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Prosecutors lay riot at Trump's feet

Ex-president sent mob to Capitol, they say by Compiled by Democrat-Gazette Staff From Wire Reports | February 11, 2021 at 7:20 a.m.
House impeachment manager Stacey Plaskett, the Democratic delegate for the Virgin Islands, narrates U.S. Capitol security footage and other video recordings, tweets and posts during Wednesday’s impeachment trial. Plaskett said “the insurgents believed that they were doing the duty of their president. They were following his orders.” (AP/Senate Television)

WASHINGTON -- Prosecutors unveiled new security video in Donald Trump's impeachment trial Wednesday, showing the mob of rioters breaking into the Capitol, smashing windows and doors, and searching for Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as overwhelmed police begged on their radios for help.

In the previously unreleased recordings, the House prosecutors displayed scenes of how close the rioters were to the country's leaders, some equipped with combat gear and members of extremist groups among the first inside.

At one moment, the video shows police shooting into the crowd through a broken window, killing a San Diego woman, Ashli Babbitt.

The vice president, who had been presiding over a session to certify Joe Biden's victory over Trump, is shown being rushed to safety, where he sheltered in an office with his family just 100 feet from the rioters. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was evacuated from the complex as her staff hid behind doors in her suite of offices.

Though most of the Senate jurors have already made up their minds on acquittal or conviction, they were riveted on the video and audio as the rioters took over the chamber where the impeachment trial is now being held. Screams from the audio filled the chamber.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to watch » https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HztVsQFi5Qs]

"They did it because Donald Trump sent them on this mission," said House prosecutor Stacey Plaskett, the Democratic delegate representing the Virgin Islands.

"President Trump put a target on their backs, and his mob broke into the Capitol to hunt them down."

She and other managers played police dispatch audio recordings and cited legal filings, social media postings and videos to make clear that the rioters posed a serious danger to Pence, Pelosi and other lawmakers, as well as to police officers.

"Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!" the crowd could be heard chanting. Outside the Capitol, where a gallows had been set up, others called out, "Bring out Pence!" One rioter taped a video saying, "He's a total treasonous pig."

They likewise were hunting down Pelosi, and the man photographed sitting at her desk was shown carrying a 950,000-volt stun gun. "Where are you, Nancy?" some called out. "We're looking for you!"

Through tweets, other social media posts and video clips, Plaskett showed that "the insurgents believed that they were doing the duty of their president. They were following his orders."

She brought up an incident from Oct. 30 when Trump supporters sought to force a Biden-Harris bus filled with "young campaign staff, volunteers, supporters, surrogates, people" off a highway in Texas. Trump later retweeted a video of the incident and added a fight song.

She showed footage from a pro-Trump rally where his supporters chanted "Destroy the GOP!"

"That was Trump's message: Destroy anyone who won't listen, who won't help them take the election for Trump," she said.

Then she showed how on social media sites devoted to Trump, his supporters laid out for anyone to see their plans to attack the Capitol, with one man even writing that he had said goodbye to his son, prepared to die for Trump.

She read from one post: "The Capitol is our goal. Everything else is a distraction. Every corrupt member of Congress locked in one room and surrounded by real Americans is an opportunity that will never present itself again."

"Let that sink in," Plaskett said. "Think about that. The exact thing that happened on January 6."

TRUMP TWEETS

The presentation opened the first full day of arguments in the trial as the prosecutors argued that Trump was no "innocent bystander" but the "inciter in chief" of the deadly Capitol riot, a president who spent months spreading election lies and building a mob of supporters primed for his call to stop Biden's victory.

The House Democrats showed evidence from the former president -- hundreds of Trump tweets and comments that culminated in his Jan. 6 rally cry to go the Capitol and "fight like hell" to overturn his defeat. Trump then did nothing to stem the violence and watched with "glee," they said, as the mob ransacked the iconic building. Five people died.

The senators Wednesday saw for the first time the detailed security video of the break-in and heard grim emergency calls from Capitol police.

[DOCUMENT: Democratic legal brief » arkansasonline.com/22bri/]

In one scene, a Capitol Police officer redirects Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, down a hallway to avoid the mob. It was the same officer, Eugene Goodman, who has been praised as a hero for having lured rioters away from the Senate doors.

"It tears at your heart and brings tears to your eyes," Romney said after watching the video. He said he didn't realize how close he had been to danger.

"To us it may have felt like chaos and madness, but there was method to the madness that day," said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., the lead prosecutor, who pointed to Trump as the instigator.

"And when his mob overran and occupied the Senate and attacked the House and assaulted law enforcement, he watched it on TV like a reality show. He reveled in it."

He read aloud a tweet that Trump sent the evening of Jan. 6, noting that Trump said "not a single word that entire day condemning the violent insurrection."

"These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long," Trump said in the now-deleted tweet. "Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!"

Raskin then took on Trump's defenders, some of whom have argued that the case is a matter of political speech.

"This case is much worse than someone who falsely shouts 'Fire!' in a crowded theater," Raskin said. "It's more like a case where the town fire chief, who's paid to put out fires, sends a mob not to yell 'Fire!' in a crowded theater but to actually set the theater on fire -- and who then, when the fire alarms go off and the calls start flooding in to the fire department asking for help, does nothing but sit back, encourage the mob to continue its rampage and watch the fire spread on TV with glee and delight."

[DOCUMENT: Articles of impeachment against President Trump » arkansasonline.com/impeach2/]

Democrats, Raskin said, are pushing for the "fire chief" to never be allowed to hold public office again.

"And he objects, and he says we're violating his free-speech rights just because he's pro-mob, or pro-fire or whatever it might be," Raskin said. "Come on. I mean, you really don't need to go to law school to figure out what's wrong with that argument."

