WASHINGTON – House impeachment managers on Wednesday led a rapt U.S. Senate on a harrowing retelling of the terror that engulfed the Capitol last month, sharing shocking new audio and video recordings of rioters declaring their intent to harm Vice President Mike Pence and other top officials – and showing how close they came to doing so.
The House Democrats, led by lead manager Jamie Raskin, D-Md., spent Day 2 of former president Donald Trump’s impeachment trial displaying violent video scenes of the Jan. 6 attack and the rioters’ relentlessly raw language, including chants to “hang” Pence and a sinister clip of a man looking for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asking, “Naaaancy? Where aaaare you, Nancy?”
All of it, the impeachment managers said, was a direct result of the president’s months-long effort to persuade his supporters of the “big lie” that the election had been stolen. After he had exhausted all other options to overturn President Joe Biden’s victory, they said – including dozens of lawsuits and a sustained campaign to pressure state election officials – Trump turned his sights to Jan. 6, the day Congress was scheduled formalize Joe Biden’s electoral college victory.
His supporters, the managers said, were heeding his calls with their violent plans to stop the vote count and even harm lawmakers.
“President Trump put a target on their backs,” said Stacey Plaskett, a Democratic House delegate from the Virgin Islands, describing the threat to lawmakers and Pence. “And his mob broke into the Capitol to hunt them down.”
Worse still, she and the other managers said, is that when lawmakers, Trump’s aides and even his family members implored the president to call off the rioters as the attack unfolded, he refused initially to do so – because, the managers argued, he hoped the mayhem would block the electoral vote count.
“Senators, you’ve seen all the evidence so far,” Rep Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, said toward the end of nearly eight hours of arguments. “And this is clear: On January 6th, President Trump left everyone in this Capitol for dead.”
It was unclear whether the dramatic new evidence would change the minds of Republicans, most of whom have indicated their intent to acquit the former president on charges that he incited the Jan. 6 insurrection. A conviction would require the support of two-thirds of senators in the evenly divided chamber.
“They spent a great deal of time focusing on the horrific acts of violence that were played out by the criminals, but the language from the president doesn’t come close to meeting the legal standard for incitement,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
Still, some GOP senators appeared shaken by the graphic video presentation, which included wrenching footage of an officer howling in pain as the mob crushed him in a doorway.
As the Senate recessed for dinner, Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., appeared to grow emotional at his desk, bending his head down. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., who sits next to him, put his hand on Lankford’s arm as if to comfort him.
“The evidence that has been presented so far is pretty damning,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who has indicated she is open to conviction.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., called the case laid out by the House “gut-wrenching,” adding: “I just hope that our Republican colleagues have an open mind.”
Over and over again, the impeachment managers implored the senators to consider the message they wanted to send to Americans about the character of our country.
“That’s the question before all of you in this trial: Is this America?” Raskin said. “Can our country and our democracy ever be the same if we don’t hold accountable the person responsible for inciting the violent attack against our country?”
The House Democrats were expected to continue making their case Thursday, with Trump’s lawyers expected to mount their defense Friday and Saturday. The Senate is not expected to vote on whether to allow witness testimony until after that, though Republicans and Democrats alike have said they want the trial to move at a swift pace. Democrats are eager to turn their attention back to President Biden’s Cabinet appointees and a coronavirus relief bill, while Republicans simply want to turn the page on the former president’s role in the insurrection.
In their presentations, the House managers revealed several gripping new details about the events that unfolded on Jan. 6 – including new surveillance footage showing Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, running down a hallway at a police officer’s instruction seconds before rioters breached windows downstairs.
The officer, Eugene Goodman, had already been commended for leading rioters away from the Senate chamber as it was being evacuated, an act of heroism documented on a reporter’s cellphone and widely circulated. The new scene with Romney took place just before then, the House managers said.
During a break in the trial, Romney told reporters he had no idea how close he’d been to harm’s way – nor that Goodman was the officer who had helped him.
“I look forward to thanking him when I next see him,” he said, adding: “It was obviously very troubling to see the great violence that our Capitol Police and others were subjected to. It tears at your heart and brings tears to your eyes. That was overwhelmingly distressing and emotional.”
The managers also showed just how intent some of the rioters were on doing harm to elected leaders, actively searching for Pence at the same time he was being evacuated from a room off the Senate floor.
As Goodman led the mob up the stairs, the rioters were at one moment within 100 feet of the small room where the vice president was sheltering with his family, according to Plaskett. Goodman led the mob away from where Pence was hiding.
Surveillance video then shows Pence, along with his security detail and members of his family and staff, being evacuated down a Capitol stairway to a secure location away from the building. The evacuation took place at 2:26 p.m. – 14 minutes after rioters had entered the building.
On the other side of the building, the pro-Trump mob was banging on locked doors in search of Pelosi. House managers zoomed in on a widely circulated photo of a man sitting in a chair in Pelosi’s office to reveal that he was wearing a stun gun on his belt.
