House impeachment managers launched the first full day of arguments against former President Donald Trump, a day after lawmakers voted the trial constitutional.
WASHINGTON (CN) — Where frenzied marauders once prowled the Senate floor hellbent on overturning the results of the 2020 election, House impeachment managers on Wednesday kicked off the second day of the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump.
Lead impeachment manager Jamie Raskin gave the former president no quarter this afternoon as he outlined the evidence — some of it in new video footage — that House lawmakers showed to demonstrate that Trump was the catalyst to the Jan. 6 rampage at the U.S. Capitol.
“The evidence will show that ex-president Trump was no innocent bystander. The evidence will show that he clearly incited the Jan. 6 insurrection and it will show that Donald Trump surrendered his role as commander-in-chief and became the incitor-in-chief of a dangerous insurrection,” Raskin said from the Senate floor.
Opening arguments were delivered in the style of a criminal prosecution, and Wednesday marks the first of what will be two consecutive eight-hour days during which Raskin and the other impeachment managers will make the case that Trump incited insurrection at the Capitol by delivering remarks on the morning of Jan. 6 laden with bald falsehoods about the election outcome, namely that it was stolen from him.
The managers aruged Wednesday that Trump encouraged those whose attention he had rapt to march from his rally near the White House straight to the Capitol and “fight like hell” to secure a victory he never earned.
Another impeachment manager, Congressman Joe Neguse, asked senators to remember that key phrase as the trial progresses.
“Fight like hell” and quips that the “election was stolen” became a mantra Trump often repeated during appearances at rallies before and after the Nov. 3 election.
A Colorado Democrat and former attorney, Neguse played clip after clip of Trump’s speeches spanning October to late December where the then-president called on throngs of supporters never to give up or back down because Democrats had “stolen the election.”
That claim had been summarily shot down by the U.S. intelligence community as well as the Department of Justice, which only reached the conclusion after Trump himself urged a probe into election fraud. The probe confirmed his claims were meritless.
Raskin said the upcoming hours of this trial will leave senators convinced that Trump knew the attack was coming, that he was “not remotely surprised” at it, and that he was aware of the potential for ensuing violence.
“And when the violence inexorably came as predicted and overran this body and the House of Representatives with chaos, we will show you he completely abdicated his duty as commander in chief to stop the violence and protect the government and protect our people,” Raskin said.
Lawmakers in the Capitol were largely unaware of the chaos heading their way as they conducted the ceremony of counting Electoral College votes already certified by each state and overwhelmingly in favor of Trump’s then-opponent — and now-president — Joe Biden.
Trump faces a single and fairly simple article of impeachment, leveled exactly one week after the insurrection left five dead and the Capitol building fortified by steel fencing and swarms of National Guard.
It accuses Trump of despoiling the integrity of the democratic system, interfering with the peaceful transition of power, and imperiling a co-equal branch of government.
The House lawmakers argued Wednesday that, because of Trump’s actions, members of Congress, Vice President Mike Pence, congressional staff and journalists were menaced for hours as the insurrection unfolded.
For clarity and continuity, managers asked senators to consider their case in three parts: the provocation, the attack and the harm.
The signs were there all along, Neguse argued, and what comes next will be left up to jurors, senators who were themselves only moments from danger during the attack.
“And just as on January 6th when we overcame that attack on our Capitol, on our country, I’m hopeful that at this trial we can use our resolve and our resilience to again uphold our democracy by faithfully applying the law, vindicating the Constitution and holding President Trump accountable for his actions,” Neguse said.
Impeachment manager Eric Swalwell pointed to previously unreleased security footage showing senators and House members being evacuated through back doors in the building and ushered quickly downstairs by Capitol Police — as rioters took the building while Trump finished speaking outside the White House.
Senators were only 58 paces away from where the mob had amassed and officers had rushed to form a line to stop them, Swalwell showed on one security camera clip. Another he used as a visual aid showed Majority Leader Chuck Schumer walking through a passageway underneath the Capitol, then ushered back to safety by security — with officers locking doors behind him as he was moved to safety.
Impeachment manager Stacey Plaskett — a Democrat representing the U.S. Virgin Islands — also played for senators previously unreleased footage while giving lawmakers snippets of recordings of police radio communications on Jan. 6. One officer described a group of 50 supporters rushing towards the north-facing wall of the building while rioters overtook a police line. Another shouted he was on his way to assist.
Another reported rioters had begun throwing metal poles at police, along with reports of being attacked with rocks, bottles and bear spray.
Plaskett, recounting her preparation for trial, said while many had seen clips and reports in the news, it was not until her research that she understood the full scope of Trump supporters’ attack on the seat of democracy.
“It was an attack to our republic, to our democratic process,” Plaskett said.
In that reflection, Plaskett thought back to the attacks of Sept. 11th, when she was a House staff member with an office on the west-facing side of the Capitol.
With the 20 year anniversary of the attack approaching, Plaskett said she thought about Americans who had made unimaginable sacrifices — like U.S. Capitol Police officers and other servicemembers worldwide — to protect lawmakers from outside attacks. Especially those who helped divert Flight 93 from hitting an additional D.C. target.
“Those Americans sacrificed their lives for love of country, honor, duty, all the things that America means,” Plaskett said. “The Capitol stands because of people like that.”
Reprising his role as an impeachment manager at Trump’s first impeachment, Swalwell explained how it took time to prime Trump’s supporters to explode into a frenzy as lawmakers met in a joint session of Congress to count certified electors.
Just like a fire, he said, the Capitol’s storming had not started in a frenzy of flame that day. For months Trump assembled the tinder and kindling to fuel his supporters’ belief that the only way victory would be lost would be if it was stolen.
“So that way, President Trump was ready if he lost the election to light the match,” Swalwell said. “And on November 7, after all the votes were counted President Trump did lose by 7 million votes.”
With more false election claims unsupported by evidence, Swalwell said, Trump went on to “douse the flames with kerosene.” Playing a video clip of Michiganders surrounding their Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s home chanting “stop the steal,” Swalwell said it wasn’t the first time Trump’s supporters used threats or intimidation.
At any point, he could have used the very same platform he used to decry the election as fraudulent — his massive Twitter following — to direct his supporters to act less violently, Swalwell noted.
“But each time, he didn’t,” he said. “Instead in the face of escalating violence, he incited them further.”
Another two House impeachment managers, David Cicilline and Joaquin Castro, outlined Trump’s involvement in sending aid to lawmakers throughout the day, noting reports from the Washington Post that the then president had little interest in quelling the potential for violence at the Capitol.
Castro noted Trump had tweeted after rioters were cleared from the Capitol nearly five hours later to “remember this day forever.” Castro was confident members of Congress would not forget Jan. 6.
“We will of course, each of us, remember that day forever; but not in the way that President Trump intended,” Castro said. “Not because of the actions of these violent, unpatriotic insurrectionists. I’ll remember that day forever because despite President Trump’s vicious attempts throughout the day to encourage the siege and block certification, he failed.”
Once opening arguments from impeachment managers wrap, Trump’s defense team will be given the same amount of time, 16 hours, to respond. When opening arguments end, senators will then submit written questions to Senator Patrick Leahy.
The Vermont Democrat is presiding over the trial in the same capacity as Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts at Trump’s first impeachment trial for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Like Roberts, Leahy will read lawmakers’ questions aloud.
The trial is expected to continue through the weekend and potentially into early next week, but a senior aide said Wednesday that managers do not, at this point, expect to use the full two days to lay out their case.
A two-thirds majority, or 67 votes, is needed for conviction, necessitating 17 Republicans to side with Democrats.
This story is developing…