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Donald Trump at the January 6 rally
During a speech on January 6, Trump told supporters to 'fight like hell'Image: Jim Bourg/REUTERS

Democrats lay out incitement case against Trump

February 10, 2021

New security footage shows rioters destroying parts of the Capitol and menacingly searching for top politicians. Democrats presented the footage at Donald Trump's impeachment trial.

https://p.dw.com/p/3pBLW

Opening arguments in the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump began on Wednesday, with Democrats outlining their case that he is guilty of inciting the mob that stormed the US Capitol on January 6.

The impeachment managers and Trump's attorneys will each have up to 16 hours — spread out over two days — to present their cases.

Trump is facing a single charge of incitement of insurrection.

'Inciter-in-chief'

In his opening statements, Democrat impeachment leader Jamie Raskin called the trial "a moment of truth for America" and rejected Trump's attorneys' claims that the ex-president wasn't complicit in the riot.

"Evidence will show you ex-President Trump was no innocent bystander," Raskin said. "He surrendered his role of commander-in-chief and became the inciter-in-chief."

Trump supporters storm the Capitol
Democrats are connecting Trump's speech to the mob that stormed the CapitolImage: Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images

Raskin cited multiple tweets sent by Trump ahead of January 6, one of which told his supporters to " be there, will be wild." He also said the people participating in the protest and later riot at the Capitol "were invited by the president."

Raskin dismissed defense claims that Trump was being impeached for "expressing an opinion," and accused Trump's attorneys of trying to "portray Trump as a guy on the street being persecuted for his ideas."

What happened at the impeachment trial today?

Democratic Congressman Joe Neguse said the House Democrats prosecuting Trump would prove that he "primed" his supporters for anger in the months leading up to the election.

Neguse added that Trump's repeated claims of election fraud acted a "drumbeat" to provoke his supporters. "They believed they were following his orders."

Stacey Plaskett, a Democratic delegate from the Virgin Islands, said Trump could foresee the violence on January 6 and that he "deliberately encouraged" it.

"He fanned the flame of violence and it worked," she said. Trump's supporters had planned the Capitol storming for months, as indicated by posts on far-right online forums and the equipment they carried with them, the lawmaker added.

"They took it as a call to arms to attack the Capitol," she said.

What did security footage show?

Plaskett introduced previously unreleased video material from security cameras taken on the day of the Capitol storming. 

The security footage from inside the Capitol building showed the initial breach, as dozens of rioters, many in tactical gear and now known to be members of the Proud Boys, broke through windows and entered the Capitol's corridors. Footage shows how they encountered and quickly overwhelmed security guards. 

Footage showed lawmakers, including Vice President Mike Pence, being led to safety from rioters, some of whom were yelling, "Hang Mike Pence." A member of the mob had said that they would have "murdered anyone they got their hands on," including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Plaskett added.

"Donald Trump sent them on this mission," she said.

People shelter in the House gallery as protesters try to break into the House Chamber at the Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021
People sheltered for protection in the gallery of the US House of Representatives during the riotImage: Andrew Harnik/AP/picture alliance

Plaskett described how rioters also focused on Pelosi. Rioters broke into and ransacked her office. One of them was shown to be wearing a powerful stun stick weapon that House managers and the FBI believe could have "incapacitated anyone it was used against."

Plaskett ended her testimony after playing more previously unreleased audio from the overwhelmed Capitol Police. The audio clips feature officers begging for back up after becoming surrounded by an out of control mob who were breaking through police lines.

House impeachment manager Eric Swalwell addressed the senators directly: "How close did the rioters come to you? As you were moving down the hallway, you were just 58 steps away from where the mob was massing. The Capitol Police created a line and blocked the hallway with their bodies, trying to prevent the mob from getting through."

He then showed previously unseen security camera video of senators, including Mitt Romney and his staff, running down the hallway to safety.  Photos show that at least two of the rioters are wearing tactical gear and carrying plastic flex cuffs.

"If the doors had been breached minutes earlier, imagine what they would have done with those cuffs," said Swalwell.

Police with guns drawn watch as protesters try to break into the House Chamber at the  Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021
Police drew their weapons on protesters trying to break down the door to the House of Representatives Image: J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo/picture alliance

Two hours after the first breach of the Capitol, the attacks on police had become constant. Video testimony was shown of a police officer who described being dragged down stairs as rioters stole his badge, radio and tased him with his own weapon, inducing a heart attack. 

Another harrowing video sequence showed rioters trapping Officer Hodges, who was hit with metal objects, blinded with chemical spray and attacked from all sides. Trapped, he starts screaming in agony as rioters get under his mask, blinding and beating him. With the sound of Hodges' painful yells still reverberating through the Senate chamber, Swalwell ended his testimony as the near-silent Senate recessed for dinner.

Three officers died as a result of the riot and over 140 were injured.

How Republican senators reacted to security videos

Throughout the rest of the day, using chilling images and testimony, Democratic impeachment managers walked senators — many of them clearly shaken — through hours of video, some of which came from security cameras and police bodycams and was shown for the first time.

Some senators acknowledged that it was the first time they had realized how close the country came to peril.

"When you see all the pieces come together, just the total awareness of that, the enormity of this threat, not just to us as people, as lawmakers, but the threat to the institution and what Congress represents, it's disturbing," said Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. "Greatly disturbing."

"It tears at your heart and brings tears to your eyes," Romney said after watching the video of himself running for safety. He said he didn't realize how close he had been to danger.

Other Republican senators have expressed disgust with the pro-Trump riot, openly blasted Trump's refusal to accept defeat to Biden, and acknowledged the compelling case made by the Democrats with the aid of extensive video footage.

"The evidence that has been presented thus far is pretty damning," Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski said.

"Of course it's powerful," said Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy, who was among six Republicans supportive of the trial's constitutionality. But "how that influences final decisions remains to be seen," he added.

Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who was among those leading the effort to challenge the Electoral College tally, said, "The president's rhetoric is at times overheated, but this is not a referendum on whether you agree with everything the president says or tweets."

Missouri Republican Senator Josh Hawley, another leader of the election challenge, said, "Nothing new here for me at the end of the day."

Trial continues through the weekend

The Democrats will have one more full day of testimony Thursday with Trump's legal team then having 16 more hours to defend the former president.

This will be followed by at least four more hours of cross-examination during which witnesses could be called. 

Both sides have promised a speedy trial. 

Despite six Republicans joining with Democrats on Tuesday to vote to proceed with the impeachment proceedings, the 56-44 vote was far from the two-thirds threshold of 67 votes that would be needed to convict Trump.

  

Watergate prosecutor: Trump's lawyers presented 'no coherent defense'

mb, wmr/sms (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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