House Democrats on Tuesday launched their impeachment case against former President Trump with a stirring video montage of violence and mayhem at the Capitol on Jan. 6 — a highly charged opening salvo, stripped of all subtlety, that at once implicated the former president in the deadly attack and heightened the pressure on Republicans to convict him.
The 13-minute video, introduced by Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - Political crosscurrents persist for Biden, Dems Trump, the elections and Jan. 6: What you might have missed this week Raskin and Biggs spar over Arizona audit results, with Biggs refusing to say who won the state MORE (D-Md.), the lead impeachment manager, featured a sampling of Trump’s fiery rhetoric leading up to the deadly siege, mashed up with scenes of mob violence in and around the Capitol building in the subsequent hours.
The extraordinary demonstration — violent, profane and highly visceral — set an early tone for this week’s trial in the Senate, where lawmakers will decide if Trump’s conduct surrounding the unprecedented assault should disqualify him from ever holding high office again.
It’s highly unlikely that Republican senators will cross the aisle in numbers high enough to convict their party’s standard-bearer, a judgment requiring a two-thirds majority of the upper chamber. And in a test vote on Tuesday evening, only six Republicans joined Democrats in allowing the trial to move forward on constitutional grounds — a likely preview of the final verdict.
“Nobody seemed to change any minds,” Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyBiden's push for unity collides with entrenched partisanship The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate nears surprise deal on short-term debt ceiling hike The Memo: Culture war intensifies over school boards MORE (R-Mo.) said after the vote.
“No one’s going to convince me that impeachment was put in place to remove from office someone that’s not in office,” said Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioDefense & National Security — Military starts giving guidance on COVID-19 vaccine refusals Blinken pressed to fill empty post overseeing 'Havana syndrome' Tim Scott takes in .3 million in third quarter MORE (R-Fla.).
But by forcing the Senate jurors to relive the chaos of Jan. 6, the Democrats’ made-for-TV trial strategy is designed to appeal to voters outraged by Trump’s conduct — and to maximize the discomfort for the Republicans already signaling a readiness to clear the former president of any wrongdoing.
Indeed, the Democrats’ video did not pull punches, but featured the most brutal scenes to emerge publicly from the countless hours of footage that have circulated in the month since the siege, including depictions of police officers being beaten and crushed, and the gunshot that killed a rioter outside the House chamber.
Interspersed with those tumultuous scenes were Trump’s remarks at different points during the attack, including a video urging the “very special” rioters to “go home,” and a later tweet claiming that rampant fraud had “viciously” stolen his election victory from “great patriots” denied their voice.
When the video ended, Raskin paused on the floor in silence to allow the message to sink in.
“You ask what a high crime and misdemeanor is under our Constitution? That's a high crime and misdemeanor,” Raskin finally said. “If that's not an impeachable offense, then there is no such thing.”
House Democrats had impeached Trump last month on one charge: inciting insurrection. And a handful of Senate Republicans appear poised to side with the Democrats’ verdict that such a charge is merited. While Trump has already left office, a Senate conviction could prohibit him from running again in 2024, as he has hinted he might do.
Trump’s defense attorneys have said the impeachment case should be immediately dismissed, and they’re leaning on a two-pronged argument to make their case. First, they say Trump cannot be subject to impeachment because he’s no longer in office. And second, they maintain that Trump's fiery rhetoric leading up to the Capitol siege is well protected under the First Amendment right to free speech.
“Presidents are impeachable because presidents are removable, former presidents are not because they cannot be removed,” said Trump defense attorney David Schoen.
Democrats rejected both arguments out of hand. There’s nothing in the Constitution preventing the impeachment of a former official, they said, and the First Amendment should not shield a president from provoking an attack on the federal government.
