims, and the room was the crime scene.
The congressman — who has represented Dublin, Pleasanton, Sunol, Livermore and 11 other Alameda and Contra Costa county communities since 2012 — was in the house chamber on Jan. 6 when representatives were debating objections to the electoral college vote count that would officially make Joe Biden the 46th president.
Swalwell, who was on the House chamber floor, knew about the White House rally, but did not think too much about safety at the Capitol. People began texting him, questioning the security.
“I thought, ‘Of course we are safe. We’re at the Capitol,’” Swalwell said.
As time passed, however, Swalwell and his colleagues received alerts from Capitol police. They could see for themselves on Twitter that the outer perimeters had been breached and rioters were climbing the exterior walls. Swalwell said he realized it was becoming serious, especially when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was whisked from the dais.
Soon, Swalwell heard pounding on the center doors to the floor. Police stacked chairs against entryways and told the members to pull gas masks from under their chairs. A House chaplain took the podium and recited a prayer for peace.
Swalwell said he felt safe until the chaplain began praying.
“That’s when I messaged my wife,” Swalwell said. “I said, ‘I love you, and kiss the babies for me.’”
Inside, House members could not see how close the rioters came to them. They were forced to evacuate and learned later that a police officer had shot a female intruder as a mob tried to push its way inside.
“Had that officer not shot that rioter, they would have pushed through that door and just mowed down the members that were last to leave,” Swalwell said.
Among those who were the last to evacuate were older members and those who were less mobile. Swalwell called the officer who fired the gun a hero.
“I think he saved a number of lives,” Swalwell said. “They knew where to go, and they were at the foot of the chamber.”
Swalwell and other colleagues remained in a holding room for several hours until police regained control of the building. Swalwell, who said he had hated to leave the chamber, returned to finish the electoral vote count.
A week later, the House voted to impeach Trump for the second time in a year and sent its case to the Senate. Pelosi selected Swalwell to serve as one of nine case managers. Swalwell, who comes from a family of Alameda County deputies, said he told Pelosi his law enforcement background and career as a prosecutor could help the team.
As each manager presented different parts of the case, Swalwell presented evidence in what some reporters described as a silent chamber. Senators watched riveting video that showed how close to danger they came. Videos showed officers fighting back against the mob, including shocking scenes of an officer being crushed by a door.
Swalwell said the managers knew many Republican senators already had their minds made up for acquittal, but “thought having new evidence would make them pay attention.”
The congressman said he tried to treat his job “like I was at the Rene C. Davidson courthouse” in Oakland, and tried not to think about how many people were watching him in the Senate chamber and at homes across the world.
“I’d be lying if I said it was not intimidating,” Swalwell said, adding Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was sitting 10 feet from him.
On Saturday, Feb. 13, House managers said they wanted to call at least one witness but following a few hours of discussion decided against it. Going into the case, 44 Republican senators had voted to declare the proceeding unconstitutional, so the managers decided witnesses were not going to change any minds, Swalwell said.
“We felt we had a powerful case,” Swalwell said. He further stated that his team could have “given them a signed, sealed confessional from Donald Trump,” but his followers still wouldn’t believe it.
Although Trump was not convicted, he will face criminal and civil exposure going forward, according to Swalwell.
The congressman said Trump should be prosecuted if that is what the law dictates, not for political means or for retaliation.
On Tuesday, Mississippi Democrat Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, sued Trump and Trump’s lawyer, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, in civil court, alleging they conspired with far-right groups to ignite the Jan. 6 insurrection. The lawsuit is the first related to the event.
Swalwell said he had no opinion on whether, as some have cited, the Fourteenth Amendment can be used to prevent Trump from running for office again. He added that he believes the impeachment process, vote and public opinion, has already functionally stopped that from happening.
“One of my friends from the DA’s office said, ‘Eric, you did a great job in the trial, but we need to work on your jury selection skills,’” Swalwell said. “It’s a great reminder that when you don’t get to pick the jury, it’s a little more challenging.”
“I was honored to be part of the team,” he continued. “It’s a solemn responsibility. I wouldn’t do anything differently from the case that we made. For accountability, for history, we did the job.”