House Democrats conclude Trump impeachment case, warning of potential violence if Republicans refuse to convict
The rioters seeking to block the final certification of his defeat swarmed on Trump’s orders, the impeachment managers argued to the Senate, leading to death and destruction, placing hundreds in and around the Capitol in harm’s way, emboldening extremist factions and diminishing America’s standing in the eyes of the world. Convicting Trump and barring him from ever returning to the presidency is the only way to prevent a reprise of the shocking violence, they said.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), the lead impeachment manager, put the question directly to senators who have spent years wrangling with Trump’s pugilistic rhetoric and flirtations with right-wing extremism.
“Is there any political leader in this room who believes that if he is ever allowed by the Senate to get back into the Oval Office, Donald Trump would stop inciting violence to get his way?” Raskin asked.
“Would you bet the lives of more police officers on that? Would you bet the safety of your family on that? Would you bet the future of your democracy on that? If he gets back into office and it happens again, we have no one to blame but ourselves.”
Trump’s defense will begin at noon Friday. Although his lawyers are entitled to 16 hours of argument over two days, a spokesman said Thursday that they expect to rest their case in one day.
David Schoen, a member of Trump’s defense team, said Thursday that the managers “told a story” but did not establish a link between Trump’s conduct and the violent acts at the Capitol, and he said prolonging the trial was not in the nation’s interest. He said the defense could present its case in four hours or less.
They haven’t in any way tied [the attack] to Donald Trump, and I think it’s offensive . . . to show the tragedy that happened here that Donald Trump has condemned,” he said. “I think it tears at the American people, quite frankly.”
A short defense presentation could put the Senate on track to vote on Trump’s conviction as soon as Saturday, particularly after key Democratic senators said they believed that the managers had proved their case against Trump and saw no need for testimony from additional witnesses.
“It doesn’t appear to be necessary,” said Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who caucuses with Democrats. “The evidence speaks for itself.”
As recently as last week, King and others had argued for a fuller accounting of the events surrounding the riot, especially around Trump’s actions after he addressed a crowd of supporters outside the White House on Jan. 6, directed them to the Capitol, and urged them to “fight like hell.”
But after roughly 10 hours of argument punctuated by archival video, graphic reconstructions and court records, most Democrats said they simply saw no need for more. Under the rules of the trial, the defense arguments are to be followed by a four-hour question-and-answer period, then a possible debate and vote on witnesses. If no witnesses are authorized, the trial would conclude after two hours of closing arguments.
“Donald Trump could certainly come and give his explanation of the day. But, otherwise, it feels like to me we’re done,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Trump last week rejected a request to testify, and Schoen gave no indication Thursday that he has changed his mind.
A final vote would follow, with 67 of 100 votes needed to convict Trump, setting up a subsequent simple-majority vote on barring him from future office.
But it remained exceedingly unlikely that the Senate would take those steps, with numerous Republican senators indicating Thursday that they remained unmoved by the Democratic managers’ presentations.
“I think the end result of this impeachment trial is crystal clear to everybody,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). “Every person in the Senate chamber understands that there are not the votes to convict.”
Cruz consulted briefly with Trump’s defense team after Thursday’s arguments and said it simply needed to make clear Friday that the House managers did not establish that Trump had incited the riot: “It was a horrific criminal attack carried out by violent criminals. . . . They have not demonstrated that [Trump’s] conduct satisfied the legal standard of high crimes and misdemeanors.”
While the first day of House argument on Wednesday highlighted the mortal threat faced by lawmakers themselves, on Thursday the managers took time to highlight the other dangers presented by the attack — some as tangible as the physical damage to the Capitol, others as lofty as the threat to the country’s democratic influence abroad.
The arguments culminated in several plain-spoken warnings that any outcome other than conviction and disqualification invited further violence, whether by Trump or some future despot.
Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) said Trump created a “powder keg” with his false claims of a stolen election, then, on Jan. 6, “He struck a match, and he aimed it straight at this building.”
“We humbly, humbly, ask you to convict President Trump,” he said. “If we pretend this didn’t happen, or, worse, if we let it go unanswered, who’s to say it won’t happen again?”
Before the managers’ final argument ended at 4:23 p.m., Raskin urged senators to “exercise your common sense about what just took place in our country,” closing with a paraphrase of Thomas Paine: “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered, but we have this saving consolation: The more difficult the struggle, the more glorious in the end will be our victory.”
