Impeachment managers show dramatic footage of Capitol attack

Impeachment managers show dramatic footage of Capitol attackFebruary 11, 2021

House Democrats unloaded a trove of horrific footage Wednesday that showed lawmakers making narrow escapes from the mob that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, a horde of insurrectionists they repeatedly described as a “Trump mob,” incited by the former president’s call for them to descend on Congress and stop the counting of electoral votes.

The clips, some previously public and others drawn from newly disclosed Capitol security footage, showed Vice President Mike Pence’s narrow escape from the building and a Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman — already a hero for his actions to divert insurrectionists from the Senate chamber — turning around Sen. Mitt Romney shortly before he ran into the heavily armed pack.

“President Trump put a target on their backs and his mob broke into the Capitol to hunt them down,” said Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-V.I.), one of nine House prosecutors seeking Trump’s conviction in a Senate impeachment trial for incitement of insurrection.

The video evidence, long foreshadowed by Democrats, was their most powerful attempt to prove that Trump was directly responsible for the violence that unfolded and left five dead — including a Capitol Police officer — and hundreds of other officers seriously injured. Lawmakers spent the morning detailing evidence they said showed Trump had primed his supporters to commit violence in his name, warning falsely that the election had been stolen and that they would lose their country if they didn’t “fight like hell.”

The videos showed rioters echoing his words as they stormed the Capitol, and then adding their own calls to hunt for Pence — who Trump portrayed as a backstabber for refusing to block the electoral vote count — and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Among the video footage was a clip of rioters storming Pelosi’s office and pounding on the door of an inner conference room where Pelosi’s staffers were huddled in terror. Rep. Eric Swalwell also noted that a mob on the Senate side of the Capitol came within just 58 steps of the senators’ escape route. The violence, while horrific, could have been so much worse, they noted.

The footage was part of the House’s opening arguments in the impeachment trial that began in earnest Wednesday. They will have another eight hours Thursday to continue their arguments if they choose to use it. Trump’s team — which contends he never encouraged violence and that his claims of a stolen election were protected by the First Amendment — will present its defense beginning on Friday.

Hours after much of this footage was taken on Jan. 6 — and at least one of the protesters died from an officer’s gunshot during an attempt to breach the House chamber — Trump tweeted a video message in which he urged the rioters to go home but added, “We love you.” Later that evening, Trump tweeted that “These are the things and events that happen” when an election is stolen — a reprise of his months-long false claims.

But the House managers sought to defang any of his potential arguments with a heap of evidence that Trump provoked his followers — many of whom were widely understood to have violent intentions — in the weeks leading up to Jan. 6.

“He told them to fight like hell, and they brought us hell that day,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), the lead House impeachment manager, as the House opened its formal trial arguments on the Senate floor Wednesday.

“This case is not about blaming an innocent bystander. This is about holding accountable the personal singularly responsible for this attack,” Raskin added, referring to Trump as the “inciter-in-chief.”

The arguments kicked off a two-day presentation by Democrats seeking to persuade at least 17 Senate Republicans to join in convicting Trump, a tall task that appears unlikely to succeed in the trial’s early stages.

Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), another impeachment manager, initiated the arguments by laying out a post-election chronology of Trump’s comments and actions seeking to undermine confidence in the 2020 election results. He played a series of clips of Trump vowing to “never surrender” in his fight to flip the election outcome.

“People listened. Armed supporters surrounded election officials’ homes. The secretary of state for Georgia got death threats. Officials warned the president that his rhetoric was dangerous and it was going to result in deadly violence,” Neguse said. “He didn’t stop it. He didn’t condemn the violence. He incited it further.”

That incitement got more specific over time, Neguse said, eventually resulting in his order for supporters to show up in Washington on Jan. 6 at the precise moment Congress was certifying Biden’s victory, and to schedule a speech — and order backers to march on the Capitol — just as the votes were beginning to be tallied.

