Impeachment prosecutors contended Thursday that there was “clear and overwhelming” evidence that former President Donald Trump incited insurrection by sending a mob of his supporters to the U.S. Capitol last month to confront lawmakers as they were certifying that he had lost the November election to Democrat Joe Biden.
In closing arguments, the lead impeachment manager, Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland, told the 100 senators acting as jurors at Trump’s impeachment trial that they should use “common sense on what happened here.”
“It is a bedrock principle that no one can incite a riot” in the American democracy, Raskin said.
But he argued that Trump urged hundreds of his supporters to march to the Capitol on January 6 and then — when they stormed the building, smashed windows, ransacked offices and scuffled with police — “did nothing for at least two hours” to end the mayhem that left five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer.
“He betrayed us,” Raskin said of the former U.S. leader, whose four-year term ended January 20 as Biden was inaugurated as the country’s 46th president. “He incited a violent insurrection against our government. He must be convicted.”
Raskin and eight other impeachment managers, all Democrats in the House of Representatives, concluded their case after about 12 hours spread over two days of presenting arguments and evidence against Trump.
They flashed dozens of Trump’s Twitter comments on television screens in the Senate chamber from the weeks leading up to the election, with his claims that the only way he could lose to Biden was if the election was rigged, then more tweets with an array of his unfounded claims after the election that he had been cheated out of another term in the White House.
The House impeachment managers also showed an array of video clips of the rioters raging through the Capitol complex, most graphically scenes of some of them shouting “Hang Mike Pence!” as they searched in vain for Trump’s vice president, who had refused to accede to his demands to block certification of Biden’s victory.
Other insurgents stormed into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, looking to kill the longtime Trump political opponent. But security officials escorted Pence to a secluded room in the Capitol and whisked Pelosi to safety away from the building, which is often seen in pictures across the globe as a symbol of American democracy.
Trump’s lawyers, starting at midday Friday, will have their turn to present his defence. They have broadly claimed that Trump’s speech at a rally shortly before the rampage at the Capitol, in which he urged his supporters to “fight like hell,” was permissible political rhetoric, sanctioned by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment protection of freedom of speech.
But Raskin told the Senate, “What is impeachable conduct if not this? If you don’t find [that Trump committed] high crimes and misdemeanours [the standard for conviction on an impeachment charge], you have set a new, terrible standard for presidential conduct.”
Earlier Thursday, another impeachment manager, Representative Diana DeGette of Colorado, quoted numerous insurgents who stormed the Capitol last month who said they had acted on Trump’s demands.
She 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 had gone to the Capitol because Trump commanded them to do so.
Several impeachment managers warned that if Trump was acquitted, which is the likely outcome of the trial, he could be emboldened to create more chaos in another run for the presidency in 2024.
Representative Ted Lieu of California said, “You know, I’m not afraid of Donald Trump running again in four years. I’m afraid he’s going to run again and lose because he can do this again.”
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.
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.
As of late Thursday, it appeared that only a handful of Republicans might vote to convict Trump, the only president in U.S. history to be twice impeached.
Trump’s lawyers say he bears no responsibility for the attack on the Capitol. 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 because he had already left office. The vote also seemed to signal that relatively few Republicans appeared willing to convict him.
Trump declined Democrats’ offer to testify in his defence 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.