Donald Trump was branded an “inciter in chief” in the first day of Democrat arguments in the former US president’s impeachment trial, in which harrowing video footage showed just how close the rioters on January 6 got to US lawmakers.
In the Senate Chamber on Wednesday evening Democrats aired video from his rallies and other remarks to supporters, along with slides of Trump's tweets contesting the election and promoting the rally in Washington, which he promised would be “wild.”
The impeachment managers put Trump’s rhetoric on trial, from the months he spent laying the groundwork to contest the election results to the speech he delivered outside the White House egging his supporters to “fight” before they stormed the Capitol.
“He truly made his base believe that the only way he could lose was if the election were rigged,” said Democrat Joaquin Castro, one of the prosecutors.
Trump, the House impeachment managers argued, whipped his supporters into a frenzy with the “big lie” that their votes had been stolen, and urged them to fight.
“This attack never would have happened but for Donald Trump,” said Madeleine Dean. “And so they came, draped in Trump’s flag, and used our flag, the American flag, to batter and to bludgeon.”
There was no widespread fraud in the election, as has been confirmed by election officials across the country and former Attorney General William Barr. Dozens of legal challenges to the election put forth by Trump and his allies were dismissed.
Trump ‘put a target’ on their backs
Presenting footage of the siege, Stacey Plaskett said Trump had “put a target” on the backs of then-Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who were leading the certification of President Joe Biden's election victory. “His mob broke into the Capitol to hunt them down,” Plaskett said.
Democrats showed never-seen-before security footage inside the Capitol that showed the attack unfolding, with rioters smashing their way into the building, and audio of distressed police officers trying in vain to keep them out.
The presentation also showed the perilous moments when lawmakers and others, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Pence, were rushed to safety; body cam footage of an officer being beaten; the sounds of crunching, breaking glass; profane screams and violent threats; and cries as the rioters streamed into the building, some carrying riot shields and weapons.
Democrats warned that many of the scenes would be hard to watch, including the horrifying screams of an officer being crushed in a doorway and video of one of the rioters, Ashli Babbitt, being shot to death by US Capitol Police.
Also never before seen: Footage of Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman, who has already been hailed as a hero, warning Republican Mitt Romney that the mob was headed his way. Romney turned and dashed in the other direction.
“I did not know that was Officer Goodman," Romney told reporters after seeing it. "I look forward to thanking him when I next see him.”
Goodman also directed the mob away from the Senate Chamber and toward other officers.
Pence’s life in danger
Democrats outlined in detail how former vice president Mike Pence’s life had been put in physical danger, and hailed him as a “patriot” for defying Trump's pressure campaign to overturn the election results.
“Vice President Pence had the courage to stand against the president, tell the American public the truth and uphold our Constitution. That is patriotism," said Plaskett, whose presentation included previously unseen footage of Pence and his family being evacuated from the Senate chamber as rioters spread through the Capitol.
Other footage showed the rioters chanting “Hang Mike Pence” with others searching for him. At one point, Plaskett said, the rioters were within 100 feet of where Pence was sheltering with his family.
“They were talking about assassinating the vice president of the United States," she said.