WASHINGTON — First came the facts, and then the horror.
House impeachment managers gave a clear presentation linking former President Trump to the violent assault on the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6, and then — through a detailed patchwork of maps, security footage and public video — they relived the traumatic events of that day with all 100 U.S. senators in a tense and emotional afternoon session.
They also deconstructed the argument that Trump’s words were constitutionally protected speech, saying that he violated his oath of office to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, and that impeachment and conviction are the constitutionally mandated consequences for that.
Here are the three takeaways from the second day of Trump’s second impeachment trial.
Democracy, and many members of Congress, had a narrow escape on Jan. 6
For 80 minutes before a dinner break, two House managers showed the Senate a series of videos that took the lawmakers, and those watching on TV, back through a moment-by-moment account of the hours after the Capitol was breached. On Tuesday, the first day of the impeachment trial, the multimedia presentation had taken viewers up to the moment when protesters first began to assault the Capitol.
What unspooled in front of Senators’ eyes sent the Senate chamber into a defensive crouch, as those who were there that day — lawmakers, police officers, staff — experienced the trauma all over again. One plain-clothes officer in the Senate chamber bowed his head. Some Senators stood at times from their desks to get a better look. Others appeared tearful.
Most chilling was the forensic approach taken by Del. Stacey Plaskett, D-Virgin Islands, and Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-CA, who used diagrams and never-before seen security footage to illustrate how close many lawmakers came to being apprehended by a mob that showed every intent of doing bodily harm to any member of Congress they could get their hands on.
Plaskett detailed the routes taken in the Capitol by officers evacuating former then-Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, and compared it to where clutches of rioters were at the same time. She showed video of those in the mob expressing their desire to “hang Mike Pence” and shared comments from charging documents in which insurrectionists said they would have killed Pence or Pelosi if they had been able to locate them.
“Vice President Pence had the courage to stand against the president, tell the American public the truth, and uphold our Constitution. That is patriotism,” Plaskett said. “That patriotism is also what put [the] vice president in so much danger on January 6 by the mob sent by our president.”
There was also security footage of Pelosi staffers fleeing the halls of the Capitol to barricade themselves inside a conference room, and then of members of the mob hurling themselves against an outer door to that room.
Swalwell showed security video of lawmakers themselves being escorted from the Senate chamber, and of them running through the hallways. Senate leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., was shown in another clip being hustled by his security detail through a hallway, then running back the way he came moments later.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who has been a frequent target of Trump’s vicious personal attacks, was shown on another video walking alone away from the Senate in the moments after the chamber recessed, while rioters roamed the building. Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman, already a hero for leading part of the mob away from the Senate chamber, was shown running toward Romney on his way to facing down the rioters, and warning Romney not to go the way he was headed.
Romney told reporters he had never seen the footage before. “I was very fortunate indeed,” he said. “It tears at your heart and brings tears to your eyes. That was overwhelmingly distressing and emotional.”
It wasn’t just one speech, Democrats argued, and the words were intended to spark violence.
Trump’s lawyers already have argued that Trump can’t be held accountable for a speech in which he did not explicitly call for violence.
But in the hours before they showed the carnage that occured on Jan. 6, managers made a compelling case that Trump’s hour-long speech on that day wasn’t just an isolated moment. They displayed considerable evidence that the former president spent months inciting his supporters to come to Washington that day and commit acts of violence.
Trump was not an “innocent bystander” whose followers acted on their own volition when they stormed the U.S. Capitol that day in a riot that killed five and injured scores, said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., the lead impeachment manager. Rather, said Plaskett, he “cultivated violence” for months and “deliberately encouraged” it.
The crowd on Jan. 6 was primed for violence, thanks to Trump’s own rhetoric over the previous months, and he would have known it, the managers said. And he took this group of supporters and directed it to march toward the Capitol and “fight like hell,” they said.
The House impeachment managers traced the evolution of Trump’s assault on democracy: his baseless public statements starting in the summer of 2020 that the election would be rigged; his false claims that he had actually won on the night of the election; his disregard for the results of over 60 court cases that dismissed his accusations of a rigged election; his attempts to pressure politicians in multiple states to overturn the results; his harassment of elections officials in Georgia and his veiled threats after they refused to throw out their vote totals; his anger at his own Justice Department’s findings that no significant fraud took place; his pressure on members of Congress to contest the results; and his attempt to have then-Vice President Mike Pence overturn the election.
