By ANDREW C. MCCARTHY
Democratic impeachment managers have a duty to explain how Officer Sicknick died.
n its article of impeachment, the Democrat-controlled House alleged that former president Donald Trump, by his “incitement of insurrection,” was responsible for murder. That is an essential rationale for impeaching Trump. It is the most serious accusation that has been leveled. The impeachment article states that, incited by Trump to storm the Capitol and “fight like hell,”
Trump supporters “injured and killed law enforcement personnel,” among other heinous acts.
The accusation about killing law-enforcement personnel refers, of course, to Capitol police officer Brian Sicknick, who was pronounced dead on the night of January 7, more than 24 hours after the siege on the Capitol had ended.
Adding to the serious but vague accusation in the impeachment article, the Democratic House impeachment managers, who are the prosecutors in the Senate trial, elaborated in their publicly filed pretrial memo (at p. 28): “The insurrectionists killed a Capitol Police officer by striking him in the head with a fire extinguisher.”
It is noteworthy that the Democrats’ pretrial memo was filed on February 2, nearly four weeks after Officer Sicknick’s death. Yet, during those four weeks, significant questions about the impeachment managers’ murder allegation have arisen. It has been a bedrock principle of American due process for over half a century that if prosecutors are aware of evidence that would tend to show an allegation they made is false, inaccurate, or at least incapable of being proved, they have an obligation to disclose that fact to the accused.
So what is the Democrats’ proof that Trump supporters murdered Officer Sicknick by bashing him over the head with a fire extinguisher?
Obviously, ethical and competent prosecutors do not make an allegation of murder in the absence of an investigation. House managers presenting an impeachment case against a former president of the United States have investigative staff, the cooperation of law-enforcement agencies, and access to relevant witnesses and reports, including autopsy reports. If they were not confident about their allegation that Sicknick was brutally killed, it would have been utterly irresponsible and potentially slanderous to make it.
Many reports and commentators, myself included, relied on the Times’ reporting in describing the gravity of then-President Trump’s misconduct. But it must be acknowledged that this reporting suggested that the details of Sicknick’s death and what led up to it were murky. As is too often the case, the “newspaper of record” depended on anonymous sources for its weightiest allegation:
The circumstances surrounding Mr. Sicknick’s death were not immediately clear, and the Capitol Police said only that he had “passed away due to injuries sustained while on duty.” At some point in the chaos — with the mob rampaging through the halls of Congress while lawmakers were forced to hide under their desks — he was struck with a fire extinguisher, according to two law enforcement officials.
When the officer died, the Times also published a story entitled, “He Dreamed of Being a Police Officer, Then Was Killed by a Pro-Trump Mob” (which the paper revised on January 19). This account further emphasized what the Times framed as the murderous behavior of Trump-supporting rioters toward Officer Sicknick, and the derivative culpability of Trump himself:
On Wednesday, pro-Trump supporters attacked that citadel of democracy, overpowered Mr. Sicknick, 42, and struck him in the head with a fire extinguisher, according to two law enforcement officials. With a bloody gash in his head, Mr. Sicknick was rushed to the hospital and placed on life support. He died on Thursday evening.
If there is evidentiary support for this story, it has not been made public, even though the allegation has been formally, publicly charged in an impeachment case. Numerous people have been arrested, interrogated at length, and charged in connection with the riot; no one has been charged with killing Officer Sicknick.
More to the point, unidentified law-enforcement officials told CNN of findings by medical examiners that Sicknick’s remains bore no signs of blunt-force trauma and that the fire-extinguisher account was not true. There is video from the day of the siege of an incident in which a rioter hurled a fire extinguisher at security personnel. There has been no public claim, however, that Sicknick was involved in that incident.
It appears certain that Sicknick was not rushed to the hospital directly from the Capitol. Several reports indicate that he returned to his police office. Hours after the siege ended, he texted his brother to say he had been “pepper sprayed twice” but was otherwise “in good shape.” Tucker Carlson notes that, according to the head of the Capitol police union, Sicknick had a stroke. That is consistent with a report from KHOU in Houston regarding what the Sicknick family was told about how the officer died.