House prosecutors argued Wednesday that former President Donald Trump not only is responsible for the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol but was involved in a “premeditated” effort after he “ran out of nonviolent measures” to keep power.
Day Two of Trump’s second Senate impeachment trial was the first full day for Democrats’ House impeachment managers, or prosecutors, to present an argument of up to 16 hours before senators. They played audio from frantic police communications and again deployed much dramatic video, some of it previously unseen security footage, of the assault on the Capitol.
The House impeached Trump on a single charge of “incitement to insurrection” in connection with the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, in which a mob breached the building, roamed halls, and rummaged through offices while lawmakers hid.
Here are key takeaways from the day of arguments by House prosecutors, which adjourned at 7:40 p.m. shortly after a dinner break. The trial was to resume at noon Thursday.
1. ‘Deliberate, Premeditated Incitement’
Since Trump left office Jan. 20, House Democrats are asking the Senate to convict him and disqualify him from running again for the presidency or any other federal office.
Commentators viewed Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., as the most surprising member of the team of House impeachment managers largely because of his own association with an alleged Chinese spy.
Swalwell, a firebrand who made a national name for himself since 2017 on the cable news circuit by asserting that Trump was in league with the Russian government, has said that evidence eventually would surface to prove him right.
Swalwell’s argument in the Senate chamber was that Trump’s plan was always for a violent riot at the Capitol.
“This was a deliberate, premeditated incitement to his base to attack our Capitol while the counting [of Electoral College votes for president] was going on, and it was foreseeable, especially to President Trump, who warned us he knew what was coming,” Swalwell said.
Swalwell said Trump spent $50 million in legal defense funds on ads running through Jan. 5 that attacked the election results showing Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s win, while he tweeted for supporters to come to a protest in Washington on Jan. 6.
Swalwell also pointed to Trump’s numerous tweets over weeks claiming that the election was stolen. So, he said, it wasn’t only about the speech on the day of riot.
“This was never about one speech,” Swalwell said. “He built this mob over many months with repeated messaging until they believed that they had been robbed of their vote and they would do anything to stop the certification. He made them believe their victory was stolen and incited them so he could use them to steal the election for himself.”
The California Democrat said Trump had no evidence for his claims the election was rigged.
“He had absolutely no support for his claims, but that wasn’t the point,” Swalwell said. “He wanted to make his base angrier and angrier and to make them angry, he was willing to say anything.”
2. ‘Like a Reality Show’
After rioters breached the Capitol that afternoon, news reports said Trump initially did nothing to stop it.
Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., argued that Trump was derelict in his duty in not trying to stop the attack by urging his supporters to stop.
“The truth is, the facts are, that on Jan. 6, Donald Trump did not once condemn this attack. He did not once condemn the attackers. In fact, on Jan. 6, the only person he condemned was his own vice president.”
Cicilline said that as hours passed, White House staff urged Trump to take action to stop the riot.
Referring to later accounts in The Washington Post and elsewhere, Cicilline said Trump instead was interested in calling newly elected Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., to urge him to slow down the election certification process. He first accidentally called Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, Cicilline said.
“This was the singular focus of Donald Trump during this bloody, violent attack on the Capitol: stopping the certification,” Cicilline said.
The Rhode Island Democrat added that GOP members of Congress asked White House staff to appeal to Trump to tell the rioters to stop. Yet Trump delayed any message to the rioters, he said.
“Donald Trump abdicated his duty to us all,” Cicilline told senators. “We have to make this right, and you can make it right.”
Just before the Senate adjourned for the day, Lee asked that comments the House managers attributed to him be stricken from the trial record.
The presiding officer, Senate President Pro Tempore Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., seemed unclear what to do about Lee’s demand, but eventually called a vote.
Rep. James Raskin, D-Md., leader of the nine House impeachment managers, said he would withdraw that point from the record.
During his remarks earlier in the day, Raskin faulted Trump for taking no action to stop the attack on the Capitol.
Other reports said Trump was even pleased by the violence, said Rep. James Raskin, D-Md., leader of House Democrats’ prosecution team.
“According to those around him at the time, this is how President Trump reportedly responded to the attack that we saw him incite in public: Delight, enthusiasm, confusion as to why others around him weren’t as happy as he was,” Raskin said, adding:
Trump incited the January attack and when his mob overran and occupied the Senate and attacked the House, and assaulted law enforcement, he watched it on TV like a reality show. He reveled in it and he did nothing to help us as commander in chief and instead he served as the inciter in chief.
Raskin said Trump essentially was the ringleader, using an old cliche to illustrate his point.
“This case is much worse than someone who falsely shouts fire in a crowded theater,” Raskin said. “It’s more like a case where the town fire chief who’s paid to put out fires sends a mob—not to yell fire in a crowded theater but to actually set the theater on fire.”
During her remarks, Del. Stacey Plaskett, D-Virgin Islands, another impeachment manager and a former law student of Raskin’s at American University, stressed that Trump had every reason to believe the mob was violent.
“He knew who he was calling and the violence they were capable of and he still gave [those]marching orders to go to the Capitol and, quote, ‘fight like hell’ and ‘stop the steal,’” Plaskett said.
