Impeachment Showdown as Democrats Tie Trump’s Words to Capitol Riot

The final push by Democrats in former President Trump’s impeachment trial concluded Thursday with appeals to uphold the integrity of the Constitution and to bar Trump from ever again holding office.

Slides presented by Democrats prosecuting the impeachment of former President Donald Trump in the Senate on Wednesday included this video showing Trump’s supporters chanting “Fight for Trump!” after they stormed into the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. (Senate Television via AP)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Going back years before armed rioters overran the U.S. Capitol, Democrats wrapped the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump on Thursday with a stream of evidence they say shows Trump’s undeniable and shameful lack of remorse when it comes to inciting his base.

Leading the team of House Democrats taking on Trump as impeachment managers, Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin offered video evidence to show how Trump publicly reveled in his supporters’ use of brute force on his behalf.  

“Knock the crap out of him” and “get him the hell out of here” were a few of the Trump commands played in the Senate trial, taken from a rally where Trump called for the forceful removal of a protester. In another video, Trump is heard eagerly praising then-Congressman Greg Gianforte for body-slamming a reporter.

Impeachment managers pointed as well to 2017 when Trump would not disavow the white supremacists who marched on Charlottesville, Virginia, with torches chanting, “Jews will not replace us.”

Years after that appraisal of the “very fine people on both sides,” Trump found himself at a similar crossroads during a 2020 presidential debate when he was asked to condemn white supremacists and other hate groups like the Proud Boys.

Trump instead with a command for them to “stand back and stand by.”

For Raskin, this pattern underscores Trump’s intent with his supporters on Jan. 6 as he called for them to “walk down to the Capitol” and “fight like hell.”

“He ordered his most hard-core supporters to direct violence at elected officials to attack and lay siege,” Raskin said.

Invoking philosopher Thomas Paine, the 30-year constitutional scholar asked senators to flex their own common sense, saying Trump knew his supporters would heed his call. Trump knew their history of violence, Raskin said, because he had a history of praising it.

Yet when the siege failed, leaving five dead, 140 law enforcement officers injured but the results of the 2020 election still the same, impeachment manager Ted Lieu noted Thursday that Trump stayed aloof. It took him three days to lower flags to half-staff in honor of the fallen during the siege.

Lieu said this lack of remorse laid bare a very cold truth: Trump believed then, and may very well believe now, that he and future presidents can run for a national election, lose, reject the outcome, inflame supporters and incite insurrection. 

“And it would be totally appropriate,” Lieu said. 

The congressman continued with a caveat: “Trump must be held accountable because we must send a message that it is never patriotic to incite an attack against our nation’s capital.”

A two-thirds majority of the Senate is needed to convict Trump so that he may never again hold political office. Calling on 17 Republicans to take that mantle, impeachment manager Diana DeGette made an appeal tied to the shared trauma she and other lawmakers faced on the day of the insurrection.

The Colorado congresswoman described how she and fellow impeachment manager Madeleine Dean were stuck in the gallery when the mob broke into the building and plowed toward the House chamber. 

From there, the lawmakers could see officers training their guns toward gallery doors as a mob pounded on the flimsy wood to get inside. They heard gunshots, and they hid, removing their congressional pins so they could not be identified.

A video of then-President Donald Trump expressing his love for the rioters is shown to senators during Trump’s second impeachment trial on Wednesday. (Senate Television via AP)

DeGette next showed the Senate an image of a SWAT team arresting marauders on the ground, assault rifles drawn. 

She said the assailants’ documented their motives in the selfies and various recordings they shared on social media, now in the hands of law enforcement.

“Their own statements before, during and after the attack made clear the attack was done for Donald Trump, at his instructions and to fulfill his wishes,” DeGette said. “Donald Trump had sent them there.” 

For some of the Capitol rioters, “Trump made me do it” has even become a legal defense.

DeGette pointed to the case of Dominic Pezzola, a former Marine and member of the extremist Proud Boys organization who was first to break inside the building. After his arrest, Pezzola insisted that Trump had invited him to voice his displeasure with the election results in Washington. 

As for how that speech became an act of violence, Pezzola’s attorney Jonathan Zucker offers a theory in one court filing.

“These were people acting in a way they’ve never acted before and it begs the question, who lit the fuse?’”

DeGette answered: “On January 6, we know who lit the fuse. Donald Trump told these insurrectionists to come to the Capitol and stop the steal.” 

Impeachment manager David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat, also relived the attack from the floor but focused on the civilians caught in the throes.

“From personal aides, to floor employees, cleaning staff, food service workers, we can’t forget all the people who were in harm’s way that day,” Cicilline said.

Many of those workers did not have a locked door to hide behind while rioters stormed throughout the building. They cowered, hiding in place just feet away from where the rabid crowd settled. 

It was Neguse who eventually brought House impeachment managers’ evidence home for senators, saying there were really only a few questions they needed to answer in their deliberations: Could Trump have foreseen the violence he caused, and did he encourage that violence? The answer to those questions was undoubtedly yes, he said.  

“He cared more about pressing his efforts to overturn the election than he did about saving lives, our lives,” Neguse said.  

Raskin gave the final word for House impeachment managers, trying to get ahead of what he said he expected to be a procedural rebuttal from Trump’s defense team. But a lot of those questions, like if the trial against Trump is constitutional, had already been answered and voted on, Raskin said. 

“This is a trial in the facts of what happened, and incitement, as we said, is a fact-intensive investigation and judgment that each of you will have to make,” Raskin said. 

As Trump’s team presents their argument, Raskin said, it will be important for senators to consider why the president did not order his supporters to halt their siege as soon as he learned of it. Why did it take Trump two hours, Raskin continued, before he tried in any way to stop the violence?

Why didn’t Trump at any point condemn the violent insurrection or those leading it? And, if a president had invited an insurrection against America, would that be a high crime and misdemeanor? 

Raskin returned again to Paine’s “Common Sense,” telling lawmakers they needed to exercise what the revolutionary had called “the sense we all have in common as a community.”

“Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; but we have this saving consolation, the more difficult the struggle, the more glorious in the end will be our victory,” Raskin said, slightly paraphrasing the English-born U.S. political activist.

As the trial turns now to Trump’s defense, attorneys Bruce Castor and David Schoen will be permitted 16 hours spread over two days for opening arguments.

It is expected the trial will continue straight through the weekend and potentially conclude early next week. After opening arguments, lawmakers will have four hours to submit questions in writing to Senator Patrick Leahy who presides over the trial.

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