The House impeachment managers painted a raw, emotional portrait Wednesday of the attack on the U.S. Capitol, revealing dramatic new security camera footage of the violence as they built their case that former President Donald Trump incited the insurrection as part of his effort to overturn the election.
Democrats spent the second day of the Senate trial laying out in detail the seriousness of the Jan. 6 security breach at the Capitol, where former Vice President Mike Pence and lawmakers narrowly escaped coming face-to-face with rioters intent on stopping Congress from conducting a final count of the Electoral College results.
The presentation made a strong impression with senators, including Republicans who opposed the trial Monday on constitutional grounds. Here are some key takeaways from Day Two.
Pence narrowly avoided the mob
House managers played security camera footage from the Capitol that had not before been shared publicly showing just how close the mob came to Pence, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and other members of Congress.
The video showed a security detail evacuating Pence from an office near the Senate chamber to a secure, undisclosed location in the Capitol. The brief clip was shown alongside other videos, taken by journalists and people who participated in the attack, including one that showed rioters outside of the Capitol chanting “Hang Mike Pence!”
The House managers cited a Proud Boys member charged in the attack who told law enforcement officials that rioters “would have killed Mike Pence if given the chance,”, according to a charging document unsealed by the Department of Justice.
Democrats argued that Trump turned supporters against Pence by criticizing him for refusing to block Congress from certifying the Electoral College results, even though Pence had told the president he did not believe he had the authority to overturn the election. Trump singled out Pence in the speech he gave before the attack, and again on Twitter hours after the assault had started.
“Donald Trump made Vice President Pence a target,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, one of the House managers. “Mike Pence is not a traitor to his country. He’s a patriot.”
The Democrats’ praise for Pence placed him in an awkward position. Pence stuck by Trump’s side throughout their time in office, breaking with him only at the very end. As Pence considers his future in politics, including a potential run for president in 2024, Democrats did not let Trump supporters forget that Pence refused to do his boss’ bidding — and they reminded Republicans that the mob went after members of their own party as well.
Lawmakers also had a ‘near-miss’ with rioters
Members of Congress, like Pence, came closer to a potentially violent encounter with rioters than was previously known, according to security camera footage that House managers played Wednesday.
The footage showed senators being evacuated from the Senate chamber, and then running down a first floor hallway in the Capitol as police officers held off rioters a short distance away. In another clip, Schumer and his security detail can be seen making their way down a hallway towards a safe location, only to turn around seconds later and race in the opposite direction. Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., part of the House manager team, called it a “near-miss” for Schumer, now the Senate majority leader.
Swalwell also recounted House members contacting family as they lay on the floor of the gallery inside the House chamber, while rioters tried to break in. Swalwell said that he texted his wife, “I love you and the babies. Please hug them for me.”
Many lawmakers have already described their experiences during the Capitol attack. But the House managers recalled these stories again Wednesday in disturbing detail, offering a vivid reminder of the danger they faced, and why the events of Jan. 6 are so personal for them.
Capitol Police under attack
The Capitol Police faced intense criticism for their handling of the mob in the days after the attack, with much of it focused on the difference between how the mostly white rioters were treated and the way Capitol Police responded to Black protesters at marches for racial justice last year.
On Wednesday, Democrats turned the focus to officers’ acts of heroism, using their stories from that day to illustrate the unprecedented nature of the violence. The attack was the biggest security breach of the Capitol in more than 200 years.
Democrats shared the widely seen video of Officer Eugene Goodman single-handedly facing off against a large group of rioters, and steering them away from the Senate chamber as senators were being whisked away. But they also shared new security camera footage of Goodman directing Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, to safety.
The managers played police body camera footage and audio recordings from the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, which stepped in to help quell the riot. In the presentation, officers can be heard radioing for help as they describe being attacked with metal poles and bear spray. “We lost the line. We’ve lost the line!” an officer says in one dispatch, as rioters breached a Capitol security perimeter.
The chilling accounts gave senators, and the public, insight into the challenges officers encountered as they tried to protect the Capitol and those inside. Democrats also played a video clip showing the moment when Ashli Babbitt was shot and killed by a Capitol Police officer as she and a mob of others tried to break into the Speaker’s Lobby outside of the House chamber.
“It was obviously very troubling to see the great violence that our Capitol Police and others were subjected to,” Romney told reporters Wednesday. “It tears at your heart and brings tears to your eyes. That was overwhelmingly distressing and emotional.”
In honoring the Capitol Police, Democrats also drew attention to the debate over policing that became a major theme in the 2020 presidential election.
Trump portrayed Republicans as the “law and order” party, and criticized Democrats who called for defunding police departments in the wake of protests over the police killings of George Floyd and other Black Americans. But as Democrats showed Wednesday, it was Trump supporters on Jan. 6 who turned against the police.
Trump’s ‘big lie’ about election fraud
House managers spent a lot of time Wednesday focused on Trump himself, enumerating the reasons why they believe he should be found guilty of inciting an insurrection.
In painstaking detail, Democrats recounted the timeline of what they called Trump’s ‘big lie’ — his monthslong effort to convince the public that the election was fraudulent. In the months leading up to Election Day, with polls predicting Biden as the likely victor, Trump said repeatedly that the only way he could lose would be if the election was stolen from him, a claim he continued making in the days after Biden was declared the winner on Nov. 7.
Democrats described Trump’s effort to pressure state legislatures and elections officials to stop counting the votes, or overturn results that had him losing. They noted the Trump campaign lost all but one of the more than 60 lawsuits claiming voter fraud (the sole exception was a case in Pennsylvania that centered on ballot curing and would not have altered Biden’s victory in the state).
When those efforts failed, and states certified the Electoral College results on Dec. 14, Trump began looking forward to Jan. 6, the day Congress would take the final step in making Biden’s victory official. He planned and promoted a rally for that day, not far from where lawmakers would be meeting and promised on Twitter that it would be “wild.” In his speech at the rally, Trump told supporters, “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” Democrats noted that he continued pressuring Republicans to oppose the Electoral College results throughout the day, even as the attack on the Capitol was underway.
The presentation left little doubt that Trump took unprecedented steps to fight his election loss to the bitter end. But the Democrats didn’t offer significant new evidence or information that was not already publicly available. It’s unclear whether Republicans who have largely stood by Trump were moved by the arguments.
House managers likely hurt their case by insisting that Trump was aware his supporters were planning an attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, and that he wanted them to engage in violent behavior. There were news reports of possible violence before the attack, and law enforcement warned of plots by supporters to march on the Capitol.
Democrats argued Trump, a voracious consumer of television news, must have seen the news reports. They also noted that his team monitored extremist activity online. Still, they did not offer any specific proof that Trump knew or approved of the insurrection ahead of time, something his lawyers should be able to easily bat away once it’s their turn to mount a defense.
A trial without @RealDonaldTrump
During his first impeachment trial last year, Trump took to Twitter daily to attack the proceedings. He never testified in person, but he weighed in without swearing in on social media.
This time, his absence has been notable. Twitter permanently suspended his account after the attack on the Capitol, leaving Trump without his favorite platform for speaking directly to his millions of followers. As a result, he was largely silent as Democrats spent an entire day criticizing him — something that rarely if ever happened while he was president.
House managers included plenty of Trump’s tweets in their presentation Wednesday. They included numerous instances where he falsely claimed the election was stolen, and attacked fellow Republicans for not doing more to stop Congress from accepting Biden’s win.
During the Watergate scandal, President Richard Nixon fought to keep the White House tapes detailing his misconduct secret. Trump does not have that luxury. He left a long digital footprint on Twitter, and it was there Wednesday for all to see.