Trump trial team shifts to details in building conviction case
In this image from video, Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, speaks during the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021. | Senate Television via AP

WASHINGTON—Incident by incident, violent event by violent event, and Donald Trump rant by Donald Trump rant, a team of U.S. lawmakers/impeachment managers built up details before and during the Jan. 6 Trumpite invasion of the U.S. Capitol to construct a case to prove the former Oval Office occupant incited that insurrection.

In almost eight hours speaking to the senators—who are the 100-person jury in this impeachment case—and showing video evidence, they specified how Trump committed the “high crime and misdemeanor” of inciting his already violent supporters to their insurrection, by repeating his Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen, and more.

“Donald Trump surrendered his role as commander-in-chief. He became inciter-in-chief,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., the lead impeachment manager. “They were sent here by the president.”

“He recruited the mob and he incited the mob,” one manager said.

Interwoven in their presentation were violent videos of Trumpites, committing mayhem and worse outside and inside the Capitol, and in threats months beforehand in Texas, Arizona, and elsewhere.

“Some of you have said there’s no way he could have known the violence” would come, added Stacy Plaskett, the Democratic non-voting House delegate from the U.S. Virgin Islands territory. “That is wrong.”

“The violence was foreseeable. The violence, like the attack itself, did not just appear. He knew these people, approved their violence, and had a pattern and practice of encouraging it” in months leading to the Jan. 6 insurrection as well as in his speech to the mob that day before they invaded, the Brooklyn native explained.

Never-before-seen Capitol interior security camera video showed the invaders overwhelming police, beating them bloody and worse and occupying the Senate, now the site of the Trump trial.

Meanwhile, lawmakers fled for their lives, with some having to quickly reverse course lest the invaders see and seize them, or worse. And Trump could have called a stop to the insurrection, but did not.

And before that, Trump proceeded by stages to ratchet up the pressure and the violence, first by the big lie, then by 62 unsuccessful court challenges to election results. Then Trump unsuccessfully pressured and threatened state and local officials to reverse state election returns, before denigrating other Republicans for accepting Electoral College tallies.

He even suggested the Georgia Secretary of State “find” the exact number of popular votes, 11,780, needed to have Trump win that key swing state by one ballot. And Trump even finally slammed his own vice president, Mike Pence, for being unable to “stop the steal.”

In the insurrection, Capitol Police barely hustled Pence and other leaders and lawmakers away from the invaders. The videos were difficult for senators to watch, with complete silence as they viewed how close they came to capture, injury or death for them and their staffs at the invaders’ hands.

And when all his other attempts to nullify the election failed, the House impeachment managers said, Trump turned the insurrection loose.

“He saw it coming and completely abdicated his duty as commander-in-chief,” said lead House manager Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md. “He was warned and had been warned they were planning this attack”—planning, the managers said, openly occurred on social media.

The invaders were egged on by a prior Trump tweet setting up the explosive Jan. 6 rally before the invasion, Raskin noted. “’Be there! Will be wild!’ said Donald Trump to his followers,” Raskin read off the video screen of Trump’s most-infamous pre-invasion tweet.

The House members, led by Raskin and including Plaskett, Ted Lieu and Eric Swalwell of California, Joe Neguse of Colorado, Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, Texas, and Madeline Dean of Pennsylvania, have to convince 67 of the 100 senators to convict Trump of that one count of inciting the insurrection.

Doing so violates the U.S. Constitution and his oath of office, including his duty “to take care the laws be faithfully executed,” Raskin said. Trump didn’t do that, because he—and he alone—had the power to call the insurrection off and restore order. He didn’t.

But it’s unlikely the evidence, visual, verbal, and in black-and-white via Trump’s tweets, will convince 17 Republican senators to join all 48 Democrats and both independents to convict Trump, thus barring him from seeking future federal office, including the White House.

So the managers’ aim was to also put everything on the record, for the entire country to see and understand—and especially to show how Trump tied himself into the pre-insurrection planning. All the sessions, including the videos, can be viewed on the U.S. Senate website.

In this image from video, security video is shown to senators as House impeachment manager Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., speaks during the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021. | Senate Television via AP

Trump’s incitement didn’t start after Democratic nominee Joe Biden defeated him last November, said Neguse. It began long before, last spring, when Trump, trailing Biden in opinion polls by 15 percentage points, realized he might lose.

