USA TODAY International Edition
‘ They could have killed all of us’
WASHINGTON – House Democrats urged Senate Republicans to convict former President Donald Trump of inciting insurrection by reviving the brutal events of Jan. 6 with a chilling video of rioters swarming the Capitol and thrashing police officers.
On the first day of oral arguments in the impeachment trial, Democrats opened their case with a 13- minute video that showed rioters smashing through the Capitol’s windows and doors. Police officers were crushed and bludgeoned, lawmakers fled down stairs and a gunshot was heard when an officer shot a woman to death outside the House chamber.
Weaved between horrific scenes of violence were clips of Trump’s speech spurring the crowd to the Capitol while baselessly claiming he won the election. Trump also tweeted criticism of Vice President Mike Pence, who was presiding in the Senate when the mob stormed the building.
House prosecutors, who are called managers, played the video as part of their argument that the trial is constitutional. Trump’s defense team had claimed that the Senate has no jurisdiction over him because he has already left office. But the Senate voted for the second time Tuesday that the trial is justified.
The votes suggested enough support for Trump that he will be acquit
ted, so House managers targeted Senate Republicans with their arguments. Some Republicans called the emotional presentation compelling but not necessarily persuasive.
“In terms of advocacy they are very eloquent,” said Sen. Roger Wicker, RMiss., but they “did not change my mind.”
The oral arguments opened a historic trial of the only president to be impeached twice and the only one pursued when he was out of office. Trump was acquitted at his first trial a year ago over his dealings with Ukraine.
A stark visual reminder
Raskin played the video to remind senators about the violence that surrounded them before rioters occupied their chamber and rummaged through their mahogany desks after lawmakers evacuated.
The video showed the moment Ashli Babbitt was shot to death outside the House chamber. An unidentified Capitol police officer is heard shouting in pain as he was crushed by the crowd at a ground- level door. Officer Brian Sicknick died the next day from injuries.
Pence presided in the Senate while counting Electoral College votes that certified President Joe Biden’s election. But the video showed a Trump tweet from 2: 24 p. m. – after rioters breached the Capitol doors – that said “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution.”
The video ended amid silence in the Senate chamber that had been occupied by vandals.
“Senators, the president was impeached by the U. S. House of Representatives on Jan. 13 for doing that,” Raskin said. “You ask what a high crime and misdemeanor is under our Constitution? That is a high crime and misdemeanor. If that’s not an impeachable offense, then there is no such thing.”
“Very good opening,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy, R- La. “Again, I’m trying to digest facts. And I thought the arguments they gave were strong arguments.”
Sen. Josh Hawley, R- Mo., called the arguments “about what I expected.”
Trump’s defense team, led by Bruce Castor Jr. and David Schoen, have argued that he should be acquitted, saying he was not trying to incite violence. Among his tweets that day, Trump told rioters to “go home with love & in peace.”
The trial will continue after the Senate voted 56- 44 to reject the argument from Trump’s team that the proceeding was unconstitutional because he is a private citizen after leaving office. But those votes also suggested Trump could be acquitted because a two- thirds majority is required for conviction and more than one- third of the chamber found the trial unconstitutional.
House managers will elaborate Wednesday and Thursday on their arguments for why Trump should be convicted of inciting the insurrection and disqualified from holding future office.
“This was a disaster of historic proportion,” said Rep. David Cicilline, DR. I. “Things could have been much worse. As one senator said, they could have killed all of us.”
Raskin said he’ll never forget the haunting sound of a battering ram against the House door. He recalled how a rioter mercilessly pummeled a police officer with an American flagpole. Officers suffered brain damage and had their eyes gouged, and one lost three fingers, Raskin said.
He gestured to the pin on his lapel identifying him as a member of the House and said lawmakers were removing them as they evacuated.
“Senators, this cannot be the future of America,” said Raskin as he choked up. “We cannot have presidents inciting and mobilizing mob violence against our government and our institutions because they refuse to accept the will of the people under the Constitution of the United States.”
Castor, one of Trump’s defense lawyers, said that if the Senate convicted the former president it would make impeachment the rule rather than the exception for political differences.
“The floodgates will open,” Castor said, noting that two of four presidential impeachments occurred in the past 13 months. “This is supposed to be the ultimate safety valve, the last thing that happens, the most rare treatment.”
He denounced the mob as “repugnant in every sense of the word.” But he said Trump’s speech is protected.
“We can’t possibly be suggesting that we punish people for political speech in this country,” Castor said.
New evidence to come
With the constitutionality of the trial confirmed, House prosecutors will now focus their arguments on “powerful” evidence of the death and destruction from the riot, according to senior aides to the managers. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D- N. Y., said new evidence would be presented.
“The Senate has a solemn responsibility to try and hold Trump accountable for the most serious charge ever – ever – levied against a president,” Schumer told reporters before the arguments began. “When you have such a serious charge, sweeping it under the rug will not bring unity, it will keep the sore open and the wounds open. You need truth and accountability.”
The nine House managers will return Wednesday and Thursday to argue their case for up to eight hours each day. Then Trump’s defense team will have up to 16 hours over two days to argue their side.
Senators will then be able to question both sides for four hours. At that point, House managers and Trump’s defense team could request witnesses, which the Senate would vote on.
“It’s going to be the managers’ decision. They haven’t made a decision yet,” Schumer said. “There is going to be a vote, if they decide to call witnesses. But I’m not going to prejudge.”
If there are no witnesses, the House managers and Trump’s defense team would split up to four hours of closing arguments. Then the Senate would vote on whether to convict Trump. If convicted, the Senate could vote on whether to disqualify him from future office.