WASHINGTON — The screams of D.C. Police Officer Daniel Hodges as the MAGA mob nearly crushed the life out of him. The soundless security footage of Officer Eugene Goodman sprinting through the halls of the Capitol and pointing Senator Mitt Romney to safety. The sight of an angry mob member attacking a cop with a Blue Lives Matter flag in one hand.
These were some of the most searing images from the second full day of Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial. The House impeachment managers spent most of Wednesday marshaling a voluminous amount of evidence in the form of tweets, Parler videos, clips of Trump rallies, police walkie-talkie audio, and body-camera footage. Some of the evidence was new, some of it well-known; some of it was routine and other times it was overwhelming; and still other pieces of evidence so disturbing it left you numb.
Wednesday’s arguments recreated with forensic-level detail the months, weeks, and days leading up to January 6th, as well as the sequence of events on the 6th itself, all of it through the lens of Trump’s campaign to reverse the election outcome and prevent the peaceful transfer of power. But the crux of Wednesday’s arguments wasn’t how chilling and damning the video footage was. After all, there almost surely wasn’t a senator-cum-juror in that room who doubts the severity of what happened in Washington, D.C., on the 6th. The centerpiece of Wednesday’s hearing, instead, was the effort to prove that former President Trump was responsible for the violence and mayhem on Capitol Hill that day — that he was not the commander-in-chief but the “inciter-in-chief,” as lead impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) put it.
The House impeachment managers — think of them as the prosecutors in this trial — broke down their “inciter-in-chief” argument into three parts: the “provocation,” the “attack,” and the “harm.” Congressman Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) began this argument by revisiting the “drumbeat” of fear-mongering and disinformation from Trump about election fraud and a “rigged” outcome that began nearly a year before the 2020 election took place. Neguse displayed Trump’s tweets and footage from interviews and campaign rallies — comments that were intended “to inspire, instigate, and ignite [Trump’s supporters]. To anger them.”
That disinformation campaign continued well after the election, Neguse said, as Trump and his allies filed lawsuits challenging the election result, pressured state officials to change vote tallies, and urged members of Congress to resist certifying the outcome. And when none of that worked, Trump took his case to his supporters, demanding they “fight like hell” and “never ever surrender” until the election result had been reversed in Trump’s favor.
Reps. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) and Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) explained how Trump had convinced his base of supporters that “the only way he could lose was if the election was rigged,” as Castro put it. Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-V.I.) revealed how Trump and his associates had moved a rally scheduled for later in January to the 6th, the very day the Senate would meet to certify Biden’s Electoral College victory. Plaskett showed security-camera footage of Hill staffers fleeing into an office and barricading themselves inside, followed by footage of mob members roaming the same hallway and ramming the doors to that same office.
Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.) recalled what it was like to be inside the Capitol as the mob of Trump supporters stormed inside and tried to break onto the House floor. “Shortly after, there was a terrifying banging on the chamber doors,” she said, her voice breaking. “I will never forget that sound. Shouts and panicked calls to my husband and my sons. Instructions to flee. And the constant whirring of gas masks filtering the air. The chamber of the United States House of Representatives turned to chaos.”
But looming above all of this was a nagging question: How much was Trump to blame? Was there a clear connection between his words and actions, and the scene at the Capitol? Had he really committed an impeachable offense by encouraging and inciting these acts of violence?
Here again, the House managers turned to the massive body of evidence to make their case. They argued that Trump’s “fight like hell” exhortation on January 6th was different from similar (if not identical) rhetoric by so many other politicians because his supporters had already committed acts of violence in his name and in service of the “stop the steal” cause. It was different because Trump knew ahead of time from law enforcement agencies that his supporters were going to bring weapons that day and were planning to violence and “war.” As the insurrection was happening, Trump did nothing to stop it, and even told the people who ransacked the Capitol that he loved them. And as in-the-moment footage and after-the-fact interviews played at the trial showed, mob members believed they were doing what Trump wanted them to do.
“They wouldn’t have listened to you, to me, to the vice president of the United States who they were attacking,” Rep. Neguse said. “They didn’t stop in the face of law enforcement.” He went on, “They were following the president. He alone, our commander-in-chief, had the power to stop it. And he didn’t.”
This, then, gets to the heart of the case against Donald Trump. Again, compelling evidence and emotional first-hand testimony isn’t enough to argue that Trump incited violence against the legislative branch and his own vice president. The connection must be made between Trump’s words and actions and the violence of January 6th.
On Wednesday, it was Rep. Raskin, the lead impeachment manager, who made the clearest and most compelling argument for why Trump should indeed be convicted.
“If you’re president of the United States, you’ve chosen a side with your oath of office, and if you break it, we can impeach, convict, remove, and disqualify you permanently from holding any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States.
As Justice Scalia once said memorably, ‘You can’t ride with the cops and root for the robbers.’
And if you become inciter-in-chief to the insurrection, you can’t expect to be on the payroll as commander-in-chief of the union.”
He went on to say:
“Trump was the president of the United States and he had sworn to preserve, protect and defend the constitution. He had an affirmative binding duty, one that set him apart from everyone else in the country to take care that the laws be faithfully executed…
When he incited insurrection on January 6th, he broke that oath. He violated that duty. And that’s why we’re here today. And that’s why he has no credible Constitutional defense.”
The House impeachment managers have another day to finish making their case, after which the former president’s lawyers will mount their defense likely starting Friday.
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