Sen. Tim Kaine was so taken aback when President Donald Trump’s defense attorney Robert Ray criticized a New York Times series about the history of slavery during his presentation in the Senate impeachment trial that he later confronted Ray about the remarks.
“To me, it seemed like an ad hominem attack on people trying to get at the roots of the effects of slavery in the United States,” the 2016 Democratic vice presidential nominee told USA TODAY. “And it did not bear at all on the impeachment or anything else.”
Ray made the remarks during his argument that the articles of impeachment passed in the House against Trump on abuse of power and obstruction of Congress were illegitimate because they were not based on a violation of thelaw.
He criticized a passage from the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment inquiry report, which argued the 1868 impeachment of President Andrew Johnson was not motivated by his violation of the Tenure of Office Act, “but on his illegitimate use of power to undermine Reconstruction and subordinate Africa-Americans following the Civil War.”
Ray said the argument was an “ahistorical sleight of hand worthy only of The New York Times recent 1619 series,” referring to an interactive project on the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first African slaves in what would become the United States.
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In December, The New Times Magazine published a letter from five historians who said the project contained factual errors. Two of those professors, James McPherson and Sean Wilentz, are from Princeton. In response, the magazine’s editor-in-chief Jake Silverstein wrote, “we disagree with their claim that our project contains significant factual errors and is driven by ideology rather than historical understanding.”
Ray’s comments about the slavery project caused Kaine to throw his hands up in the air in a giant shrug before leaning back in his chair and shaking his head as he looked up at the ceiling.
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Kaine said that as a Democratic senator from Virginia, where that first landing occurred in 1619, and the co-sponsor of a bill commemorating the anniversary, he found it both “puzzling” and “offensive.”
“I actually went over to Robert Ray after and I said, ‘Hey, I didn’t get that. Why were you doing that?'” Kaine said.
Ray responded that the project was “too politically correct,” according to Kaine.
“What does that have to do with the articles of impeachment?” he asked. “I was stunned by it.”
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