Most of the senators now serving as jurors for former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial witnessed what happened on Jan. 6: Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, trying to stop them from certifying the election, leading to five deaths and numerous threats.
But for those Republican lawmakers trying to sweep the entire matter under the rug, House Democratic impeachment managers spent hours on Wednesday painstakingly and emotionally laying out exactly what happened, and how Trump was to blame.
“That mob was summoned, assembled, and incited by the former president of the United States, Donald Trump,” said Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), one of the managers. “And he did that because he wanted to stop the transfer of power so that he could retain power, even though he had lost the election.”
The most alarming portion of the presentation was when impeachment managers presented never-before-seen footage from the day of the attack that showed the mob breaching the Capitol, brandishing things like a baseball bat and a Confederate flag, and coming alarmingly close to Vice President Mike Pence, lawmakers and staff.
Pence, who was under attack from Trump for refusing to object to the election results, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) were specifically targeted, impeachment manager Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands) said.
“They did it because Donald Trump sent them on this mission,” Plaskett said after describing rioters’ efforts to find Pelosi.
Pence was evacuated as rioters — some of whom were caught on video chanting “hang Mike Pence” — spread in the building, and as Trump again tweeted criticism of Pence for not helping him throw out votes.
“The mob was looking for Vice President Pence because of his patriotism,” Plaskett said. “Because the vice president had refused to do what the president demanded and overturn election results.”
For four years, Republican senators have pleaded ignorance when reporters asked for their reactions to Trump’s daily untrue or outrageous statements. They excusing Trump for racist comments, boasting about sexual assault and bulldozing over the law. They acquitted him last year for pressuring the Ukrainian government to investigate a political opponent.
Trump’s second election trial is likely to end with an acquittal as well, given that two-thirds of the Senate is needed to vote to convict him. Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) delayed Trump’s second impeachment trial until after he left office, and then voted — along with 43 other GOP senators — to dismiss the entire matter on Tuesday, because Trump is no longer president.
Republicans said on Wednesday that their minds were unlikely to be changed.
“I don’t think there’s anything that’s been said by either side that has changed any votes,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) told HuffPost.
House Democratic impeachment managers ensured, though, that Republicans won’t be able to plead ignorance to Trump’s statements or the violence of the day if they ultimately vote to acquit him.
They spent Wednesday, the second day of the impeachment trial, meticulously documenting Trump’s months-long effort to sow doubt in the election.
“We’re not going to let this election be taken away from us ― that’s the only way they’re gonna win,” Trump said at a rally in October, a clip of which was played on the Senate floor.
“The Democrats are trying to steal the White House,” Trump said in another clip from January. “You cannot let them.”
On Jan. 6, Trump urged his supporters to “fight like hell” and told them ― falsely ― that he would join them at the Capitol to stop the electoral vote count.
Previously unseen footage from Capitol security cameras, combined with other video and news reports, helped Democrats lay out what happened next. Plaskett played audio of a police officer speaking to a dispatcher: “They’re throwing metal poles at us,” he said. “Multiple law enforcement injuries.”
Security footage showed a mob breaking in through a window. Only one police officer is visible and is quickly overwhelmed by the rioters, many of them wearing red hats.
In another video, Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman runs down a hallway to confront the mob, pausing quickly to urge Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) to turn around and find safety, prompting the senator to jog away. Romney, a frequent Trump target, would likely have been in extreme danger had he encountered the mob.
“I look forward to thanking him,” Romney told reporters after seeing the footage.
According to the video, Goodman held off the crowd and managed to guide it away from the Senate chamber doors. As Democrats showed, the rioters made it within 100 feet of where Pence was sheltering and even closer to the Senate. Impeachment manager Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) showed footage of senators evacuating and noted they were only 58 paces ahead of the insurrectionists ― a distanced he measured out himself before the trial.
The rioters also attacked police officers, as Swalwell showed: Video recorded on an officer’s body camera captured a large crowd of rioters hitting a small group of officers with flagpoles.
In an audio clip, an officer who was shocked with a stun gun and dragged down the stairs by the mob called it “some of the most brutal combat I’ve ever encountered … People were yelling out: ‘We got one, we got one!’”
During Plaskett’s presentation, the chamber was dead silent. Senators sat rapt with attention, their eyes glued to a pair of television sets playing footage of the attack. Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) appeared shaken as video showed a police officer yelling in pain while being crushed in a doorway by rioters. Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), his seatmate, put his hand on Lankford’s arm as if to comfort him.
“I don’t see how Donald Trump could be reelected to the presidency again,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who on Tuesday voted to proceed with the trial, told reporters during a dinner break.
But the gruesome details are unlikely to be enough to convince most Republicans to change course. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who led the effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election in Congress, told reporters that the footage shown by House managers was “horrific” and that everyone in it should go to jail, but that it didn’t mean Trump was to blame.
“Today’s presentation was powerful and emotional, reliving a terrorist attack on our nation’s capitol, but there was very little said about how specific conduct of the President satisfies the legal standard,” Cruz added.
Other GOP senators said they were hamstrung by the Constitution — even though a bipartisan majority of the Senate affirmed Tuesday that holding a trial of a former president is constitutional.
“We want justice. But that doesn’t mean that we can go against what we believe to be constitutionally limited authority,” Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said.
Meanwhile, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) attempted to equate the Jan. 6 attack — which left one Capitol Police officer dead and 140 others injured — to the protests that turned violent during Black Lives Matter protests last year. It’s a false equivalence Republicans have been drawing since the immediate aftermath of the Capitol attack, when a majority of GOP lawmakers sided with the mob and voted against certifying the election.
“I don’t know what the other side will show from Seattle and Portland and other places, but you’re going to see similar kinds of tragedies there as well,” Blunt, who faces reelection in 2022, told reporters on Wednesday.
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