Impeachment prosecutors took senators on a wrenching journey inside the horror of the US Capitol insurrection, making a devastating case that Donald Trump had plotted, incited and celebrated a vile crime against the United States.
Their previously unseen video evidence showed a bloodthirsty mob defiling Congress, heroism from overpowered police officers pleading for backup, high-profile lawmakers running for their lives and staffers hiding behind locked doors.
Surveillance footage depicted then-Vice President Mike Pence being hustled away with rioters calling for him to be hanged only yards away. A police officer screamed in pain, trapped between a door and an invading crowd. In a horrific scene, Trump supporter Ashli Babbitt tried to climb through a window smashed by rioters before falling back, shot dead by a Capitol Police officer.
“When his mob overran and occupied the Senate and attacked the House and assaulted law enforcement, (Trump) watched it on TV like a reality show,” lead House impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin said Wednesday. “He reveled in it. And he did nothing to help us as commander in chief. Instead, he served as the inciter in chief, sending tweets that only further incited the rampaging mob.”
The stunningly powerful presentation painted the most complete narrative yet of the assault on the Congress as it met to certify Joe Biden’s election win on January 6.
Their explicit and unsettling case made clear that the terror inside the corridors of power was even more frightening than it had first appeared. It’s now apparent that only good luck, and the bravery of police, prevented senior members of Congress injured or killed.
A day of clear legal arguments left a grave question hanging in the air: How could anyone with an open mind not process the almost unbelievable scenes of US democracy under assault and not vote to convict the ex-President?
Trump spent months inciting the insurrection
The managers built a methodical case, juxtaposing Trump’s inflammatory behavior over months with the frightful looting and violence inside the Capitol to make a cause-and-effect argument of the ex-President’s culpability.
They showed how Trump had set out to undermine the election in the minds of his supporters weeks before votes were cast and demonstrated how his lies about fraud had acted like a fuse on the primed fury of his supporters after he lost.
The managers showed how Trump had organized the rally in Washington on January 6, and how his demands that his supporters go to Capitol Hill to “fight” to save their country had been interpreted as an order to go to war. And the House prosecutors laid out timelines that showed how the President had done nothing to stop the insurrection of a mob he referred to as “special people.”
“Donald Trump sent them here on this mission,” said Virgin Islands Del. Stacey Plaskett, one of the impeachment managers. She said Trump had effectively tasked his mob with tracking down Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who were presiding over the counting of electoral votes.
“President Trump put a target on their backs and his mob broke into the Capitol to hunt them down,” Plaskett said.
One of her colleagues, Rep. Joe Neguse of Colorado, handled the evidence on how Trump had rebuffed calls, even from Republicans, to intervene in his role as President to protect another branch of government under assault.
“They were following the President. He alone, our commander in chief, had the power to stop it. And he didn’t,” Neguse said.
Of course, impeachment is a political process, not a judicial one, so even the most compelling evidence will have little impact if jurors — the 100 senators — have already made up their minds. And most GOP members of the chamber want to avoid falling afoul of Trump’s personality cult, after spending four years abetting his abuses of power in the most unchained presidency in history.
That means there is unlikely to be a two-thirds majority in the Senate to convict the ex-President, even if the harrowing nature of the evidence left many Republican senators deeply shocked and facing private battles between their consciences and political expediency.
One video showed Sen. Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican, being saved from running into the mob by Capitol Police Office Eugene Goodman, who has previously been hailed as a hero for directing rioters away from the Senate chamber.
“I was very fortunate indeed that Officer Goodman was there to get me in the right direction,” Romney said, adding that Wednesday’s evidence “tears at your heart.”
As the only Republican senator to vote to convict Trump in his first impeachment trial, Romney would have been in mortal danger had he encountered the Trump mob. Another video showed now-Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, hurriedly reversing course with his security detail and running from the crowd.
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said the Democratic impeachment managers were “very effective,” adding: “They had a strong presentation put together in a way that I think makes it pretty compelling,”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, one of the Republicans seen as a possible vote to convict Trump, remarked on how the evidence brought home the “total awareness of that, the enormity of this, this threat, not just to us as people, as lawmakers, but the threat to the institution and what Congress represents. It’s disturbing. Greatly disturbing.”
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