The Memo: New riot footage stuns Trump trial
Shocking new footage of the Jan. 6 insurrection was presented in the Senate chamber Wednesday, dismantling the idea that the second impeachment trial of former President Trump would produce no fresh information.
The presentation packed an enormous emotional punch. Its impact was visceral, even as most Americans need no reminder of a day that was a low point in the nation’s history.
Clips shown by Democratic impeachment managers revealed Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) narrowly escaping the mob and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) breaking into a run in the Capitol’s halls after apparently being urged to change direction by a police officer.
The officer in question was Eugene Goodman of the Capitol Police, who has already won praise for diverting the mob of Trump supporters away from the Senate chamber at considerable risk to himself.
The clips also included staffers for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) running to barricade themselves into a conference room. Audio was played from an unidentified Pelosi staffer making a whispered phone call pleading for help.
There was also audio from members of law enforcement radioing in distress as rioters heaved metal poles at them and overran their positions.
The unquestionable power of the video and audio recordings was one thing; whether it will affect the outcome of Trump’s trial is an entirely different question.
Assuming Democrats vote en masse to convict Trump, they would need 17 Republican senators to join them to reach the necessary two-thirds majority. That is wildly unlikely to happen.
But the potency of the Democratic case has, at the very least, put Republicans who will vote for acquittal in an uncomfortable political spot. They will be seen by some as voting to exonerate Trump for inciting a mob that was intent on killing his own vice president, Mike Pence, as well as key members of Congress including Pelosi.
Democrats made a point of praising Pence for his “patriotism” in certifying the election results on Jan. 6 — and in underlining the danger he was in from rioters who were eager to hang him.
The new footage was mostly presented by Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands) and Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.).
“President Trump put a target on their backs,” Plaskett said, referring not just to lawmakers but to others inside the Capitol complex, including staff and police officers.
Reporters in the chamber Wednesday described a Senate rapt in attention while the grim footage played.
That was a stark contrast to earlier in the day, as some Republicans senators appeared uninterested in the proceedings while Democrats made oral arguments. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), a key pro-Trump figure in the effort to overturn the 2020 election result, at one point watched from the Senate gallery with his feet up.
Democrats spent the bulk of their time making a prolonged case that Trump was directly culpable for the violence that consumed the Capitol.
They did so by referring to his numerous remarks — including prior to the Nov. 3 election — asserting that he could be defeated only through fraud. Other episodes, including his apparent glee when a Biden-Harris bus was run off the road and his pressure on state officials to change their election results, were also catalogued.
The recitation of those events — though not as compelling as the later video — was intended to make the case that Trump’s actions involved calculation and premeditation. The violence of Jan. 6 was something he foresaw and encouraged, rather than the consequence of events getting out of hand, the Democrats asserted.
Much of the emphasis in the early part of the day was on Trump’s speech at the Ellipse close to the White House on the day of the insurrection.
Trump encouraged the crowd to go to the Capitol and fired up his supporters with the demand that they “fight like hell.” Rep. Jamie Raskin (Md.), the lead impeachment manager for the Democrats, commented, “They brought us hell on that day.”
Later, Plaskett said that no march was to be permitted from the Ellipse to the Capitol when the rally was initially planned. “It was not until after President Trump and his team became involved in the planning that the march from the Ellipse to the Capitol came about, in direct contravention of the original permit.”
“This was not a coincidence. None of this was,” Plaskett added.
The president was again silent on Wednesday, in part because of his ban from Twitter. Trump was reportedly furious that his lawyers had not made a more effective defense of him on Tuesday, the opening day of the trial.
But the president has a bigger problem. The evidence presented has been so damning that he is leaning heavily on the reluctance of GOP senators to invite the ire of his supporters and the willingness of conservative media to minimize the trial or cast it as a partisan endeavor.
There are deeper issues at play, however.
Raskin started off the day with a question that resonated all the more deeply as the footage played hours later.
“That’s the question before all of you in this trial,” he said. “Is this America?”
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.
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