WASHINGTON — Democratic House managers wrapped up their case Thursday to convict former President Donald Trump for inciting insurrection, saying he made a big lie about a stolen election and gave marching orders to supporters and violent groups to attack the Capitol.
The managers argued that Trump knowingly anticipated violence by sending a clear message to a mob of angry loyalists to stop Congress from certifying the election of Joe Biden as president on Jan. 6 and then did nothing to stop it until after five deaths and many injuries.
"What greater offense could one commit than to incite violent insurrection at our seat of government during the peaceful transfer of power in circumstances where violence is foreseeable," Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), the lead manager, said.
"How can we assure that our commander in chief will protect, preserve and defend us in our Constitution if we don't hold a president accountable in a circumstance like this?" Raskin asked. "What is impeachable conduct if not this?"
The managers covered a wide array of issues in quick succession finishing their arguments without using five or six hours of their allotted time.
Trump’s defense attorneys, Bruce Castor Jr. and David Schoen, begin at noon Friday the first of two days to deliver their rebuttal and defense.
Here are some highlights from Thursday’s proceedings.
Trump and his defenders deny he incited the crowd at his Jan. 6 rally and say they acted on their own. Rep. Diana DeGette D-Colo.) said, "It’s not what the insurrectionists actually said" and offered statements by insurrectionists in the siege. She cited a rioter shouting at Capitol Police: "We are listening to Trump — your boss." Another said, "Our president wants us here. We wait and take orders from our president." And she showed news clips of Jennifer Ryan, who faces federal charges in the siege. "Ultimately yes, we were going in solidarity with President Trump," she said in one. In another, Ryan said, "If it comes down to war, guess what? I'm going to be there. We're all going be here, we’re going to be breaking those windows."
On April 30, Trump loyalists stormed the Michigan state Capitol to protest Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s strict COVID-19 precautions after weeks of Trump attacks on her — including an April 17 tweet: "Liberate Michigan." Raskin said, "This Trump-inspired mob may indeed look familiar to you: Confederate battle flags, MAGA hats, weapons, camo army gear — just like the [Capitol] insurrectionists." Two weeks later, after Trump’s sustained criticism of Whitmer, his supporters stormed the Michigan Capitol again, and 13 men were arrested in October for plotting to kidnap and execute Whitmer. "The siege at the Michigan state house was effectively a state-level dress rehearsal for the seizure of the U.S. Capitol," Raskin said. "Trump knew exactly what he was doing in inciting the January 6 mob. He had just seen how easily his words and actions inspired violence in Michigan."
Fear of the future
Trump never expressed remorse, said Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro. "He was telling us … that he could do this again, that he and future presidents can run for national election, lose the election, inflame the supporters for months and then incite an insurrection — and that would be totally appropriate," Castro said. Raskin asked, "Is there any political leader in this room who believes that if he is ever allowed by the Senate to get back into the Oval Office, Donald Trump would stop inciting violence to get his way? Would you bet the lives of more police officers on that? Would you bet the safety of your family on that? Would you bet the future of your democracy on that?" Raskin added, "President Trump declared his conduct totally appropriate, so if he gets back into office and it happens again, we will have no one to blame but ourselves."
The Democrats prosecuting Trump relied heavily on Republicans and conservatives to bolster their case. On Tuesday, they quoted highly regarded conservative legal scholars to legitimize the impeachment trial against the ex-president. On Thursday, they turned to Republicans who blamed Trump for the Jan. 6 mob assault on the Capitol. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine pointed to Trump’s "incendiary speech." Former Trump national security adviser H.W. McMaster blamed Trump for "stoking fears." And former Trump chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said that "it was wrong" what Trump did.
Questions for the defense
Raskin challenged Trump’s lawyers to answer questions that he had hoped to ask Trump himself when he invited him to testify as they mount their defense over the next two days. Why didn’t Trump tell his supporters to stop the attack as soon as he heard about it? Why did he do nothing to stop the attack for at least two hours after it began? Why did he do nothing to send help right away for the besieged law enforcement officers? Why didn’t Trump condemn the violent insurrection any time on Jan. 6? Raskin also asserted that the defense should stick to the facts of the case — and, because the Senate voted 56 to 44 to hold the trial, not the question of the trial’s constitutionality.
After the House managers ended their arguments — after just about a day and a half — many Republican senators praised the presentation, especially the videos and photos. But most indicated they will not vote to convict. Some of them shied away from talking about the Democrats’ case and stuck to the question of whether the Senate has jurisdiction to try an ex-president. South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds said he wouldn’t defend Trump’s action but said he was concerned about whether the trial is constitutional. As he left the Capitol, Texas Sen. John Cornyn called the managers’ argument that Trump would do it all over again if he’s acquitted "pretty clever." But Cornyn added, "The thing I’m most concerned about is not Trump. I’m concerned about the precedent." He explained, "If this just keeps up, I think we're going to have impeachments occur more often than elections."