They showed the way that Trump, after President Joe Biden was declared the winner, stoked the anger of his supporters and deceived them into thinking that their patriotic duty was to “stop the steal,” which of course had not in reality happened.
Swalwell said that Trump’s campaign spent $50 million on paid ads to amplify and spread the message of a rigged election with targeted advertisements online and elsewhere.
And Plaskett shared a significant detail. A group called Women for America First had organized a Trump rally on Dec.12 in Washington. And on Dec. 19 — the same day that Trump first told his supporters to come to Washington on Jan. 6 for what he said would be a “wild” day — this same group changed its permit for another rally from Jan. 22 to Jan. 6.
Trump was “directly involved” in planning the Jan. 6 rally, Plaskett said, and noted that the rally was planned so that it would take place just before Congress certified the election results, with Pence presiding over the process.
In addition, the Democratic managers demonstrated that Trump would have known violence was likely for weeks before Jan. 6, and that he kept turning up the temperature in the nation despite growing episodes of violence. As street battles broke out in D.C. on Dec. 12, and Trump supporters tried to run a Biden campaign bus off the highway, and state election officials came under death threats and physical intimidation, Trump applauded the violence, continued to lie about the election results, and told his supporters they had to “fight” to “stop the steal.”
“He assembled the mob. He summoned the mob and he incited the mob,” said Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., another manager. “He knew when he took that podium on that fateful morning that those in attendance had heeded his words and they were waiting for his orders to begin fighting.”
Plaskett hammered on the abundant evidence that the violence was easily foreseeable.
“Donald Trump knew the people he was inciting, he saw the violence that they were capable of and he had a pattern and practice of praising and encouraging that violence, never ever condemning it,” Plaskett said. “This was months of cultivating a base of people who were violent, praising that violence and then leaving that violence, that rage, straight at our door. … He had every reason to know that they were armed ... and that they would actually fight.”
Trump told the crowd several times that he wanted them to march to the Capitol. He told them “if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” He lied that he would be walking with them to the Capitol. He used the word “peacefully” once. He used the word “fight” or “fighting” 20 times.
After speaking for roughly an hour, Trump’s last words to the crowd on Jan. 6, at 1:10 p.m. — as some Trump backers were already violently clashing with police at the Capitol — were this: “So let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue. I want to thank you all. God bless you and God bless America. Thank you all for being here, this is incredible.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, told reporters that the evidence against Trump was “pretty damning.”
Yet some Republicans seemed determined to avoid grappling with the reality of what Trump and his movement have wrought.
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., who for long portions of the trial paid no attention and sat at his desk reading through material in a three-ring binder, said that the trial is a “complete waste of time.”
“He never said someone should break in,” he said.
Trump violated his oath of office, and that is why this is not a free speech issue, Raskin argues.
Early in the day, Raskin addressed the notion that Democrats are engaged in a partisan effort to punish someone for political speech.
He used the analogy of shouting “fire” in a crowded theater.
“This case is much worse than someone who shouted fire in a crowded theater,” Raskin said. “It’s more like a case where the town fire chief, who is paid to put out fires, sends a mob, not to yell fire in a crowded theater but to actually set the theater on fire. And who then, when the fire alarms go off and the calls start flooding into the fire department, does nothing but sit back, encourage the mob to continue its rampage and watch the fire spread on TV.”
Raskin went further and pointed out that free speech does give the right to an average citizen to walk down the street and yell about vowing allegiance to a foreign country or overthrowing the government.
But, Raskin said, a president does not have the right to say such things. A president, like other federal officials, is bound by an oath taken when he assumes the office. And if he violates the oath, the constitutional solution is impeachment.
“If you’re president of the United States, you’ve chosen a side with your oath of office, and if you break it, we can impeach, convict, remove, and disqualify you permanently from holding any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States,” Raskin said. “As Justice Scalia once said memorably, you can’t ride with the cops and root for the robbers.”
“Trump was the president of the United States and he had sworn to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. He had an affirmative binding duty, one that set him apart from everyone else in the country, to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, including all the laws against assaulting federal officers, destroying federal property, violently threatening members of Congress and the vice president, interfering with federal elections, and dozens of other federal laws,” Raskin said.
“When he incited the insurrection on January 6, he broke that oath … He has no credible constitutional offense.”
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