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Trump impeachment trial: Democrats say former US president ‘left everyone in Capitol for dead’

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House impeachment managers led a rapt US Senate on a harrowing retelling of the terror that engulfed the US Capitol last month, sharing shocking new audio and video recordings of rioters declaring their intent to harm Vice President Mike Pence and other top officials – and showing how close they came to doing so.

The House Democrats, led by lead manager Jamie Raskin, spent Day 2 of former US president Donald Trump’s impeachment trial displaying violent video scenes of the January 6 attack and the rioters’ relentlessly raw language, including chants to “hang” Pence and a sinister clip of a man looking for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asking, “Naaaancy? Where aaaare you, Nancy?”

All of it, the impeachment managers said, was a direct result of the president’s months-long effort to persuade his supporters of the “big lie” that the election had been stolen.

After he had exhausted all other options to overturn Joe Biden’s victory, they said – including dozens of lawsuits and a sustained campaign to pressure state election officials – Trump turned his sights to January 6, the day Congress was scheduled to formalise Joe Biden’s electoral college victory.

Security video shows Vice President Mike Pence being evacuated from the Senate chamber.
Security video shows Vice President Mike Pence being evacuated from the Senate chamber.

His supporters, the managers said, were heeding his calls with their violent plans to stop the vote count and even harm lawmakers.

“President Trump put a target on their backs,” said Stacey Plaskett, a Democratic House delegate from the Virgin Islands, describing the threat to lawmakers and Pence. “And his mob broke into the Capitol to hunt them down.”

Worse still, she and the other managers said, is that when lawmakers, Trump’s aides and even his family members implored the president to call off the rioters as the attack unfolded, he refused initially to do so – because, the managers argued, he hoped the mayhem would block the electoral vote count.

Supporters of former US President Donald Trump mob the Capitol on January 6.
EVELYN HOCKSTEIN/THE WASHINGTON POSTSupporters of former US President Donald Trump mob the Capitol on January 6.

“Senators, you’ve seen all the evidence so far,” Democrat Joaquin Castro said toward the end of nearly eight hours of arguments. “And this is clear: On January 6th, President Trump left everyone in this Capitol for dead.”

It was unclear whether the dramatic new evidence would change the minds of Republicans, most of whom have indicated their intent to acquit the former president on charges that he incited the January 6 insurrection. A conviction would require the support of two-thirds of senators in the evenly divided chamber.

“They spent a great deal of time focusing on the horrific acts of violence that were played out by the criminals, but the language from the president doesn’t come close to meeting the legal standard for incitement,” said Republican Ted Cruz.

The slide shows a photo of President Trump's motorcade driving by a group of his supporters participating in a rally in Washington on Nov. 14, 2020, juxtaposed with a tweet from Trump on December 12, 2020, declaring the “fight” had just begun.
The slide shows a photo of President Trump’s motorcade driving by a group of his supporters participating in a rally in Washington on Nov. 14, 2020, juxtaposed with a tweet from Trump on December 12, 2020, declaring the “fight” had just begun.

Still, some GOP senators appeared shaken by the graphic video presentation, which included wrenching footage of an officer howling in pain as the mob crushed him in a doorway.

As the Senate recessed for dinner, Republican James Lankford appeared to grow emotional at his desk, bending his head down. Senator Steve Daines, who sits next to him, put his hand on Lankford’s arm as if to comfort him.

“The evidence that has been presented so far is pretty damning,” said Republican Lisa Murkowski, who has indicated she is open to conviction.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer called the case laid out by the House “gut-wrenching,” adding: “I just hope that our Republican colleagues have an open mind.”

In this image from video, a security video shows US Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman running past Senator Mitt Romney.
In this image from video, a security video shows US Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman running past Senator Mitt Romney.

Over and over again, the impeachment managers implored the senators to consider the message they wanted to send to Americans about the character of our country.

“That’s the question before all of you in this trial: Is this America?” Raskin said. “Can our country and our democracy ever be the same if we don’t hold accountable the person responsible for inciting the violent attack against our country?”

The House Democrats were expected to continue making their case Friday (NZT), with Trump’s lawyers expected to mount their defence Saturday and Sunday.

The Senate is not expected to vote on whether to allow witness testimony until after that, though Republicans and Democrats alike have said they want the trial to move at a swift pace.

Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier outside the US Capitol building in Washington.
JOSE LUIS MAGANA/APTrump supporters try to break through a police barrier outside the US Capitol building in Washington.

Democrats are eager to turn their attention back to President Biden’s Cabinet appointees and a coronavirus relief bill, while Republicans simply want to turn the page on the former president’s role in the insurrection.

In their presentations, the House managers revealed several gripping new details about the events that unfolded on January 6 – including new surveillance footage showing Senator Mitt Romney running down a hallway at a police officer’s instruction seconds before rioters breached windows downstairs.

The officer, Eugene Goodman, had already been commended for leading rioters away from the Senate chamber as it was being evacuated, an act of heroism documented on a reporter’s cellphone and widely circulated. The new scene with Romney took place just before then, the House managers said.

