Failing to convict Trump could result in dire harm to democracy, say impeachment prosecutors as case wraps
Trump's most extreme supporters were 'ready to fight like hell for their hero': lead House manager
Dire harm from Donald Trump's false and violent incitements will vex American democracy long into the future unless the Senate convicts him of impeachment and bars him from future office, House prosecutors insisted Thursday as they concluded two days of emotional arguments in his historic trial.
The prosecutors argued the defeated president's pattern of spreading false and violent rhetoric will continue to affect U.S. politics if left unchecked.
The prosecutors described in stark, personal terms the horror they faced that day, some of it in the very Senate chamber where Trump's trial is underway. They displayed the many public and explicit instructions Trump gave his supporters — long before the White House rally that unleashed the deadly Capitol attack as Congress was certifying Biden's victory.
Five people died in the chaos and its aftermath, a domestic attack unparalleled in U.S. history. The House of Representatives has charged Trump, a Republican, with inciting an insurrection.
"If we pretend this didn't happen, or worse, if we let it go unanswered, who's to say it won't happen again?" argued prosecutor Rep. Joe Neguse. Even out of office, Democrats warned, Trump could whip up a mob of followers for similar damage.
Videos of rioters, some posted to social medial by themselves, talked about how they were doing it all for Trump.
WATCH | Democrats use Republicans' own words condemning Trump:
"We were invited here," said one rioter. "Trump sent us," said another. "He'll be happy. We're fighting for Trump." Five people died.
"They truly believed that the whole intrusion was at the president's orders," said Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado. "The president told them to be there."
She went on to say, "This was not a hidden crime. The president told them to be there, so they actually believed they would face no punishment."
The prosecutors drew a direct line from his repeated comments condoning and even celebrating violence — praising "both sides" after the 2017 outbreak at the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia — and urging his rally crowd last month to go to the Capitol and fight for his presidency. He spread false claims about election fraud, even there has been no evidence of it, and urged his supporters to "stop the steal" of the presidency.
Lead impeachment manager Jamie Raskin said that the litany of examples showed "obvious intent" as Trump told his supporters to come to Washington, and then to "fight like hell" just before they laid siege to the U.S. Capitol.
Raskin showed clips of Trump encouraging violence and also sanctioning violence afterward — including his telling a crowd to "knock the crap out of" a protester at one of his speeches. He told the crowd that he would pay their legal fees if they did. Another clip showed him saying it was "very, very appropriate" when some of his supporters attacked a protester at a Trump event. "That's what we need a little bit more of," Trump said.
'Ready to fight'
And, said Raskin, Trump would do it again if he were elected in the future. "Is there any politician leader in this room who believes if he's ever allowed by the Senate to get back into the Oval Office, Donald Trump would stop inciting violence to get his way?" he asked.
"Would you bet the lives of more police officers on that? Would you bet the safety of your family on that? Would you bet the future of your democracy on that?"
In urging senators to convict Trump, Raskin said Trump knew that if he egged them on, "his most extreme followers would show up bright and early, ready to attack, ready to engage in violence, ready to fight like hell for their hero."
WATCH | Capitol staffers describe hiding amid gunfire:
Raskin later implored senators in his closing speech Thursday to exercise "common sense about what just took place in our country" and find Trump guilty of inciting an insurrection.
He said senators have the power under the Constitution to find Trump guilty of having betrayed the oath of office the nation's founders wrote into the Constitution.
Trump team arguments begin tomorrow
Trump's lawyers will launch their defence on Friday. They are expected to argue that his words were protected by the Constitution's First Amendment and just a figure of speech.
Trump attorney David Schoen Thursday said the Democrats' presentation was "offensive" and that they "haven't tied [the riot] in any way to Trump."
He told reporters Thursday at the Capitol he believed Democrats were making the public relive the tragedy in a way that "tears at the American people" and impedes efforts at unity in the country.
'Hang Mike Pence'
The House managers spent much of Wednesday recounting the events that led to the riot and highlighting the threat to former vice-president Mike Pence.
Senators on Wednesday were shown searing security footage the pro-Trump mob stalking the Capitol hallways chanting "Hang Mike Pence!" and searching for Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Previously unseen videos showed the view from inside the Capitol as rioters smashed windows and fought with police, coming within 30 metres of the room where Pence was sheltering with his family. The mob had set up a gallows outside.
WATCH | A recap of Wednsday's presentation by the impeachment managers:
The footage, which also included body-camera views of brutal attacks on Capitol police, showed Pence and lawmakers being hustled to safety steps ahead of an advancing mob. Five people who were at the Capitol died that day, including a police officer and a woman who was fatally shot by Capitol Police.
Trump had repeatedly said Pence had the power to stop the certification of the election results, even though he did not.
"The mob was looking for Vice-President Pence," Representative Stacey Plaskett said, narrating footage that showed the crowd threatening Pence and searching for Pelosi.
Trump singled out targets
"President Trump put a target on their backs and then his mob broke into the Capitol to hunt them down," she said.
Democrats face a difficult task in securing a Senate conviction and barring Trump from ever again seeking public office. A two-thirds majority in the Senate must vote to convict, which means at least 17 Republicans would have to defy Trump and his continued popularity among Republican voters.
The 'Not Guilty' vote is growing after today. <br><br>I think most Republicans found the presentation by the House Managers offensive and absurd.—@LindseyGrahamSC
"I am holding out hope that the forcefulness of this argument will still sway some. I believe there are more Republicans that are open to conviction than is publicly clear at this point," said Democratic Senator Chris Coons.
But while several Republican senators said the footage showed on Wednesday was emotional, many added it did not change their minds.
"I didn't see a case there that a prosecutor can make in court against the president," Republican Senator Roy Blunt said.
"Today's presentation was powerful and emotional, reliving a terrorist attack on our nation's capital, but there was very little said about how specific conduct of the president satisfies a legal standard," added Republican Senator Ted Cruz.
By Thursday, senators sitting through a second full day of arguments appeared somewhat fatigued, slouching in their chairs, crossing their arms and walking around to stretch.
Republican, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, said during a break: "To me, they're losing credibility the longer they talk."
Trump is the first U.S. president to be impeached twice and the first to face trial after leaving office. His first impeachment trial, which stemmed from his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden, ended in an acquittal a year ago in what was then a Republican-controlled Senate.
WATCH | Previously unseen Jan. 6 footage shown at Senate trial:
With files from Reuters and CBC News