House impeachment managers argued Wednesday that former President Donald Trump engaged in a months-long campaign to falsely convince his supporters that the election was stolen, whipping them into a state of anger over the false belief the results were fraudulent and inciting his followers to violently disrupt the peaceful transfer of power.
The managers kicked off their two-day presentation walking through Trump’s months of false statements about election fraud and his refusal to concede, arguing that his speeches were designed to anger and incite his supporters, so they were ready to fight when they marched to the Capitol on January 6.
Later, the managers will show never-before-seen Capitol security footage in their presentation to demonstrate the extent of the violence that occurred and the threat the rioters posed to everyone in the Capitol, according to senior aides on the House impeachment team. The aides told reporters that the footage would be used as part of a compelling presentation that shows a view of the “extreme violence” on January 6, as the managers argue that the rioters were incited by Trump.
“His false claims about election fraud, that was the drumbeat being used to inspire, instigate and ignite them, to anger them,” said Rep. Joe Neguse of Colorado, one of the House impeachment managers. “The President had spent months telling his supporters that the election had been stolen, and he used this speech to incite them further to inflame them to ‘stop the steal,’ to stop the certification of the election results.”
House Democrats previewed their case against Trump on the trial’s opening day Tuesday, playing a dramatic and visceral 13-minute video that interspersed disturbing video of the rioters breaching the Capitol, attacking police officers and invoking Trump’s name with the President’s January 6 speech and tweets. It’s an effort to try to force skeptical Republican senators to confront the harrowing events of January 6 and Trump’s culpability, though GOP senators say Tuesday’s 56-44 vote on the constitutionality of the trial signaled there simply wasn’t a path to the two-thirds votes required for conviction.
Trump’s legal team has argued that the managers are ignoring Trump’s comments on January 6 that the protests should be peaceful, while claiming his call for supporters to fight was figurative political speech protected by the First Amendment. They will get the chance to respond to the House arguments Friday.
Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the lead impeachment manager, kicked off the House’s presentation arguing that the January 6 riot was the culmination of Trump’s conduct over several months falsely claiming the election had been stolen. Then after the rioters attacked the Capitol in the deadly riot, Trump praised them, Raskin said.
“He told them to fight like hell, and they brought us hell that day,” Raskin said. “The evidence will show you that ex-President Trump was no innocent bystander. The evidence will show that he clearly incited the January 6 insurrection. It will show that Donald trump surrendered his role as commander in chief and became the inciter-in-chief of a dangerous insurrection.”
Raskin warned at the outset that some of the video the managers planned to show would be graphic.
The opening hours of the managers’ presentation focused on Trump’s statements both before and after the election, in which he repeatedly made false claims that the only way he could lose the election was if it was stolen and spread false conspiracies about widespread voter fraud.
“This was never about one speech. He built this mob over many months with repeated messaging,” said Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, one of the House impeachment managers. “He made them believe their victory was stolen and incited them so he could use them to steal the election for himself. … This is what he deliberately led to our doorstep on January 6.”
The managers cited statements from rioters in the aftermath, including in federal indictments, saying they were out to kill Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and that they were “following the president’s orders,” Neguse said.
The House managers will have 16 hours over the next two days to present their case to the Senate, in which House Democrats plan to argue that Trump is responsible for the insurrection by whipping up his supporters in the months before the election with fraudulent claims about the election, and then failing to respond to stop the attack as it was unfolding.
The House team does not think it will need the full 16 hours, the aides say. They expect to use most of their eight hours on Wednesday but may have a slightly shorter day on Thursday as they finish making their case.
Republicans say they can’t be swayed
While the managers’ case is likely to hit home for senators who were forced to flee from the rioters on January 6, there nevertheless appears to be no path for Democrats to reach the two-thirds vote necessary to convict Trump and bar him from running for future office.
On Tuesday, the Senate voted 56 to 44 that the trial was constitutional, meaning 44 Senate Republicans voted that the trial itself was unconstitutional. While one Republican, Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, changed his vote as a result of the strong Democratic arguments on the constitutionality of the trial, other Republicans stayed firmly opposed even as they panned the meandering presentation made by Trump’s legal team on Tuesday.
“This does not predict my vote on anything else,” Cassidy said Wednesday when asked about the vote on whether to convict or acquit Trump.
House Democrats are urging Senate Republicans to solely consider the merits of the case and separate out their concerns about whether the trial is constitutional. Many GOP senators publicly and privately are signaling to CNN that they won’t do that, the latest sign of the high hurdles Democrats face in getting to 67 votes to convict.
“The underlying issue is too critical in my opinion,” Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota told reporters. “I’ve continued to say that it is not constitutional to impeach and convict a former president.”
Asked if there’s anything the Democratic managers could say that would change his mind, Rounds said: “I think they would have to go back to the constitutional articles or the constitutional issues in my opinion.”
Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a member of Senate GOP leadership who voted that the trial proceedings are unconstitutional, said that his position on the process will weigh on his final vote on deciding whether to convict Trump.
“As I understand, we have one vote it’s guilty or not guilty at the end,” Cornyn told CNN. “So, it has to be a combination of those two factors.”
GOP Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said bluntly “no” he would not judge the merits of the case separately from whether the proceedings are constitutional, something the Senate affirmed in a bipartisan vote on Tuesday.
“No, I don’t think that’s the job of the Senate: To be trying remove a President who is not in office,” Rubio said when asked if he would judge the case solely on the merits, also pushing back on the idea of barring Trump from ever running for office again. “It’s not about Donald Trump — it’s about the future.”
Trump lawyers will get chance to respond on Friday
Trump’s lawyers, Bruce Castor and David Schoen, will have up to 16 hours over two days to make a more detailed case against the impeachment charge beginning Friday, though they aren’t expected to use all of that time.
After Tuesday’s rambling presentation was criticized by Republicans — and enraged the former president — Trump’s legal team is scrambling to collect and produce more videos to bolster their arguments, according to a person familiar with the discussions. The move to use more videotape — and lean away from in-person arguments — amounts to a tacit acknowledgment that the lawyers Trump has enlisted to defend him during his second impeachment trial are failing to inspire confidence.
Asked if Trump expressed his displeasure over his performance, Castor said Wednesday, “Far from it,” adding they were not planning changes to their legal strategy.
After Trump’s team wraps up, the Senate will have up to four hours to ask written questions to the legal teams, and then the House managers could seek a vote on hearing from witnesses. But it’s not clear yet they plan to do so.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell walked his conference through the impeachment timeline on Wednesday during the private GOP lunch, laying out that it was still possible to finish the impeachment trial by Saturday evening, according to GOP Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota.
Finishing by Saturday would mean that they would do senators’ questions, closing arguments and the final vote that day — and push back doing senators’ final speeches until later. The ultimate vote has not been decided, in part because the question about whether Democrats will seek witnesses is still not fully resolved, but all signs point to the trial ending this weekend.
Unlike the 2020 trial when many senators from both parties took to the floor and gave speeches before the final conviction vote, Cramer said that fewer GOP senators would speak this time — a sentiment echoed by many other of his colleagues. The reason, GOP sources say, is not as many GOP senators want to publicly defend Trump. Moreover, senators from both parties are eager to get home for next week’s Presidents Day recess.
“I think there is a lot of incentive for that,” Cramer said of trying to end Saturday.
This story and headline have been updated with additional developments Wednesday.