The day's proceedings unfolded after Tuesday's start when Trump's attorneys delivered a meandering defense and failed to halt the trial on constitutional grounds. Some allies called for yet another shake-up to his legal team.

[DOCUMENT: Transcript of President Trump's Jan. 6 speech » arkansasonline.com/jan6trump/]

Trump is the first president to face an impeachment trial after leaving office and the first to be twice impeached. He is charged with "incitement of insurrection" with fiery words his defense lawyers say are protected by the Constitution's First Amendment and just figures of speech.

The prosecutors are arguing that Trump's words were part of "the big lie" -- his efforts to sow doubts about the election results. Those began long before the votes were tabulated, revving up his followers to "stop the steal" though there was no evidence of substantial fraud.

Trump knew very well what would happen when he took to the microphone at the outdoor White House rally that day, almost to the hour that Congress gaveled in to certify Biden's win, said Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo.

"This was not just a speech," he said.

Trump's supporters were prepped and armed, ready to descend on the Capitol, Neguse said. "When they heard his speech, they understood his words."

Security remained tight Wednesday at the Capitol, fenced off with razor wire and patrolled by National Guard troops.

DEFENSE TEAM

The difficulty facing Trump's defense team became apparent at the start as they leaned on the process of the trial, unlike any other, rather than the substance of the case against the former president. They said the Constitution doesn't allow impeachment after he has left the White House.

The Senate rejected that argument in Tuesday's vote to proceed to the trial.

Defense lawyer Bruce Castor said Tuesday that he shifted his planned approach after hearing the prosecutors' opening and instead spoke conversationally to the senators, saying Trump's team would denounce the "repugnant" attack and "in the strongest possible way denounce the rioters." He encouraged the senators to be "cool-headed" as they assessed the arguments.

Trump attorney David Schoen turned the trial toward starkly partisan tones, arguing that the Democrats were fueled by a "base hatred" of the former president.

Trump revived his demands to focus on his claims of voter fraud, repeatedly telephoning former White House aide Peter Navarro, who said in an interview that he agrees. He is calling on Trump to fire his legal team.

"If he doesn't make a mid-course correction here, he's going to lose this Super Bowl," Navarro said, a reference to public opinion, not the unlikely possibility of conviction.

Republicans made clear that they were unhappy with Trump's defense, many of them saying they didn't understand where it was going -- particularly Castor's opening.

But in remarks to reporters ahead of Wednesday's proceedings, Castor maintained that Trump is pleased with his performance.

"Far from it," Castor said when asked whether the former president had voiced any displeasure with the lawyer's Tuesday remarks. "Only one person's opinion matters, and that is what I am going by."

While six Republicans joined with Democrats to vote to proceed with the trial, the 56-44 vote was far from the two-thirds threshold of 67 votes that would be needed for conviction.

Minds did not seem to be changing. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., a leader of the effort to challenge the Electoral College tally that day certifying the election, watched from the public gallery. "Nothing new here, for me, at the end of the day," he said during a break.

The prosecutors sought to remind senators and the nation how extraordinary it was to have a sitting U.S. president working to discredit the election.

In hundreds of tweets, remarks and interviews as far back as spring and summer, Trump was spreading claims about the election and refusing to commit to the peaceful transfer of power once it was over, they said.

As violence mounted in the states in the weeks and months before Trump supporters marched to the Capitol, he could have told loyalists to stand down, but he didn't, they said.

The mob "didn't come out of thin air," said Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas.

The public scenes of attack were distilled in highly personal terms, first when Raskin broke down in tears Tuesday describing his family hiding in the Capitol that day. On Wednesday, Neguse, the son of immigrants, recalled telling his father how proud he was to return to Congress that night to finish the work of certifying the election. Castro said that as a Democrat from Texas, he knows how hard it is to lose elections.

They also shared comments of the Capitol Police, including a Black officer who described racial epithets being hurled at him by the rioters.

"That's the question before all of you in this trial, is this America?" Raskin told the senators.

It appears unlikely that the House prosecutors will call witnesses, and Trump has declined a request to testify. The trial is expected to continue into the weekend.

Information for this article was contributed by Lisa Mascaro, Eric Tucker, Mary Clare Jalonick and Jill Colvin of The Associated Press; by John Wagner, Felicia Sonmez and Ann E. Marimow of The Washington Post; and by Peter Baker of The New York Times.

This Jan. 6 image from U.S. Capitol security video showing Vice President Mike Pence being evacuated as rioters breach the Capitol was part of the evidence offered Wednesday during the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump. Other videos showed insurgents chanting “Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!”
(AP/Senate Television)
This Jan. 6 image from U.S. Capitol security video showing Vice President Mike Pence being evacuated as rioters breach the Capitol was part of the evidence offered Wednesday during the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump. Other videos showed insurgents chanting “Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!” (AP/Senate Television)
Members of the national guard patrol the area outside of the U.S. Capitol during the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Members of the national guard patrol the area outside of the U.S. Capitol during the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
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)
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)
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)
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)
In this image from video, a video from Donald Trump is shown to senators as House impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., 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)
In this image from video, a video from Donald Trump is shown to senators as House impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., 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)
Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., one of the Democratic House impeachment managers, arrives as opening arguments begin in former President Donald Trump's impeachment trial, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., one of the Democratic House impeachment managers, arrives as opening arguments begin in former President Donald Trump's impeachment trial, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
In this image from video, text of an audio transmission from a Metropolitan Police Department officer 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)
In this image from video, text of an audio transmission from a Metropolitan Police Department officer 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)
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)
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)
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