Prosecutors at former U.S. President Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial are wrapping up their case Thursday, quoting numerous insurgents who stormed the U.S. Capitol last month who said they acted on Trump’s demands that they confront lawmakers meeting to certify Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the November election.
Representative Diana DeGette of Colorado, one of the Democratic lawmakers from the House whoare prosecuting Trump, said the insurgents “believed the commander in chief was ordering them. The insurrectionists made clear to police they were just following the orders of the president.”
“The insurrectionists didn’t make this up,” she said. “They were told [by Trump] to fight like hell. They were there because the president told them to be there.”
DeGette showed lawmakers several television interviews in which the protesters said they went to the Capitol, the worldwide symbol of U.S. democracy, because Trump had commanded them to do so.
Another House impeachment manager, Representative Ted Lieu of California, contended that Trump “showed no remorse” over the deadly chaos of January 6, when the insurgents rampaged into the Capitol, smashed windows, ransacked some congressional offices and scuffled with police. Five people were left dead, including a Capitol Police officer whose death is being investigated as a homicide.
Thursday’s session came after several lawmakers told reporters they were shaken by graphic, previously undisclosed videos of the mayhem the Democratic lawmakers showed them Wednesday, with scenes of dozens of officials scrambling to escape the mob that had stormed into the Capitol.
But there was no immediate indication that Republican supporters of Trump in the Senate were turning en masse against him. Trump, who left office as Biden was inaugurated January 20, remains on track to be acquitted.
A two-thirds vote is needed to convict Trump of a single impeachment charge — that he incited insurrection by urging hundreds of supporters to confront lawmakers at the Capitol to try to upend Biden’s victory. In the politically divided 100-member Senate, 17 Republicans would have to join every Democrat for a conviction.
At the moment, it appears that only a handful of Republicans might vote to convict Trump, the only president in U.S. history to be twice impeached.
The videos played Wednesday in the Senate chamber showed hundreds of insurgents — Trump supporters he had urged to go to the Capitol to try to stop the official certification of his loss in the election — storming through the building and into both chambers of Congress. Some of the rioters rifled through documents lawmakers left behind as they fled to safety.
Some of the rioters, the January 6 videos showed, shouted that they were trying to find former Vice President Mike Pence to hang him because he had rejected Trump’s demand that he block the certification of the Electoral College outcome so Trump and Pence could remain in power.
Other surging protesters, the videos showed, menacingly hunted for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a longtime Trump opponent.
The demonstrators stormed into her office, but the prosecutors said authorities had already whisked her away from the Capitol to safety, while some of her staff huddled in a nearby conference room behind a locked door.
“The mob was looking for Pence because of his patriotism in order to execute him,” impeachment manager Stacey Plaskett, a House delegate from the U.S. Virgin Islands, told the Senate, referring to the vice president’s looming certification of Biden’s victory.
Another impeachment manager, Representative Eric Swalwell of California, narrated one video captured from a security camera inside the Capitol, telling lawmakers, “Most of the public does not know how close you came to the mob” before escaping to safety.
“We all know that awful day could have been much worse,” Swalwell said.
Earlier, the lead House impeachment manager, Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland, contended that Trump was “no innocent bystander” in the violence.
Raskin and other Democratic lawmakers said Trump laid the groundwork for the storming of the Capitol over a period of weeks leading up to the election with dozens of unfounded claims that the only way he could lose was if the election was rigged against him.
Raskin alleged that Trump, by urging hundreds of his supporters to “fight like hell” in confronting lawmakers at the Capitol on January 6, ignited the mayhem.
'Inciter in chief'
“He incited this attack,” Raskin told the Senate. “He clearly surrendered his role as commander in chief and became the inciter in chief.”
Raskin contended that Trump “was singularly responsible” in exhorting his supporters to try to upend Biden’s victory.
After the House impeachment managers finish their case on Thursday, Trump’s lawyers will have up to 16 hours to present his defense on Friday and Saturday.
Trump’s lawyers say he bears no responsibility for the attack on the Capitol. Instead, they say, his rhetoric amounted to permissible political discourse and was protected by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech.
The Senate voted 56-44 on Tuesday to move ahead with the trial, rejecting Trump’s claim that it was unconstitutional to try him on impeachment charges since he has already left office. The vote also seemed to signal that relatively few Republicans appear willing to convict him.
Trump declined Democrats’ offer to testify in his defense and is not expected to attend the trial. He left Washington hours ahead of Biden’s inauguration January 20 and is living at his Florida mansion.