The House’s argument Thursday asserted that the insurrectionists believed themselves to be doing Trump’s bidding — a case they made through the words of the rioters themselves and their attorneys.
Video after video displayed to senators showed rioters chanting slogans such as “Stop the Steal” and “Fight for Trump” that openly embraced the then-president and, in many cases, echoed his own rhetoric.
“We were invited here,” said one rioter, caught on video inside the Capitol. “We were invited by the president of the United States.”
Another video showed Jenna Ryan, a Texas real estate agent who faces federal charges as a result of the riot, explaining her decision to storm the Capitol and trying to interrupt the final counting of electoral votes.
“I thought I was following my president,” she said. “He asked us to fly there. He asked us to be there. So I was doing what he asked us to do.”
The managers argued that the rioters’ sense of impunity itself was evidence of Trump’s culpability, citing the rioters’ comments on social media as well as statements made in court by their lawyers, who have argued that they were simply following orders.
“Donald Trump had sent them there — they truly believed that the whole intrusion was at the president’s orders, and we know that because they said so,” said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.). “Folks, this was not a hidden crime. The president told them to be there, and so they actually believed they would face no punishment.”
In a presentation on Trump’s actions and his apparent state of mind, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) argued that Trump showed a “lack of remorse and refusal to take accountability” as the attack played out Jan. 6 and in the following days — citing actions that included sending a tweet targeting Vice President Mike Pence as rioters swarmed the Capitol, the delayed deployment of National Guard troops to back up the overwhelmed police forces at the Capitol, and waiting three days to lower flags on behalf of slain Capitol Police officer Brian D. Sicknick.
The managers played video of Trump, less than a week after the riot, telling reporters that his actions that day were “totally appropriate.”
“President Trump was not showing remorse — he was showing defiance,” Lieu said. “He was telling us that he would do this again, that he could do this again . . . and that that would be ‘totally appropriate.’ ”
Other presentations appeared aimed at winning over skeptical Republican senators, or at least making them wince before refusing to convict Trump. Managers played speeches from four moderate Republican governors, decrying Trump’s role in the violence — including Ohio’s Mike DeWine, who said Trump “started a fire that threatened to burn down our democracy.”
They played comments from two former Trump chiefs of staff, John F. Kelly and Mick Mulvaney, as well as two former national security advisers, H.R. McMaster and John R. Bolton, who condemned Trump’s behavior surrounding the riot. They highlighted the resignation statements of several Trump officials who quit in the days following it, including Cabinet secretaries Elaine Chao and Betsy DeVos.
Elsewhere, they showed evidence that the Capitol attack had thrilled and emboldened domestic insurrectionist groups such as the “boogaloo” movement and the Proud Boys while also sending abroad an unmistakable message about the fragility of American democracy.
Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.) said the attack on a crucial symbol of American government offered a “dress rehearsal” to foreign adversaries pondering a possible assault on the centers of U.S. power. But he said the harm to America’s influence abroad could be more devastating if senators did not send the right message by convicting Trump and barring him from office.
“The world is watching us, wondering whether our constitutional republic is going to respond the way it should, the way it’s supposed to — whether the rule of law will prevail over mob rule,” he said.
Inside the chamber, many senators appeared restless Thursday, a handful pacing around the chamber, taking breaks outside and occasionally sipping water as the sound of candy wrappers rustled. That behavior stood in contrast to Wednesday, when senators seemed rapt as they watched the House presentation that featured never-before-seen security camera footage — including scenes of the senators themselves being whisked to safety, in some case just steps from rioters.
At one point in the early afternoon Thursday, at least 18 Republican senators were missing from their desks, even as all Democrats were present in the chamber. Several GOP senators, including Bill Cassidy (La.), Rob Portman (Ohio), Ben Sasse (Neb.) and Tim Scott (S.C.), continued to take diligent notes.
When managers played video of Couy Griffin, a local New Mexico official who leads the group Cowboys for Trump, threatening harm on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), murmurs of disgust were heard from the Democratic side of the chamber.
Schumer on Thursday warned his colleagues not to ignore what he called “probably the most dastardly act any president has ever committed.” Doing so, he said, “would not heal, but keep wounds open.”
President Biden on Thursday continued to keep distance from the proceedings targeting his predecessor, telling reporters that he hadn’t watched any of the live trial coverage but had seen some news reports.
“My guess is, some minds may be changed,” Biden said.
Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), a close Biden confidant, said he agreed with that assessment but added, “He may not be referring to senators.”