During a break in the trial, Romney told reporters he had no idea how close he’d been to harm’s way – nor that Goodman was the officer who had helped him.

“I look forward to thanking him when I next see him,” he said, adding: “It was obviously very troubling to see the great violence that our Capitol Police and others were subjected to. It tears at your heart and brings tears to your eyes. That was overwhelmingly distressing and emotional.”

House managers work on speech details before the second day of Trump's impeachment trial.
DEMETRIUS FREEMAN/THE WASHINGTON POSTHouse managers work on speech details before the second day of Trump’s impeachment trial.

The managers also showed just how intent some of the rioters were on doing harm to elected leaders, actively searching for Pence at the same time he was being evacuated from a room off the Senate floor.

As Goodman led the mob up the stairs, the rioters were at one moment within 100 feet of the small room where the vice president was sheltering with his family, according to Plaskett. Goodman led the mob away from where Pence was hiding.

Surveillance video then shows Pence, along with his security detail and members of his family and staff, being evacuated down a Capitol stairway to a secure location away from the building. The evacuation took place at 2:26pm – 14 minutes after rioters had entered the building.

On the other side of the building, the pro-Trump mob was banging on locked doors in search of Pelosi. House managers zoomed in on a widely circulated photo of a man sitting in a chair in Pelosi’s office to reveal that he was wearing a stun gun on his belt.

As the House team walked senators through a timeline of the day’s events, the managers used a diagram of the building to show where the rioters were in relation to elected officials – and how close they came to confrontation.

In another newly released bit of footage, Schumer can be seen being ushered along a basement hallway, disappearing – and then hastily changing direction with his security team after they encountered rioters blocking their planned route.

Books are seen outside the Senate Chamber ahead of the second day of the impeachment trial of former US President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill.
SALWAN GEORGES/THE WASHINGTON POSTBooks are seen outside the Senate Chamber ahead of the second day of the impeachment trial of former US President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill.

Democrat Eric Swalwell showed senators an image of one rioter inside the Senate chamber with a large bunch of plastic handcuffs on his hip. “If the doors to this chamber had been breached just minutes earlier, imagine what they could have done with those cuffs,” he said.

Salwell had the full attention of the Senate chamber with a 30-minute presentation designed to show them the events of January 6 they were less familiar with: what happened on the House side and how police confronted the mob on the West Front of the Capitol.

He also played a chilling video of House members instructing one another to take off their identifying lapel pins.

Not until 2:30pm, 15 minutes after the Senate had stopped its proceedings and secured its doors, did the House fully implement internal security measures.

Republicans and Democrats intently watched every video Swalwell played, building to the confrontation just a few feet from the floor of the House chamber where a police officer shot and killed a rioter trying to enter the chamber.

Swalwell paused, and the Senate was silent as the sound of the gunshot resonated from the video. He then turned to footage of the rioters’ attacks on police, again leaving the Senate in stunned silence.

When the impeachment managers began their presentation, which showed how the rioters flooded through the halls of the Capitol, many senators strained in their seats to get a better view of the video monitor.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell walks back to his office as senators take a break during the second day of the impeachment trial.
SALWAN GEORGES/THE WASHINGTON POSTSenate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell walks back to his office as senators take a break during the second day of the impeachment trial.

In the back row on the Democratic side, Senator Mark Warner and Michael Bennet took to their feet to watch. Bennett eventually sat down, but Warner paced behind his seat for several minutes before sitting back down.

On the Republican side, senators showed little emotion – but all paid close attention, most turning their heads away only occasionally to take notes.

As Plaskett played audio of police officers urgently summoning help, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared very focused, leaning over to watch the screen on the GOP side. GOP Senator Mike Lee took furious notes as he watched.

Trump is apparently aware of the emotional punch of the Democratic case. According to one adviser, he has pushed his team to produce its own videos to counters those of their opponents – including shots of Democratic lawmakers making controversial statements over the years.

The former president has talked to a number of advisers in the past 24 hours about the trial, including Lindsey Graham, his former chief of staff Mark Meadows, adviser Jason Miller and his lawyers, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Trump was displeased with the meandering presentation Wednesday (NZT) by his lawyer Bruce Castor, but his team has persuaded him, for now, to stick with Castor and promised that the weekend would bring more prepared presentations.

The House managers began the day with a meticulous presentation documenting how Trump provoked the riot for weeks – beginning with his refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power before Election Day and his preemptive assertion that his defeat would mean the election had been rigged.

Senators heard him exhort his supporters in combat terms that “the election was stolen,” to “stop the steal” and “to fight like hell.” The impeachment managers described how Trump lost legal challenge after legal challenge – yet continued to claim he’d actually won the election. They documented how he pressured state officials in key battleground states to overturn the results.

And when all of those efforts failed, he set his sights on January 6, the day Congress was scheduled to certify Biden’s electoral college victory, because he “ran out of nonviolent options to maintain power,” said Ted Lieu.

Trump even sent what the House managers described as a “save the date” message to his supporters more than two weeks ahead of January 6, tweeting, “Be there, will be wild!”

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