House prosecutors have concluded their case for convicting former U.S. President Donald Trump in his Senate impeachment trial, saying they’ve proven him guilty of inciting an insurrection when a mob of his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 to stop the peaceful transfer of power.
House managers spent three days highlighting Trump’s own tweets, speeches and comments during his monthslong campaign to stoke anger about the Nov. 3 election he lost to U.S. President Joe Biden. The attempt to overturn the results with “the big lie” that the election was stolen culminated in the riot he did nothing to prevent or stop, they argued.
The prosecution used previously unreleased videos and audio to vividly show senators how close the rioters came to reaching them, as well as Vice President Mike Pence. Trump’s lawyers are set to present an abbreviated defense on Friday, which will also include video presentations.
In their final day of arguments, Democrats sought to cement the link between Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric and the insurrection at the Capitol by highlighting the words of the insurrectionists, which House managers said showed they were following the orders of Trump.
Lead impeachment manager Representative Jamie Raskin argued the attack on the Capitol was part of a long-standing “pattern and practice of inciting violence” by Trump. He ticked off examples of Trump encouraging or voicing approval of assaults going back to his 2016 presidential campaign, when he several times encouraged crowds to attack protesters disrupting the events.
Representative Diana DeGette, one of the nine House managers, focused on the words of those who participated in the insurrection. In videos and other social media posts, the insurrectionists “make clear the attack was done for Donald Trump, at his instructions and to fulfill his wishes,” she said.
“They tagged Mr. Trump in tweets,” she added. “Folks, this was not a hidden crime.”
She then showed videos of the mob responding to Trump’s call to fight and show “strength” with chants to “fight for Trump” and to invade the Capitol. Senators in the chamber listened in rapt silence as footage of the assault on the Capitol and violent attacks on police officers was played.
But David Schoen, one of Trump’s lawyers, dismissed the House impeachment managers’ presentation, particularly the extensive use of video from the Jan. 6 riot, accusing them of using it for “entertainment value.”
While some Republicans said the Democrats’ presentation was very effective, there was little sign that enough of them would be moved to convict Trump. Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma said the impeachment managers “did not connect the dots” for him Thursday in tying Trump’s words to the insurrection.
Forty-four of 50 Republicans have already voted twice to indicate they view the trial of a president already out of office as unconstitutional. At least 17 GOP votes would be needed to reach the two-thirds majority necessary for conviction.
Biden, who has avoided comment on the impeachment proceedings, said in brief remarks to reporters Thursday that “some minds may have been changed” by the vivid case presented by House impeachment managers.
But Senator Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the chamber, said that he saw little evidence more Republicans would join with Democrats to convict Trump of inciting an insurrection.
“Many of them are loyal to Donald Trump even to this day, despite what he may have said about them or their families in the past,” Durbin said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “And more of them are afraid of Donald Trump’s political power.”
GOP Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of Trump’s closest allies in Congress, suggested the prosecution was futile, with most of his Republican colleagues already decided against conviction. He said he had assured the former president “the case is over” and that “it’s just a matter of getting the final verdict.”
Schoen said he expects the defense to take four hours or less, even though each side was allowed 16 hours for arguments.
“We’re just putting on the evidence, the evidence speaks for itself,” he said after leaving a meeting with a several Republican senators. He said there was nothing inappropriate about meeting with senators who are also serving as jurors in the trial.
“That’s the practice here,” he said. “There’s nothing about this thing that has any semblance to due process whatsoever.”
Trump’s team intends to rely heavily on his use of the words “peacefully and patriotically” at one point in the Jan. 6 speech as part of his defense against the impeachment charge of incitement, according to people familiar with the effort. They also plan to show videos of prominent Democrats using similar rhetoric about fighting to argue Trump is being subjected to a double standard.
Representative Madeleine Dean, an impeachment manager, anticipating the argument, said Wednesday that Trump only used the word “peacefully” once in the 11,000-word speech, while urging on followers with the words “fight” or “fighting” 20 times.
House managers also addressed the defense from Trump’s lawyers that the impeachment violates his First Amendment protection and that the quick impeachment by the House violates his due process rights. Democrats said the arguments are without merit and an attempt to distract from the facts. Trump’s free speech rights can’t protect him from impeachment for incitement to insurrection and “is wrong on the facts, wrong on the law and would flip the constitution upside down,” Representative Joe Neguse said.
Impeachment managers depicted the assault as not only foreseeable but the intended result of a multitude of actions calculated to incite Trump’s followers. The strategy appeared designed to rebut defense efforts to cast his fiery speech before the assault as normal political hyperbole and to persuade the public that his actions were premeditated and cynical.
The House impeachment managers also said Trump inspired or condoned the domestic extremist plot to kidnap Democratic Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, the protests at state capitals around the country and the threats that required more than 25,000 National Guard troops to lock down Washington for Biden’s inauguration.
They said he must be convicted to prevent a future president from following the same destructive path. “We’re not here to punish Donald Trump,” said DeGette. “We are here to prevent the seeds of hatred that he planted from bearing any more fruit.”
Representative Ted Lieu, another manager, said Trump had shown no remorse or regret after the Capitol attack. “He was showing defiance,” Lieu said. “He was telling us that he would do this again, that he could do this again.”
The House had to act quickly without calling witnesses or holding a hearing because of the threat of additional violence, and the Senate trial was giving Trump “any and all process that he is due, right here in this chamber,” Lieu added.
“Senators, America, we need to exercise our common sense about what happened,” said Raskin in the Democrats’ final arguments. “Let’s not get caught up in a lot of outlandish lawyers’ theories here. Exercise your common sense about what just took place in our country.”
The trial is moving to a conclusion as soon as this weekend.
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