Later, the managers addressed Trump’s false claims of voter fraud head-on, debunking some of the central allegations that fueled the riots and outlining Trump’s weeks-long effort to promote a campaign dubbed “stop the steal.” Inside the Senate chamber, several Democratic senators as well as GOP Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska could be seen shaking their heads as clips played of Trump calling the election “stolen” and “fraudulent.”

The impeachment managers began their opening arguments after aides to the House impeachment team said Wednesday morning that the prosecutors plan to introduce never-before-seen footage of the riots.

The footage, which may be drawn from Capitol security cameras and other sources, will shed light on the rioters’ “extreme violence” from a new vantage point, aides to the House impeachment team said. It’s part of what Democrats maintain will be an overwhelming display of evidence that Trump directly fueled the deadly insurrection and committed “the most heinous constitutional crime possible.”

“The easiest trials to try are the trials where you have the goods. We have the goods,” said a senior aide to the House impeachment team.

According to aides, the brand new footage will also underscore the risk that the violence could have spiraled further “but for the brave action of the officers” securing the building even when they were outnumbered by a pro-Trump mob.

The managers’ use of video footage underscores a central theme of their trial strategy — to make senators re-live the horrors of Jan. 6 and the raw emotions that come with it. One of the managers’ aides said the team is still convinced that it can marshal the power of those moments to “move hearts, minds, the consciences of 100 jurors,” even as an acquittal seems exceedingly likely.

Wednesday’s argument will also focus on the weeks before the Jan. 6 insurrection, when the managers say Trump primed his base with false claims that the 2020 election was “stolen” from him. The managers intend to show that the violence of last month’s insurrection was the “foreseeable” result of Trump’s rhetoric, aides said.

They will also argue that Trump’s remarks on Jan. 6 to a group of his supporters, urging them to march on the Capitol and “fight like hell” to stop Joe Biden’s presidency, were “filled with meaning” — and directed at a group he knew included “folks with violent backgrounds.”

The Democrats are taking heart from the unexpected decision of Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) to support their case that the trial is constitutional. Cassidy, who praised the House managers’ presentations on Tuesday, was the only senator whose vote was not forecast in advance.

On Tuesday, the trial’s first official day, the managers played a lengthy montage on the Senate floor that intertwined Trump’s words and tweets with the violent actions of the rioters. Even some of the Republicans who voted to declare the trial unconstitutional said they were moved by the videos — an acknowledgment that the trial’s jury pool witnessed and was a victim of the insurrection.

The Senate ultimately voted to uphold its constitutional authority to put a former president on trial, with six Republicans joining all 50 Democrats in the vote. The managers plan to urge Republicans in particular to divorce their concerns about the constitutionality of the trial from the merits of the House’s case against Trump. With the procedural question already settled, House Democrats are hoping that more than six Republicans will agree with them on the substance of their arguments.

The aides also indicated that Democrats expect to use less than the full 16 hours of argument time they have been allotted, a nod to the concerns they have shown about preventing repetitiveness and lulling the Senate into boredom. They added that all nine impeachment managers selected by Speaker Nancy Pelosi will participate in the arguments.

Democrats also intend to use their opening arguments to guard against what they expect to hear from the Trump defense team when it presents its case on Friday and Saturday. Trump’s team argues that his words to the Jan. 6 crowd were protected by the First Amendment and that the rioters who breached the Capitol did so of their own accord, not with Trump’s urging or blessing.

The Trump team’s arguments were marred Tuesday by a rambling performance from lead attorney Bruce Castor, whose hour-long presentation was roundly panned by senators from both parties. But most Senate Republicans are predisposed to acquitting Trump and appeared poised to overlook the weaknesses of the Trump team’s case in the early stages of the trial.

The impeachment managers got some timely help Wednesday from Atlanta-area prosecutors who, according to a New York Times report, have decided to launch a criminal investigation of Trump’s effort in December to pressure Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, to “find” enough votes to help him win the state’s presidential election.

That episode, captured in an audio recording that was released by the Washington Post last month, figured in the House’s case against Trump— part of what they said was a prolonged effort by Trump to wrest the election from Biden and claim a second term.

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