Democrats repeatedly have referred to Trump’s remarks at a Jan. 6 rally near the White House before the riot, in which the president said, “If you don’t fight like hell, you are not going to have a country anymore.”
Trump defenders have argued that such words are typical political rhetoric.
The Twitter account called Trump War Room showed a tweet by Raskin from September in which the Maryland Democrat used the words “fight like hell” when the Senate was prepared to debate confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.
3. ‘Ran Out of Nonviolent Measures’
Trump intentionally pushed the violence in Washington to hold onto power, argued Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., an impeachment manager with a reputation as a “Twitter troll” critical of Trump.
“How did our exceptional country get to the point where a violent mob attacked our Capitol, murdering a police officer, assaulting over 140 other officers?” Lieu asked.
“How did we get to the point where rioters desecrated, defiled, and dishonored your Senate chamber, where the very place in which you sit became a crime scene and where National Guard troops still patrol outside wearing body armor?” he asked.
Lieu then answered his questions, saying it happened because Trump was unwilling to let go of power after losing an election.
“What you saw was a man so desperate to cling to power that he tried everything he could to keep it, and when he ran out of nonviolent measures, he turned to the violent mob that attacked your Senate chamber on Jan. 6,” Lieu said.
Lieu noted that Trump-appointed judges did not side with him in lawsuits challenging the election results, nor did state GOP election officials support him. Then, he said, Trump sought help from Attorney General William Barr.
“Bill Barr made clear that attempting to overturn the election results crossed a line,” Lieu said. “According to a news report, Bill Barr, the highest law enforcement official in the land, told President Donald Trump to his face that his theories of election fraud were, quote, ‘bulls—.’”
Finally, Lieu argued, Trump insisted that his vice president, Mike Pence, could refuse to certify the electoral vote count that day. Pence told him no.
“Vice President Mike Pence showed us what it means to be an American, what it means to show courage,” Lieu said. “He put his country, his oath, his values, and his morals above the will of one man.”
4. ‘They Were Doing This for Him’
Those who broke into the Capitol believed they were doing the bidding of Trump, another House impeachment manager argued.
“They did it all in plain sight—proudly, openly and loudly,” Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., said. “Because they believed, they truly believed, that they were doing this for him, that this was their patriotic duty. They even predicted that he would protect them. And for the most part, they were right.”
Neguse noted how long it took Trump to react with a televised video statement after the rioters broke into the Capitol.
The Colorado Democrat played a 10-minute video showing Trump saying he words “fight like hell” as supporters chanted “Stop the steal,” along with footage showing rioters who had breached the Capitol chanting, “Fight for Trump.” Some shouted that Trump had sent them.
“He was telling Americans that their vote had been stolen, and in America, our vote is our voice,” Neguse said.
Neguse also talked about how smaller mobs had gathered outside the homes of election officials in states with disputed results.
He didn’t condemn the violence. He incited it further. And he got more specific. He didn’t just tell them to fight like hell. He told them how, where, and when. He made sure they had advanced notice, 18 days’ advance notice. He sent his ‘save the date’ for Jan. 6.
5. ‘Inflame His Base’
Rep. Joaquin Castro joked that as a Texas Democrat he is used to disappointing election outcomes.
Speaking to the senators, Castro said they may recall in their own elections when an early count indicated something different from the final result.
Castro, however, argued that Trump tried to quit while he was ahead.
“President Trump knew that you can’t just stop counting votes—but he wanted to inflame his base. There was a purpose behind this,” Castro said.
“The most combustible thing you can do in a democracy is convince people that an election doesn’t count, that their voice and their vote don’t count, and that it has all been stolen, especially if what you’re saying are lies.”
6. ‘Not a Single Judge’
Another impeachment manager, Rep. Madeleine Dean, focused on Trump’s actions opposing election results in closely contested states such as Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona, Nevada, and Michigan–where Trump’s legal team challenged the outcomes.
Dean, D-Pa., noted that Trump lost all the challenges.
“Not a single court, not a single judge, agreed that the election results were invalid or should be invalidated,” she said.
When he couldn’t win in court, he took his case to state legislatures, Dean said, noting that Trump’s lawyers held a cell phone to a microphone as the president called in to a meeting of Pennsylvania state lawmakers.
A video showed lawmakers listening as Trump told them by phone: “We can’t let that happen. We can’t let it happen for our country.”
Dean also pointed to a video of Trump calling Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a fellow Republican, “an enemy of the people, whether he’s a Republican or not.”
“Donald Trump was savagely attacking a secretary of state because the official did his job and certified the state [election results] according to how the people in that state voted,” Dean said.
The Pennsylvania Democrat then referred to news stories about Trump’s Jan. 2 phone call to Raffensperger, a call that the Georgia official recorded.
“He wanted the [Georgia] secretary of state to somehow find the precise number, plus one, so that he could win,” Dean said. “Donald Trump was asking the secretary of state to somehow find the exact number of votes Donald Trump lost the state by. Remember, President Biden won Georgia by 11,779 votes.”
Ken McIntyre contributed to this report.
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