Impeachment prosecutors begin arguments against Trump
By Peter Baker
The House Democrats prosecuting former President Donald Trump argued Wednesday that his incitement of the mob that stormed the Capitol began months before the day of the riot as he propagated a “Big Lie” to persuade supporters that his reelection was being stolen.
As they formally opened their case on the Senate floor, the managers, as the prosecutors are called, laid out a sweeping narrative of the events leading up to the deadly assault on Congress. They played one video clip after another showing Trump falsely claiming that the election was being rigged and calling on his backers to “fight like hell” to prevent him from losing power.
“The evidence will show that he clearly incited the Jan. 6 insurrection,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., the lead manager, told the senators sitting as jurors. “It will show that Donald Trump surrendered his role as commander in chief and became the inciter in chief of a dangerous insu-rrection. He told them to fight like hell, and they brought us hell that day.”
The prosecution once again made extensive use of chilling images documenting the deadly assault on the Capitol last month, and one manager choked up recalling the fear of that day. Later in their presentation, the mana-gers planned to unveil never-before-seen security camera footage that they suggested would shock the audience.
The arguments forced senators to relive the rampage while confronting the question of Trump’s culpability in the first mass siege of the Capitol since 1814. Never before have senators sat in judgment of a president accused of putting their own lives in jeopardy, much less with the aim of dis-rupting American democracy by preventing the counting of the Electoral College votes sealing his fall from power.
Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., another manager, out-lined the prosecution’s view of the evidence, breaking the narrative into three parts — what he called the provocation, the attack and the harm.
Neguse played several video clips of Trump asserting even before the vote that “the only way we can lose” is if the other side cheated, priming his base to reject any result other than a victory for him and then egging them on with repeated phrases like “stop the steal” and “fight like hell.”
“He was telling Americans that their vote had been stolen, and in America our vote is our voice,” Neguse said. “So his false claims about election fraud, that was the drumbeat being used to inspire, instigate and ignite them, to anger them.”
The managers showed the former president’s messages encouraging backers to come to Washington on Jan. 6 to protest the election results. They also methodically assem-bled a sequence of online chats reportedly monitored by Trump’s operatives in which his supporters used aggressive language in the days beforehand suggesting an intent to use violence to stop the Electoral College count.
The managers likewise played video taken from the vantage point of the crowd as Trump addressed the rally before the attack, during which supporters could be heard shouting, “Invade the Capitol!” and, “Take the Capitol right now!” And they played video and showed Twitter messages from some of the rioters asserting that they were responding to Trump’s entreaties.
As his actions came under scrutiny on the Senate floor Wednesday, Trump remained secluded at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, uncharacteristically silent and deprived of his Twitter account because the company had concluded that his false and incendiary messages violated its policy. By contrast, he posted or reposted 142 tweets on the first day of prosecution’s arguments in his Senate impeachment trial last year, a one-day record to that point.
This time, Trump is leaving his case to his lawyers, who did not impress senators in either party with their opening foray Tuesday and under the bipartisan rules are not scheduled to speak Wednesday.
In defending Trump’s actions, the lawyers have maintained that the former president’s language was pro-tected free speech and hardly incitement of violence or insurrection.
“There is no set of facts that ever justifies abrogating the freedoms granted to Americans in the United States Constitution,” Bruce Castor, one of the lawyers, said on Fox News on Wednesday before the Senate session resumed.
Trump and his lawyers could afford to be confident because the Senate vote Tuesday that permitted the trial to proceed also foreshadowed its expected ending. While the Senate dismissed Trump’s objection to the constitutionality of putting a former president on trial by a 56-44 vote, his allies mustered more than the 34 votes needed to assure acquittal, given the Constitution’s two-thirds requirement for conviction.