Democrats in impeachment trial say Trump didn't stop riot

Former President Donald Trump knew the riot by some of his followers at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 would be violent but failed to stop the attempted coup, House Democratic impeachment managers argued Wednesday as they opened the prosecution of Mr. Trump in his Senate trial, a session that included gripping new security video of the deadly attack.

Using Mr. Trump’s tweets and public speeches against him, the Democrats laid out a timeline of the former president’s responsibility for inciting the riot through repeated claims of election fraud. They said Mr. Trump’s dangerous actions culminated in the riot by some of his supporters to stop the certification of the Electoral College results for Joseph R. Biden.

Previously unseen security video showed the rioters coming within 100 feet of then-Vice President Mike Pence and his family in a Senate hiding place. The Pences escaped 12 minutes later. Rioters also were shown ransacking the offices of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as they searched for her.

The House managers, citing arrest affidavits, said the pro-Trump mob intended to kill Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Pence for failing to stop the last legally mandated step to certify Mr. Biden’s victory.

“They did it because Donald Trump sent them on this mission,” said impeachment manager Stacey E. Plaskett, a Virgin Islands delegate. “President Trump put targets on their backs, and his mob broke into the Capitol to hunt them down.”

The Democrats’ prosecution team recounted Mr. Trump’s dozens of failed election lawsuits and efforts to pressure state and federal officials, including Mr. Pence, to overturn Mr. Biden’s victory or stop the election certification. When those efforts failed, they said, Mr. Trump summoned thousands of his supporters to Washington on Jan. 6 to stop Congress from counting the Electoral College results.

“When he ran out of nonviolent measures, he turned to the violent mob that attacked your Senate chamber on Jan. 6,” said Rep. Ted Lieu, California Democrat.

Democrats have up to 16 hours over two days to present their case against Mr. Trump. They accuse him of inciting the riot, in which a Capitol Police officer and four Trump supporters died. Two other police officers later took their lives, and about 140 officers were injured in the attack.

More than 200 people have been arrested on charges of taking part in the riot.

Mr. Trump’s attorneys are scheduled to begin their defense Friday. Although Mr. Trump is no longer in office, Democrats want to disqualify him from holding federal office again.

The former president’s attorneys say Mr. Trump did not incite the violence, and he believes that anyone who committed crimes in the attack should be prosecuted fully.

Mr. Trump’s acquittal is virtually guaranteed. Republicans say there aren’t 17 votes in their ranks to convict Mr. Trump, the number that would be needed with all 50 Democrats to reach the two-thirds vote required for conviction.

“I don’t think there’s anything that’s been said by either side that has changed any votes,” said Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican. “There’s nothing that I have heard during this process that I hadn’t already heard.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said Wednesday that he told Mr. Trump in a phone call that he won’t be convicted.

“The bottom line is I reinforced to the president the case is over,” Mr. Graham said. “It’s just a matter of getting the final verdict now.”

Many Democrats said they were hoping the lengthy video footage of the riot and frantic police radio transmissions calling for reinforcements that day would persuade more Republicans to vote to convict Mr. Trump by revealing the full extent of the danger.

“I just hope that our Republican colleagues have an open mind,” said Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York. He said the impeachment managers have presented “an overwhelmingly compelling case.”

The video showed desperate police officers fighting hand to hand with protesters and being overrun by Trump supporters at the security perimeter around the Capitol.

“We’re still taking rocks, bottles and pieces of flag and metal pole,” an unidentified Metropolitan Police officer called on his radio. “They have bear spray in the crowd.”

Another officer called frantically, “We’ve lost the line, we’ve lost the line. All MPD, pull back to the upper deck ASAP. We’ve been flanked and we lost the line.”

Capitol security video showed rioters, some wearing tactical body armor and carrying flex-cuffs, smashing windows to break into the Capitol. In one scene, Mr. Schumer is hustling down a hallway with his security detail but quickly retreats in the direction he had come after encountering rioters nearby.

Mr. Pence and his family were seen on camera emerging from a hiding place and being ushered by his security agents down a stairwell to avoid rioters who had been within steps of his location. Some in the crowd were chanting “Hang Mike Pence” after Mr. Trump tweeted that his vice president lacked the “courage” to stop the vote-counting.

