Trump’s trial opens with explicit video of the assault on the Capitol

By Peter Baker

The House managers prosecuting former President Donald Trump opened his Senate impeachment trial Tuesday with a vivid and graphic sequence of footage of his supporters storming the Capitol last month in an effort to prevent Congress from finalizing his election defeat.

The managers wasted no time moving immediately to their most powerful evidence: the explicit visual record of the deadly Capitol siege that threatened the lives of Vice President Mike Pence and members of both houses of Congress juxtaposed against Trump’s own words encouraging members of the mob at a rally beforehand.

The scenes of mayhem and violence — punctuated by expletives rarely heard on the floor of the Senate — highlighted the drama of the trial in gut-punching fashion for the senators who lived through the events barely a month ago and now sit as quasi-juror. On the screens they saw enraged extremists storming barricades, beating police officers, setting up a gallows and yelling, “Take the building,” “Fight for Trump” and “Pence is a traitor! Traitor Pence!”

“You ask what a high crime and misdemeanor is under our Constitution,” Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the leader of the House Democrats prosecuting the case, told the senators after playing the video. “That’s a high crime and misdemeanor. If that’s not an impeachable offense, then there’s no such thing.”

Trump’s attorneys responded by arguing that his words at the rally Jan. 6 constituted free speech akin to typical political language and hardly incited the violence. They characterized the impeachment as yet another partisan attack driven by animus that will set a precedent for political retribution as power changes hands with each election.

“The political pendulum will shift one day,” Bruce L. Castor Jr., the attorney leading off for the former president, told the Senate. “This chamber and the chamber across the way will change one day, and partisan impeachments will become commonplace.”

The second trial of Trump opened in the crime scene itself, the same chamber occupied Jan. 6 by the mob that forced senators to evacuate in the middle of counting the Electoral College votes ratifying President Joe Biden’s victory. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. and the Senate president pro tempore, was presiding after Chief Justice John Roberts and Vice President Kamala Harris declined to assume the role.

Never before has a president been tried by the Senate twice, much less after his term has expired, but Trump’s accusers argue that his actions in his final days in power were so egregious and threatening to democracy that he must be held accountable.

“What you experienced that day, what we experienced that day, what our country experienced that day, is the framers’ worst nightmare come to life,” Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo. and another impeachment manager, told the senators. “Presidents can’t inflame insurrection in their final weeks and then walk away like nothing happened.”

Even though Trump can no longer be removed from office, conviction would stand as a statement of repudiation for history and permit the senators to bar him from running for federal office again. But the chances of conviction appeared remote; it requires a two-thirds vote, meaning that 17 Republicans would have to abandon Trump, who still holds great sway in their party.

The two opposing camps opened four hours of arguments over whether the trial was constitutional given that Trump had already left office and was now a private citizen living in semi-seclusion in Florida.

The managers maintained that there must be no “January exception” for presidents to escape repercussions through impeachment on their way out of office and cited a series of writings by the nation’s framers as well as contemporary conservative scholars.

Raskin closed on an emotional note, recalling that the mob assault occurred the day after he buried his 25-year-old son and that members of his family came with him to the Capitol to offer support only to become endangered themselves.

Trump’s lawyers condemned the violence but rejected the suggestion that the former president was responsible for it. They maintained that the Constitution does not permit an impeachment trial of a former president because it is meant to lead to removal, and Trump is no longer in office. If he has committed a crime, they said, he could be prosecuted criminally.

“This idea of a January amnesty is nonsense,” Castor said. “There is no opportunity where the president of the United States can run rampant in January at the end of his term and just go away scot free. The Department of Justice does know what to do with such people.”

Note by The STAR STAFF

At press time, with 56 votes in favor and 44 against, the Senate voted in favor of the constitutionality of the impeachment against Trump. The Democratic majority in the Upper House requested that the impeachment begin at noon on Wednesday.

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