Eyewitnesses for the prosecution

by Martin Schram

Somberly, one by one, officers in uniform came to the precise center of the historic white-domed Capitol Rotunda.

Slowly, last Wednesday, each officer saluted the colleague who had fought to preserve democracy for us all. Symbolically, each officer held that salute for a freeze-framed moment, as absolute silence filled democracy’s hallowed hall where even time seems to echo.

Watching those uniformed officers saluting Capitol Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick, 42, whose ashes were lying in honor in a small mahogany box, beside a folded United States flag, I found my mind’s eye also seeing a strikingly similar scene that occurred in that very spot.

Rewind half a century: It was very late at night on March 30, 1969, and I was staring at that same spot in the center of the Capitol Rotunda where Brian Sicknick’s ashes were placed last week. I was a young Newsday correspondent, standing just a few feet from the flag-draped coffin of the U.S. Army general America always called just “Ike,” even when Dwight David Eisenhower became our 34th president.

Suddenly I saw history walking in through a doorway to my right.  France’s austere president and forever General Charles de Gaulle somberly walked to the foot of Ike’s casket and stopped.

General de Gaulle slowly saluted General Eisenhower. And then he held that salute.  De Gaulle was saluting for the last time his World War II ally who gave France back to France, after it had been invaded and occupied by the Nazis from next-door.

This week, America honored Capitol Police Officer Sicknick, who was defending our democracy from the mob that invaded and occupied our Capitol on Jan. 6. They had been incited and sent there by then-President Donald Trump to somehow stop Congress from constitutionally certifying our democracy’s defeat of their leader. And they did, for a few hours.

What we saw happening in that Capitol Rotunda on the night Trump’s mob murdered Brian Sicknick was one of the most shameful anti-American moments in American history.

Rewind again, this time just a month: We see the videos of that Jan. 6 mob smashing and crashing into the Capitol — then occupying and desecrating that very Rotunda where America honors its deceased heroes as they lie in state.

We also hear some in the mob shouting that they wanted to kill then-Vice President Mike Pence, who for four years had been Trump’s most loyal of loyalists — simply because he was fulfilling his constitutionally prescribed duty to read the Electoral College vote totals of each state. And some wanted to kill House Speaker Nancy Pelosi because she was, apparently, the highest-ranking Democrat in the House that is controlled by Democrats. The violent insurrection would ultimately claim five lives and wound dozens.

And all the while, throughout the nation’s capital, and the country and the world, all who were watching the horror unfolding live on their news screens were thinking — and even wondering aloud — one question:

Why are we not seeing President Donald Trump on our screens telling the violent mob he sent to the Capitol to cease and desist at once?

The upcoming Senate impeachment trial needs to hear testimony from witnesses — the Trump White House insiders — who can answer that question. The House Democratic impeachment managers want Trump to testify. But given that our defeated president is a pathological liar, that may not prove informative.

But there is another insider source whose testimony may prove pivotal.

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., apparently knows exactly who needs to be called to testify. When he was interviewed on Jan. 8, by his fellow Republican and radio host Hugh Hewitt, Sasse declared:

“As this was unfolding on television, Donald Trump was walking around the White House confused about why other people on his team weren’t as excited as he was, as you had rioters pushing against Capitol Police trying to get into the building. … That was happening. He was delighted.”

Sasse added: “I’m sure you’ve also had conversations with other senior White House officials, as I have.”

No Senate impeachment trial can be complete without all of us hearing from those other White House officials, under oath.

Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Email martin.schram@gmail.com.