The impeachment managers also described a “delighted” Mr. Trump resisting pleas from White House aides and others to call off the rioters while he watched the scenes on TV.

“President Trump had the power to stop these acts,” said Rep. David Cicilline, Rhode Island Democrat. “But he didn’t.”

Many Republican senators said the videos hadn’t changed their minds. Sen. Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, said there were equally disturbing scenes last summer during Black Lives Matter rioting.

“You have a summer where people all over the country were doing similar kinds of things,” Mr. Blunt told reporters. “I don’t know what [Trump attorneys] will show from Seattle and … other places, but you’re going to see similar kinds of tragedies there as well.”

Sen. Rick Scott, Florida Republican, called the trial “a complete waste of time.”

“[It’s] not doing anything to help American families, not helping people get jobs, not helping to get the vaccine out,” Mr. Scott said. “It’s vindictive, it’s constitutionally sketchy.”

The impeachment managers cited Mr. Trump’s repeated calls on supporters to “fight” for his election and his plea on social media for the “cavalry” to come to his aid. Trump allies ridiculed the impeachment managers for taking common political phrases out of context to cast the former president in the worst light.

“Pretty sure President Trump wasn’t speaking to cowboys on horseback when he used the common political framing of ‘cavalry,’” tweeted Trump adviser Jason Miller.

Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said the impeachment managers were cherry-picking aggressive “fight like hell” rhetoric from Mr. Trump’s Jan. 6 rally speech while omitting other comments that would exonerate him.

“There’s one line from President Trump’s January 6th speech that Democrats keep conveniently leaving out: ‘Peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard,’” Mr. Meadows tweeted.

Rep. Madeleine Dean, Pennsylvania Democrat, did mention that remark by Mr. Trump. She said it was “the only time President Trump used the word ‘peaceful’ or any suggestion of nonviolence” in a speech spanning 11,000 words.

“President Trump used the word ‘fight’ or ‘fighting’ 20 times, including telling the crowd they needed to ‘fight like hell’ to save our democracy,” she said. “Then he pointed to us, lit the fuse and sent an angry mob to fight the perceived enemy — his own vice president and the members of Congress — as we certified an election. This attack never would have happened but for Donald Trump.”

She broke into tears as she recalled hearing “that terrifying banging on the House chamber doors” by Trump supporters who had forced their way into the Capitol.

Rep. Joe Neguse, Colorado Democrat, noted that Mr. Trump scheduled his rally the same day as the joint session of Congress, at the exact time lawmakers were certifying the 2020 results.

The House managers also played a video montage of supporters saying Mr. Trump invited them to Washington.

“They were following the president. He alone, our commander in chief, had the power to stop it and he didn’t,” Mr. Neguse said.

The impeachment managers tried to tie Mr. Trump to White supremacist groups such as the Proud Boys, whose members participated in the riot. They played a video clip of the presidential debate last fall during which Mr. Trump called on the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.”

They said Mr. Trump had credible warnings from law enforcement agencies about the threat of violence on Jan. 6 but did nothing to stop it. Instead, they said, Mr. Trump doubled down on his calls for supporters to “stop the steal.”

“President Trump had spent months calling his supporters to a march on a specific day, at a specific time, in specific places to stop the [Electoral College] certification,” Ms. Plaskett said. “He must be convicted and disqualified.”

The managers recounted Mr. Trump’s well-known efforts to pressure elections officials and Republican officeholders in Michigan, Georgia and Pennsylvania to overturn Mr. Biden’s wins in those states.

They played portions of a recorded phone call in which Mr. Trump pressed Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Jan. 2 to “find” 11,780 votes for him — just enough to give Mr. Trump the win over Mr. Biden. When Mr. Raffensperger refused, Mr. Trump tweeted that he was an “enemy of the people.”

Ms. Dean said Mr. Raffensperger and his family received death threats.

“A Republican public servant doing his job, whose family had received death threats, and the president labeled him an enemy of the people,” she said. “This was not just one attack or one comment.”

Ms. Dean also zeroed in on Mr. Trump’s public pressure of Mr. Pence to send back the election results of contested states during the Electoral College count, a move that Mr. Pence repeatedly said he didn’t have the authority to do. She said Mr. Trump was “literally commanding [the mob] to confront us at the Capitol.”

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

View original post