Democrats appeal to emotions in trial’s 2nd day, call Trump ‘inciter-in-chief’

The graphic presentation opened the first full day of arguments in the trial.

By Associated Press

Prosecutors sought to whip up emotions of horror and loathing, resting its arguments on chilling new security video it unveiled in Donald Trump’s impeachment trial on Wednesday.

The clips showed rioters breaking into the Capitol, smashing windows and doors and searching menacingly for Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as overwhelmed police begged on their radios for help.

In the previously unreleased recordings, the House prosecutors displayed gripping scenes of how close the rioters were to the country’s leaders, roaming the halls chanting “Hang Mike Pence,” some equipped with combat gear. Outside, the mob had set up a makeshift gallows.

They then laid the blame on former President Donald Trump.

“They did it because Donald Trump sent them on this mission,” said House prosecutor Stacey Plaskett, the Democratic delegate representing the U.S. Virgin Islands. “His mob broke into the Capitol to hunt them down.”

The graphic presentation opened the first full day of arguments in the trial as the prosecutors argued Trump was no “innocent bystander” but rather the “inciter in chief” of the deadly Capitol riot, a president who spent months spreading election lies and building a mob of supporters primed for his call to stop Biden’s victory.

Though most of the Senate jurors have already made up their minds on acquittal or conviction, they were riveted and sat silently. Screams from the audio and video filled the Senate chamber. Senators shook their heads, folded their arms and furrowed their brows. One Republican, James Lankford of Oklahoma, bent his head, a GOP colleague putting his hand on his arm in comfort.

“On Jan. 6, President Trump left everyone in this Capitol for dead,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, a prosecutor.

Pence, who had been presiding over a session to certify Biden’s victory over Trump — thus earning Trump’s criticism — is shown being rushed to safety, sheltered in an office with his family just 100 feet from the rioters. Pelosi was evacuated from the complex before the mob prowls her suite of offices, her staff hiding quietly behind closed doors.

At one dramatic moment, the video shows police shooting into the crowd through a broken window, killing a San Diego woman, Ashli Babbitt. In another, a police officer is seen being crushed by the mob.

Police overwhelmed by the rioters frantically announce “we lost the line” and urge officers to safety. One officer later died.

Some senators acknowledged it was the first time they had grasped how perilously close the country came to serious danger.

“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.”

Trump is the first president to face an impeachment trial after leaving office and the first to be twice impeached. He is charged with incitement of insurrection through fiery words his defense lawyers say are protected by the Constitution’s First Amendment and just figures of speech.

The House Democrats showed piles of evidence from the former president himself — hundreds of Trump tweets and comments that culminated in his Jan. 6 rally cry to go to the Capitol and “fight like hell” to overturn his defeat. Trump then did nothing to stem the violence and watched with “glee,” they said, as the mob ransacked the iconic building.

“To us, it may have felt like chaos and madness, but there was method to the madness that day,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., the lead prosecutor, who pointed to Trump as the instigator.

“And when his mob overran and occupied the Senate and attacked the House and assaulted law enforcement, he watched it on TV like a reality show. He reveled in it.”

In one scene, a Capitol Police officer redirects Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, down a hallway to avoid the mob. It was the same officer, Eugene Goodman, who has been praised as a hero for having lured rioters away from the Senate doors.

“It tears at your heart and brings tears to your eyes,” Romney said after watching the video. He said he didn’t realize how close he had been to danger.

The day’s proceedings unfolded after Tuesday’s start that left the former president fuming when his attorneys delivered a meandering defense and failed to halt the trial on constitutional grounds. Some allies called for yet another shakeup to his legal team.

A frustrated Trump revived his demands for his lawyers to focus on his unsupported claims of voter fraud, repeatedly calling former White House aide Peter Navarro, who told the AP in an interview that he agreed. He is calling on Trump to fire his legal team.

“If he doesn’t make a mid-course correction here, he’s going to lose this Super Bowl,” Navarro said, a reference to public opinion, not the unlikely possibility of conviction.

While six Republicans joined with Democrats to vote to proceed with the trial, the 56-44 vote was far from the two-thirds threshold of 67 votes that would be needed for conviction.

Minds did not seem to be changing, even after seeing the graphic video.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, 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.”

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., another leader of the election challenge, said, “Nothing new here for me at the end of the day.”