WASHINGTON — Democratic House managers laid out a detailed case with graphic new videos Wednesday as they sought to prove former President Donald Trump knowingly incited a violent mob to attack the Capitol to stop the certification of President Joe Biden’s election.
On the first of two days of arguments, the managers led senators step by step through tweets, emails, photos, audios, videos and speeches in a bid to show Trump planned to overturn the election and, as his legal challenges failed, plotted the deadly Jan. 6 attack.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), the lead Democratic House manager, said Trump was no innocent bystander who got swept up in this catastrophe but did nothing wrong and whose conduct was appropriate, as his lawyers asserted Tuesday.
"The evidence will show he clearly incited the insurrection. It will show Donald Trump surrendered his role as commander in chief and became the inciter-in-chief of a dangerous insurrection," Raskin said.
"He told them to fight like hell," Raskin added, "and they brought us hell that day."
The managers focused on Trump’s planning and provocation of the attack, saying Trump switched the date for a rally of his supporters from a day or two after the Jan. 20 inauguration to Jan. 6, the day a joint session of Congress met to certify the election results.
The managers plan to lay out the harm and impact of the attack as they resume their arguments on Thursday as they try to sway enough Senate Republicans to vote to convict Trump on the charge of incitement of insurrection, an unlikely prospect.
Trump’s legal team will begin their two days of arguments for their rebuttal Friday.
Here are some highlights from Wednesday’s proceedings.
Riveting the attention of all the senators, on both sides of the aisle, House managers played previously unseen videos from security cameras in the Capitol and from Capitol Police body cameras, showing the inside view of mobs crashing into the building. One video showed Vice President Mike Pence and his family being escorted to safety. Another showed Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and others swiftly walking up a ramp seeking refuge only to abruptly turn around after nearly bumping into rioters and running back down the ramp. A silent security video with an inside view showed a Trump flag flying into the hallway, soon followed by rioters, in the first break-in through the windows. Another shows the view from an officer’s body camera as police get overrun in the stampede toward the Capitol. And recordings of a District of Columbia police call included a panicked voice: "This is now effectively a riot."
The prosecutors accused Trump of repeatedly spreading the "big lie" that the only way he could lose would be through a stolen election, and then ramping it up toward a violent clash. And they charged that Trump helped plan the Jan. 6 rally weeks ahead of time and changed it so that it included a march to the Capitol. They said Trump ended his speech just as Congress began its certification ceremony. "Just as the president spent months spreading his big lies of the election, he also spent months cultivating groups of people who, following his command, repeatedly engaged in real, dangerous violence and when they did, when the violence erupted as the response to his calls to fight against stolen election, he did not walk it back and did not tell them no," said manager Stacey Plaskett, a delegate to the House representing the Virgin Islands. "He fanned the flames and it worked."
Peacefully versus fight
Mark Meadows, Trump’s last chief of staff, protested that Democrats cherry picked Trump’s speech to the rally on Jan. 6. "There’s one line from President Trump’s January 6th speech that Democrats keep conveniently leaving out," Meadows posted on Twitter. " 'Peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.’ " House manager and Rep. Madeline Dean (D-Pa.) responded to those complaints by Republicans. "In the speech spanning almost 11,000 words — yes we did check — that was the one time and the only time the President Trump used the word peaceful or any suggestion of nonviolence," she said. "President Trump used the word fight 20 times, including telling the crowd they needed to fight like heck to save our democracy."
Crying fire in a theater
Raskin rejected the Trump lawyers claim Tuesday that Trump’s speech was protected by the First Amendment, citing Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ phrase that you can’t falsely shout fire in a crowded theater. But Raskin said, "It’s more like a case where the town fire chief who is paid to put out fires incites 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 … does nothing but sit back, encourage the mob to continue its rampage and watch the fire spread on TV with glee and delight." But a fire chief, or a president, cannot claim his free-speech rights are violated if sacked. A private citizen can express support for the enemies of the United States under the First Amendment. But a president has sworn to support and defend the United States. "As Justice [Antonin] Scalia once said," Raskin said, " ‘You can’t ride with the cops and root for the robbers.’ "
Is this America?
A Black Capitol Police officer who did his job defending against the Trump loyalists’ brutal attacks later broke down over the blatant racism. "For several hours straight, as the marauders punched and kicked and mauled and spit upon and hit officers with baseball bats and fire extinguishers, cursed the cops and stormed our capital, he defended us and he lived every minute of his oath of office," Raskin said about the unnamed officer quoted in a BuzzFeed News story. "And afterward, overwhelmed by emotion, he broke down in the rotunda, and he cried for 15 minutes. And he shouted out, ‘I got called the N-word 15 times today.’ And then he reported, 'I sat down with one of my buddies, another Black guy, and tears just started streaming down my face. And I said, … Is this America?' "