Republican senators are set for another uncomfortable day at Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial, with new and graphic video expected to show “extreme” violence as his frenzied supporters smashed their way into the US Capitol.
Combined with a botched, illogical opening by Trump’s defense team, the video evidence that is reviving a national trauma raises a perennial question: what exactly would it take for his GOP defenders to finally hold the ex-President to account?
Video footage screened Tuesday taken from multiple cell phone cameras and television feeds on January 6 showed the moment when a crowd goaded by Trump invaded Congress just at the moment when lawmakers were certifying President Joe Biden’s election victory.
What we expect today
The horrific scenes, played by House Democratic impeachment managers, put viewers inside the raging mob. It brought them into ornate congressional chambers as rioters chanting Trump’s name and “Stop the Steal” hunted lawmakers and then-Vice President Mike Pence.
After the Senate trial resumes at noon on Wednesday, House impeachment managers plan to show previously unseen security camera footage from inside the Capitol as they seek to prove that the ex-President was directly responsible for the assault, senior sources in the team said.
The managers have already established a clear line of consequence between Trump’s rhetoric and the assault. They also made a strong case to senators sitting as jurors that trying an ex-President impeached in office for effectively attempting a violent coup to stay in power was constitutional.
“If that’s not an impeachable offense, there’s no such thing,” lead House impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin told a silent Senate on the first day of the trial on Tuesday.
It was a statement that Trump’s legal team, who insulted the dead and injured from the riot by calling the mashup an example of “blood sport” whipped up by a “movie company,” never answered. That’s perhaps because there is no good response.
The defense response was a fair metaphor for aspects of Trump’s performance in the presidency: it was unprepared, contradictory, impulsive and politicized.
Objective observers – and subjective ones, including Republican senators who have already made up their mind – panned the opening contributions of lawyer Bruce Castor Jr. and to a lesser extent David Schoen. Some Republicans said the presentations by House managers were more convincing than those in Trump’s first trial last year after he was impeached for trying to get Ukraine to damage Biden. Impeachment lawyer and CNN commentator Ross Garber described the opening by Trump’s team as a “terrible, terrible performance.”
Far from helping the ex-President, his team, called in at the last minute because his previous representatives pulled out, appear to have confused senators.
“I couldn’t figure out where he was going. (He spent) 45 minutes going somewhere,” said Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, one of six Republicans who voted with Democrats in the Senate to declare the trial constitutional.
“What the hell is going on?” one adviser to Trump simply asked.
’This cannot be our future’
For the prosecution, Raskin expertly wove an indictment against Trump, using the President’s own inflammatory rhetoric, the symbolic weight of US history and the collective emotion of a people who had seen their democratic institutions violated.
His core legal point was that if Trump was not called to account for his actions, any future President who lost an election in November would conclude they had a free reign to invoke whatever havoc they wanted – a concept he referred to as the “January exception.” The Maryland lawmaker, who recently lost his son, became tearful when explaining how his daughter, who was with him on January 6, said she never wanted to come to the Capitol again. And he used the human carnage wreaked by the Trump mob to condemn its leader.