As the House team walked senators through a timeline of the day’s events, the managers used a diagram of the building to show where the rioters were in relation to elected officials – and how close they came to confrontation.
In another newly released bit of footage, Schumer can be seen being ushered along a basement hallway, disappearing – and then hastily changing direction with his security team after they encountered rioters blocking their planned route.
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., showed senators an image of one rioter inside the Senate chamber with a large bunch of plastic handcuffs on his hip. “If the doors to this chamber had been breached just minutes earlier, imagine what they could have done with those cuffs,” he said.
Salwell had the full attention of the Senate chamber with a 30-minute presentation designed to show them the events of Jan. 6 they were less familiar with: what happened on the House side and how police confronted the mob on the West Front of the Capitol.
He also played a chilling video of House members instructing one another to take off their identifying lapel pins.
Not until 2:30 p.m., 15 minutes after the Senate had stopped its proceedings and secured its doors, did the House fully implement internal security measures.
Republicans and Democrats intently watched every video Swalwell played, building to the confrontation just a few feet from the floor of the House chamber where a police officer shot and killed a rioter trying to enter the chamber.
Swalwell paused, and the Senate was silent as the sound of the gunshot resonated from the video. He then turned to footage of the rioters’ attacks on police, again leaving the Senate in stunned silence.
When the impeachment managers began their presentation, which showed how the rioters flooded through the halls of the Capitol, many senators strained in their seats to get a better view of the video monitor.
In the back row on the Democratic side, Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia and Michael Bennet of Colorado took to their feet to watch. Bennett eventually sat down, but Warner paced behind his seat for several minutes before sitting back down.
On the Republican side, senators showed little emotion – but all paid close attention, most turning their heads away only occasionally to take notes.
As Plaskett played audio of police officers urgently summoning help, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared very focused, leaning over to watch the screen on the GOP side. GOP Sen. Mike Lee of Utah took furious notes as he watched.
Trump is apparently aware of the emotional punch of the Democratic case. According to one adviser, he has pushed his team to produce its own videos to counters those of their opponents – including shots of Democratic lawmakers making controversial statements over the years.
The former president has talked to a number of advisers in the past 24 hours about the trial, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., his former chief of staff Mark Meadows, adviser Jason Miller and his lawyers, according to people familiar with the discussions.
Trump was displeased with the meandering presentation Tuesday by his lawyer Bruce Castor, but his team has persuaded him for now to stick with Castor and promised that the weekend would bring more prepared presentations.
The House managers began the day with a meticulous presentation documenting how Trump provoked the riot for weeks – beginning with his refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power before Election Day and his preemptive assertion that his defeat would mean the election had been rigged.
Senators heard him exhort his supporters in combat terms that “the election was stolen,” to “stop the steal” and “to fight like hell.” The impeachment managers described how Trump lost legal challenge after legal challenge – yet continued to claim he’d actually won the election. They documented how he pressured state officials in key battleground states to overturn the results.
And when all of those efforts failed, he set his sights on Jan. 6, the day Congress was scheduled to certify Biden’s electoral college victory, because he “ran out of nonviolent options to maintain power,” said Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif.
Trump even sent what the House managers described as a “save the date” message to his supporters more than two weeks ahead of Jan. 6, tweeting, “Be there, will be wild!”
Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, one of the impeachment managers, told senators that Trump’s goal all along was “to make sure that his supporters were angry, like the election was being ripped away from them.” And he showed how the resentment that Trump cultivated built up, playing footage of CNN interviews with Trump supporters who said they believed a Biden win would not be legitimate.
“Now, all of us in this room have run for election – and it’s no fun to lose,” Castro said. “I’m a Texas Democrat. We’ve lost a few elections over the years. But can you imagine telling your supporters that the only way you could possibly lose is if an American election was rigged and stolen from you? . . . But that’s exactly what President Trump did.”
“His words,” Castro added, “became their actions.”
The impeachment managers closed the day with a rundown of Trump’s actions once the riot had begun. Castro showed video of Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., who first went on Twitter to tell Trump to “call it off” before giving a live television interview making the same plea. Castro also cited tweets by Mick Mulvaney, then-U.S. special envoy for Northern Ireland, and then-White House communications director Alyssa Farah urging Trump to call off the rioters because he is “the only one they’ll listen to.”
Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who has advised Trump, said on Jan. 6 that Trump not calling off the attack on the Capitol was an “abrogation of his responsibility” as commander in chief.”He’s right! Chris Christie is right!” Castro said. Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., laid out Trump’s actions as the attacks were unfolding, showing how the president did nothing to stop them and instead remained focused solely on delaying the recognition of Biden’s victory.
“We all know that President Trump had the power to stop these attacks. He was our commander in chief. He had the power to assess the security situation, send backup, send help. He also had incited this violent attack. They were listening to him. He could have commanded them to leave,” Cicilline said. “But he didn’t.”
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The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey, Colby Itkowitz, Seung Min Kim, Mike DeBonis, Ann E. Marimow, Amy B Wang and John Wagner contributed to this report.