By David Morgan and Richard Cowan
Democrats making the case for Donald Trump’s conviction in his Senate impeachment trial on a charge of inciting the deadly U.S. Capitol attack said on Thursday the former president knew exactly what he was doing when he summoned supporters to Washington on Jan. 6.
On the trial’s third day, House of Representatives lawmakers serving as prosecutors provided example after example of Trump’s actions prior to the rampage to illustrate his intentions when he told supporters to go to the Capitol and “fight like hell” as Congress convened to formally certify President Joe Biden’s election Nov. 3 victory over him.
“Jan. 6 was not some unexpected radical break from his normal law-abiding and peaceful disposition … This was his essential M.O.,” said lead Democratic impeachment manager Jamie Raskin said, using shorthand for modus operandi.
“He knew that egged on by his tweets, his lies and his promise of a ‘wild’ time in Washington to guarantee his grip on power, his most extreme followers would show up bright and early, ready to attack, ready to engage in violence, ready to ‘fight like hell’ for their hero,” Raskin added.
Democratic congresswoman Diana DeGette told the Senate that when they were criminally charged, multiple rioters said they believed they were following Trump’s orders on Jan. 6.
“The president told them to be there, so they actually believed they would face no punishment,” DeGette said, showing a video of one rioter telling another as they entered a congressional office: “He’ll be happy – what do you mean, we’re fighting for Trump.”
The Democratic-led House on Jan. 13 charged the Republican former president with inciting an insurrection. Trump’s term ended on Jan. 20.
Democrats appear to be highly unlikely to secure a conviction and bar Trump from ever again holding public office given that only six Republicans voted with Democrats in the 100-seat chamber to proceed with the impeachment trial. A two-thirds majority would be needed to vote to convict, which means at least 17 Republican senators would have to defy Trump, who has shown interest in running for president again in 2024.
Raskin told the senators that Trump must not be allowed to hold public office again: “If he gets back into office and it happens again, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.”
Democratic congressman Ted Lieu added: “President Trump’s lack of remorse shows that he will undoubtedly cause future harm if allowed.”
Some Republican senators said they were still not convinced. Senator James Lankford said told reporters that the House prosecutors failed to connect the dots between Trump and the rioters.
“It’s just redundant, the same thing over and over again. … To me, the more you hear it, the less credibility there is in it,” Senator James Inhofe said.
The trial looked set to end by the weekend, with Trump adviser Jason Miller saying on Twitter that the defense would wrap up its case on Friday and some Republican senators telling reporters they expected the proceedings to conclude on Saturday.
The nine House impeachment managers are arguing that Trump planted the seeds for the riot by encouraging violence and making false claims about widespread electoral fraud long before Jan. 6. Five people, including a police officer, died in the riot. Two more police officers involved in the response died by suicide in the days afterward.
“All of these people who’ve been arrested and charged, they’re being held accountable for their actions. Their leader, the man who incited them, must be held accountable as well,” DeGette told the senators. “But … you don’t have to take my word for it, that the insurrectionists acted at Donald Trump’s direction. They said so.”
In a separate court case, federal prosecutors said on Thursday that anti-government “Oath Keepers” militia members devised elaborate plans to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6 and plotted to have an armed “quick reaction force” staged outside the city ready “to fight hand to hand” if ordered by Trump.
On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer left open the possibility that Congress might seek a different way to punish Trump if the Senate acquits him. That includes potentially invoking the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which gives Congress the power to bar public officials from holding office if they engaged in insurrection or rebellion.
Thursday marked the second day of the presentation by the House managers, who spent much of Wednesday recounting the events that led to the riot and highlighting the threat to lawmakers and to Mike Pence, Trump’s vice president, including searing security footage.
White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said Biden watched some of the video on Thursday morning, adding, “Anyone who watched that video … found it harrowing and deeply disturbing. That’s certainly how the president felt.”
Trump is the first U.S. president to be impeached twice and the first to face trial after leaving office. His first impeachment trial, which stemmed from his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden, ended in an acquittal a year ago in what was then a Republican-controlled Senate.