He then started talking, six months in advance, of a “stolen election,” of it being “rigged” and of vote fraud. The managers noted Trump was particularly vitriolic against voters in the Democratic-run central cities of Philadelphia, Detroit, Atlanta, and Milwaukee. Left unsaid, all four have large communities of people of color—people Trump hates.

“His false claims about election fraud were a drumbeat used to inspire, instigate and anger then,” the Coloradan added. After showing clips of irate white Trumpite true-believers, Neguse, who is Black, pointed out that it worked. So did Castro, who is Latino.

“The most-combustible thing you can do in a democracy is to convince people it”—the election—“was stolen,” Castro added after walking senators through Trump’s tweets.

Trump’s supporters eagerly signed on to his lies in those months.

The managers then discussed months of Trump incitement of the insurrectionists, including their violent Dec. 12 march, led by the Proud Boys, in D.C., which resulted in vandalism and fires at four Black churches.

As for Jan. 6, managers showed leaders of the insurrection tweeting “Show up and be ready to fight!” and “See you in D.C.!” Managers quoted their on-line planning, some of which Trump himself picked up and retweeted, approving it in capital letters.

“The cavalry is coming,” Jan. 6 rally organizer Kylie Kremer tweeted. “It’s a great honor,” Trump retweeted in sending her message to more than 70 million followers.

Before that, the managers showed the video of Trump, in his first debate with Biden, being directly challenged to disavow extremists and white nationalists, and exhorting the Proud Boys, who are among the worst, “Stand back and stand by!”

Senators also saw videos of a horde of Trump-festooned vehicles trying to run a bus full of Biden volunteers off I-35 in Texas. Though not in the video, House managers added a Trumpite’s black pickup truck rammed a Biden backer’s car on that expressway, too.

Another video showed armed Trumpites, chanting “Stop the steal!” and other mantras, surrounding the Maricopa County (Phoenix) election headquarters demanding ballot-counting stop and that officials award Arizona to Trump. Biden won that key swing state by 10,457 votes out of 3.39 million cast.

The impeachment managers also posted Trump communications with extremist groups, such as the Proud Boys and the Trumpite women’s group that got the federal permit for the Jan. 6 rally. At Trump aides’ behest, that group changed the permit to include the march on the Capitol.

Trump not only harangued the tens of thousands in the rally crowd for 70 minutes, repeating his election lies and urging them to “fight like hell.” He even chose the rally’s speakers and its music. One speaker, his son Eric, predicted “there would be war” unless the election result was reversed and Trump won.

“A lie can do incredible damage and destruction, especially when it’s told by the most powerful person on earth,” Castro said, narrating one of the many video clips of Trump’s incitement of extremism.

The video of Trump’s speech was a repeated section of the managers’ case. “This was a deliberate, premeditated incitement to his base,” said Swalwell. “This was foreseeable and preventable,” Castro added.

“Day after day, he [Trump] told them lies, and to make them angry, he was willing to say anything,” said Swalwell. “He assembled the tinder, the kindling, and the logs for the fuel” for their fire. “And he would be ready to light the match…He doused the flames with kerosene.”

“He reveled in it and did nothing to help us, as commander-in-chief,” Raskin said of Trump’s attitude towards the invasion. “He made statements inciting and encouraging the mob.” Further, Trump wants Jan. 6 “as a day of celebration” which could “encourage the next rounds of insurrectionary justice,” the Marylander warned. The House team has another day to present its case, followed by two days for Trump’s lawyers, then senatorial questions, and a vote on conviction.

Raskin, a longtime constitutional law professor before entering Congress, took time out at the start to refute an argument from Trump’s lawyers on the trial’s opening day: That the Constitution’s First Amendment free speech guarantee protected Trump’s speech to the Jan. 6 rally.

It’s not just a case of “shouting fire in a crowded theater,” Raskin said, a Supreme Court quote often used to justify some restrictions on free speech. “This case is much worse. It’s more like the fire chief sends a mob to set a fire off and then sits back and watches in glee and delight.”

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.