Rioters intent on killing then-vice-president Mike Pence and members of Congress repeatedly got within a few feet of the politicians they planned to harm during the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol, Donald Trump’s impeachment trial heard.
On the second day of proceedings before the Senate Wednesday, Democratic members of Congress serving as prosecutors used harrowing, never-before-seen video to argue how close the already deadly attack came to becoming a multiple political assassination.
And they cast Mr. Trump as the riot’s “inciter-in-chief,” in a bid to torpedo his expected defence that he was not responsible for the actions of his supporters.
“Donald Trump surrendered his role as commander-in-chief and became the inciter-in-chief of a dangerous insurrection,” said Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin, the lead impeachment manager.
Over eight hours, using video clips, tweets, news articles and some pretaped interviews, Mr. Raskin and eight other managers endeavoured to show how Mr. Trump spent months building a violent movement to overturn the election result. And they tried to sway Republican senators, the majority of whom steadfastly oppose impeachment, by showing recordings of them fleeing the violence of some of their own supporters.
Starting last summer, Mr. Trump repeatedly accused Democrats of planning “fraud” in a “rigged” election. Once he lost, Mr. Trump filed dozens of lawsuits seeking unsuccessfully to throw out Democratic votes. He encouraged the Department of Justice to investigate his claims of electoral malfeasance. Then, he put pressure on Republican elections officials and legislators in key swing states to reject the results.
In one telephone call, Mr. Trump threatened Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger with criminal prosecution unless he could “find” enough votes to tip the state to Mr. Trump.
Through it all, the Democrats argued, Mr. Trump pushed people to get violent. They referenced his call for the Proud Boys militant group to “stand back and stand by” during a presidential debate last fall. And they showed clips of Mr. Trump praising supporters who tried to run a Democratic campaign bus off a highway in Texas.
“The violence was not just foreseeable to President Trump. The violence was what he deliberately encouraged,” Stacey Plaskett, a legislator from the U.S. Virgin Islands, told the trial.
Senators watched a detailed video timeline of Mr. Trump exhorting his supporters to descend on the Capitol as legislators assembled to certify Joe Biden’s presidential victory.
The footage, much of it previously unreleased images from the building’s security cameras, showed Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman getting Senator Mitt Romney to safety before single-handedly diverting the mob away from a door to the Senate. At that time, Ms. Plaskett said, Mr. Pence and his family were close to the other side of that door as they evacuated from the chamber.
During the riot, the mob chanted that they wanted to “kill Mike Pence” for refusing Mr. Trump’s demand that he overturn the election. In social-media posts and subsequent statements to police, rioters said they also wanted to murder or torture House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and members of Congress.
Other videos showed senators themselves fleeing the chamber with rioters just down the hall. One rioter nearly broke into the chamber while legislators were still inside, and was held back by police at gunpoint.
“Many of you don’t know how close you were to the rioters,” California Congressman Eric Swalwell told the senators. “You were 58 steps away.”
He also played prerecorded interviews with police officers Michael Fanone, who was tasered by the mob and suffered a heart attack, and Daniel Hodges, who was videotaped shouting in pain with blood streaming down his face as rioters crushed him in a doorway. In audio recordings, police officers frantically called for backup as the mob surrounded and beat them. “We’ve been flanked and we’ve lost the line,” one policeman shouted.
While all this was going on, Mr. Trump was attacking Mr. Pence on Twitter for moving to certify Mr. Biden’s victory. He called at least one senator to urge him to keep trying to stop Mr. Biden’s certification, the trial heard. And he failed to deploy the National Guard to back up overwhelmed police. In a video message more than three hours after the mayhem began, Mr. Trump told the mob “we love you, you’re very special.”
Four protesters and one police officer died in the riot. Two other officers later died by suicide. More than a hundred officers were injured, suffering brain damage, cracked ribs, crushed spinal discs and impalement with a metal fence stake. One officer lost an eye.
Mr. Trump faces one charge of incitement of insurrection. While he is already out of office, the Senate could bar him from running for president again in future if convicted. Such a prospect, however, is unlikely. It would take 17 Republican senators joining all Democrats to convict. All but six Republicans have voted that the trial is unconstitutional.
The Globe and Mail, February 10, 2021