“President TrumpDonald TrumpMcCabe wins back full FBI pension after being fired under Trump Biden's Supreme Court reform study panel notes 'considerable' risks to court expansion Bennie Thompson not ruling out subpoenaing Trump MORE was not impeached because he used words that the House decided are forbidden or unpopular. He was impeached for inciting armed violence against the government of the United States of America,” said Rep. David CicillineDavid CicillineSenators preview bill to stop tech giants from prioritizing their own products Democrats seek to cool simmering tensions Hillicon Valley —Apple is not a monopoly, judge rules MORE (D-R.I.), another impeachment manager.
One thing the two parties could agree on is that the Democratic prosecutors came fully prepared, while Trump’s defense attorneys left lawmakers on both sides of the aisle underwhelmed.
GOP Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOcasio-Cortez goes indoor skydiving for her birthday GOP rallies around Manchin, Sinema McConnell gets GOP wake-up call MORE, a former Texas solicitor general who has argued cases before the Supreme Court, called Raskin “impressive and “a serious lawyer.”
“Anyone who listened to those arguments would recognize that the House managers were focused, relied upon and trusted upon the opinion of legal scholars,” said Sen. Bill CassidyBill CassidyHillicon Valley — Presented by American Edge Project — Americans blame politicians, social media for spread of misinformation: poll Biden signs bill to strengthen K-12 school cybersecurity Senators gear up for bipartisan grilling of Facebook execs MORE (La.), one of the six Republicans who voted to advance the trial. “Anyone who listened to President Trump's legal team saw they were unfocused, they attempted to avoid the issue, and they talked about everything but the issue at hand.”
But if the dramatic video made an impression on the Republicans in the audience, they gave little indication. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden signs bill to raise debt ceiling On The Money — Progressives play hard ball on Biden budget plan Schumer, McConnell headed for another collision over voting rights MORE (R-Ky.), who was featured in the video warning against the dangers of voting to overturn state election results based on scant evidence of fraud, sat unflinching, his hands folded in his lap.
“It was uncomfortable,” said Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellSenate Democrat calls on Facebook to preserve documents related to whistleblower testimony Biden says he has directed DOJ to focus on violence from unruly airline passengers Looking to the past to secure America's clean energy future MORE (D-Wash.).
Other Senate Republicans appeared to turn away from the video footage of the rioters sacking the Capitol. Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulDemocrats fret as longshot candidates pull money, attention Journalist Dave Levinthal discusses 'uptick' in congressional stock trade violations McConnell vows GOP won't help raise debt ceiling in December after Schumer 'tantrum' MORE (R-Ky.), who has aggressively argued the Senate trial is unconstitutional, doodled on a piece of paper, while Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) studied papers in his lap, according to The Washington Post. Sens. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - House debt vote today; Biden struggles to unite Arkansas legislature splits Little Rock in move that guarantees GOP seats The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate nears surprise deal on short-term debt ceiling hike MORE (R-Ark.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) also kept their attention on papers in front of them rather than the screens set up in the Senate chamber.
The sounds from the video montage echoed in the chamber, filling it with the screams and yells of the mob, bringing witnesses back to the day of the attack, according to people in the room. In one piece of footage, rioters breached the Senate floor and rifled through the very desks where senators now sat as jurors.
Minutes later, Raskin again rendered the normally boisterous chamber perfectly still by telling the personal, heart-wrenching story of how his family survived Jan. 6. The day before, he had buried his 25-year-old son, Tommy, a Harvard law student who had taken his own life. As rioters swarmed the Capitol, the lawmaker was separated from his daughter, Tabitha, and another family member. He feared he could lose her too in the violence.
When he was reunited with his daughter, Raskin apologized and promised it wouldn’t happen the next time she visited the building.
“She said, ‘Dad, I don’t want to come back to the Capitol again,’ ” Raskin recounted, choking up. “Of all the terrible, brutal things I saw and I heard on that day … that one hit me the hardest.
“That and watching someone use an American flagpole, with the flag still on it, to spear and pummel one of our police officers, ruthlessly, mercilessly, tortured by a pole with a flag on it that [the officer] was defending with his very life.”