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Are Democrats connecting the dots on Trump’s role in the Capitol insurrection?

As former President Trump's impeachment trial moved into high gear Wednesday, we spoke with two people who worked in the Senate impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton. Elizabeth Chryst was the Republican Senate secretary during the trial, and Melody Barnes helped broker the trial's rules as chief counsel to the late Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy. They join Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And joining me now are two women who have worked on Senate impeachment trials before.

    They are Elizabeth Chryst. She's a 26-year veteran of the Senate. She served as the Republican Senate secretary during the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton. And Melody Barnes of the University of Virginia's Democracy Initiative, Miller Center and Law School, she was chief counsel to the late Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy when she helped broker the rules for President Clinton's impeachment trial.

    It's very good to see both of you. Thank you for joining me.

    Elizabeth Chryst, I'm going to start with you.

    The Democrats started the day saying — calling President — former President Trump the inciter in chief.

    How strong a case are they making to prove that case, do you think?

  • Elizabeth Chryst:

    Well, I think they're making a very strong case, because the video is very — it's a disgrace. It's horrible.

    The loss of life is sad. And I think everybody would agree the violent trespassing of our nation's Capitol should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and it should never happen again. There is no doubt about that.

    But to say that it all falls on the feet of Donald Trump, I'm not sure they're making that case really well. And, again, I mentioned this earlier. They're talking to politicians. They're talking to men and women in the chamber that are — seek reelection or seek election, and they understand that campaign rhetoric can be just that. It can be fiery. It can be a lot of things.

    And if you have a supporter or a group that supports you, and their fringe or their — they get off the rails in some way, doesn't necessarily mean that you support what they do. So, I'm not sure they're making that connection very well.

    But it was a horrific day. As you said, I worked in the Capitol for 26 years. I can cry over seeing many, many, many of these clips. It was horrible, a sad, sad day.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Melody Barnes, how would you say they're doing at making the case that President Trump was not only involved, but he was the chief inciter of all this?

  • Melody Barnes:

    Right, Judy. And that's the case they have to make.

    I believe that they are doing a very methodical job of doing that. Again, they have gone back for many, many months, and they are connecting the dots between what happened prior to November, prior to the election, pulling it all the way through that period, the former president's work in the courts that was highly unsuccessful, his attempts to badger and to push other Republicans, like Georgia Secretary of State Raffensperger.

    When that failed, then he invited his supporters to Washington, D.C., And, as the House managers said, he knew that they were violent. He knew that they were armed. He knew that they were coming with the intention to do his bidding. They called themselves the cavalry for the commander in chief.

    And they connected all those dots to show that, even with that knowledge, that the former president whipped them into a frenzy at this — the rally, and then pointed them towards the Capitol.

    And using his words, using his tweets, using the video, they have built, I think, a very, very compelling case, and then also said to the United States Senate, what would you have done, asking them to compare their own actions, their convictions to what the former president of the United States did and the way that they had to be protected by Capitol Police and law enforcement and how close many of them came to a really ugly, ugly demise.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And coming back to you, Elizabeth Chryst, and your point about politicians, members of the Senate think of themselves and words that they have used.

    But what we're talking about here is a series of actions, of statements, of pleadings, urgings by President Trump. It wasn't just a comment here and comment there. As Melody Barnes just said, they went back to a year ago, when the president started talking about the election being fraudulent.

    But your point is that that still is likely not to be enough?

  • Elizabeth Chryst:


    I don't believe it's enough. And, again, going back to a year or a year-and-a-half of statements, this is the way the president — our former president, that's the way he did his rallies. He did whip up his supporters. That's the nature of the rallies. Some people say that's why they were so infectious to begin with.

    But, again, I think it's very hard to go from there to him approving and being pleased at what happened in the United States Capitol. I cannot see in any way. And, again, it was such a disgrace, and we all, I'm sure, are confident that we hope it never, ever, ever happens again.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Melody Barnes, is there more that you know of that the managers could be doing to connect what President Trump did, former President Trump did, to the events of January 6?

  • Melody Barnes:

    Well, I disagree with Elizabeth.

    I think they are showing in every way what the former president did and what he intended, up to and including the fact that, even as this mob was overtaking the Capitol, even as members of the Senate and the House were literally running for their lives, and their staff was barricading themselves in their office, that the president didn't do anything.

    In fact, he had encouraged this mob to go to the Capitol, because the vice president, his own partner, his running mate, wasn't doing what he wanted them to do. And they were up there, and they were chanting horrible things about the vice president, threatening his life. And, still, the president did nothing.

    And one of the things that House managers pointed out was that this is a president who had every capability to say stop when he wanted to. He was saying, stop the steal. He could have said, stop the violence, stop the mob, stop the rioting. And there were crickets.

    And I think one of the questions for the Republicans — and I think the House managers have done a good job in putting this on the table — they pointed out that this is a former president who was coming for them, meaning coming for the GOP, a crowd chanting, defeat the GOP, we're attacking the GOP.

    This is a Republican Party that has worked to brand itself as being pro-law enforcement, patriotic, very religious. And what the House managers were showing were attacks on churches prior to this moment. They were showing attacks on law enforcement officers that were just unimaginable, with blue lives matter flags, while they were draped in the American flag.

    And so I think the House managers are saying to them, do you want to protect a president who has incited this kind of violence, who has undermined a constitutional act of counting Electoral College votes, when, in fact, this president is not with you?

    I think it's a question that they have put in front of the GOP to be playing in the background as they look at this evidence and consider these actions.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we are going to continue to look at this, but we are going to have leave this conversation there.

    We thank both of you, Melody Barnes, Elizabeth Chryst. We appreciate it.

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