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Opening arguments begin in Trump’s historic impeachment trial

Opening arguments officially got underway Wednesday in former President Trump’s historic second impeachment trial, as Democrats made their case on his role in inciting the Jan. 6 attacks on the U.S. Capitol. Congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins and White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor join Judy Woodruff to discuss.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The preliminaries are over, and the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump is now under way in earnest.

    The U.S. Senate heard evidence today, some of it never before shown, that he fomented the storming of the U.S. Capitol last month.

    White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor begins our coverage.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    In the case against former President Trump, House Democratic impeachment managers wasted no time.

  • Rep. Jamie Raskin:

    Members of the Senate, good day.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Leading the way, Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin.

  • Jamie Raskin:

    Ex-President Trump was no innocent bystander. The evidence will show that he clearly incited the January 6 insurrection. It will show that Donald Trump surrendered his role as commander in chief and became the inciter in chief of a dangerous insurrection.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    It was the beginning of their side's 16 hours of arguments. Congressman Raskin insisted that former President Trump must be held accountable for the assault on the U.S. Capitol and Congress itself. He stressed what happened was no accident.

  • Jamie Raskin:

    To us, it may have felt like chaos and madness, but there was method in the madness that day.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Instead, the House team argues that, in the weeks before the Capitol siege, former President Trump built up momentum for trying to overthrow the election. They said it was clear that extremists were responding.

  • Jamie Raskin:

    There were countless social media posts, news stories, and, most importantly, credible reports from the FBI and Capitol Police that the thousands gathering for the president's Save America March were violent, organized with weapons, and were targeting the Capitol.

    As they would later scream in these halls and as they posted on forums before the attack, they were sent here by the president.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Another impeachment manager, Congressman Joe Neguse of Colorado, argued the president's own words laid the crucial groundwork for the attack.

    He played videos of President Trump's post-election rallies and specific remarks that Democrats say fueled his supporters' anger.

  • Donald Trump:

    We will never surrender. We will only win. Now is not the time to retreat. Now is the time to fight harder than ever before. We have to go all the way, we're going to fight like hell, I will tell you right now.

  • Rep. Joe Neguse:

    The president had every reason to know that this would happen, because he assembled the mob, he summoned the mob, and he incited the mob.

  • Rep. Joaquin Castro:

    Good afternoon, you all.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Representative Joaquin Castro of Texas pointed to the former president's frequent tweets and false claims that the election was rigged.

  • Joaquin Castro:

    Rather than calmly saying, let's count the votes, if he told his supporters he actually won the election and the whole thing was a fraud. He said that on November 4, and he has never recounted that statement since.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    And California Congressman Eric Swalwell said the rhetoric escalated into — quote — combat terms."

  • Protesters:

    Stop the steal!

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    He said that fueled real anger, including toward state election officials.

  • Rep. Eric Swalwell:

    He could have very easily told his supporters, stop threatening officials, stop going to their homes, stop it with the threats. But, each time, he didn't. Instead, in the face of escalating violence, he incited them further.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Representatives Madeleine Dean and Ted Lieu cited many instances in which Mr. Trump pressured state election officials, Senate and House lawmakers, and even his own vice president to keep him in power.

  • Rep. Ted Lieu:

    What you saw was a man so desperate to cling to power that he tried everything he could to keep it.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Another member of the prosecution team, Delegate Stacey Plaskett of the U.S. Virgin Islands, unveiled powerful new security camera footage showing how riders breached the Capitol, with only one police officer, Eugene Goodman, standing guard. And, as they moved up the stairs they were in 100 feet of where Vice President Mike Pence was sheltering with his family.

    Ultimately, this is all about trying to win the votes of 67 senators. The means getting 17 Republicans to vote to convict President Trump. Yesterday, only one Republican, Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy, switched sides in voting to find that the trial is constitutional. In all, six Republicans joined Democrats in voting to proceed.

    Republican Senator Mike Braun of Indiana and others said it's clear there's not enough support to convict President Trump in the end.

  • Sen. Mike Braun:

    When you have one senator that changed a point of view, I think that says a lot. I think that pretty well fixes in place what you might see as the eventful outcome, even though all of us will listen through the rest of the proceedings.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    That has left President Trump's lawyers feeling confident that he will be acquitted. Tomorrow, the House impeachment managers wrap up their opening arguments.

    Then President Trump's defense team will also get up to 16 hours to make their case. That will come as some of the President Trump's Republican supporters on Tuesday criticized the Trump lawyers' opening presentation and called into question their legal strategy. Many said it lacked focus and was a missed opportunity.

  • Bruce Castor:

    Members of the United States.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    They pointed especially to attorney Bruce Castor's meandering remarks. Sources close to President Trump called them awful.

    Meanwhile, once both teams wrap up their cases, the senators themselves will be allowed to question both sides for up to four hours.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Yamiche joins me now, along with our Lisa Desjardins, both of them watching all of this throughout the afternoon.

    Lisa, to you first.

    You were in the chamber when two of the House managers, Delegate Plaskett and Congressman Swalwell, were making their presentations. They were showing new video. Tell us — at that point.

    Tell us what you saw and what you saw of the senators' reaction.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Much of this was video that no one had seen, including senators themselves. And it was video that was a dramatic depiction of how close members of Congress, including the senators watching it, came to encountering the mob, as the Democrats put it, bent on destruction of the chamber, and also of harming the senators themselves.

    I have to say, Judy, I sat there watching senators observe their own lives essentially flash before their lives, as they saw silent video, because it was security-cam video, of protesters, as Yamiche described it, coming within 100 — I should say rioters — within 100 feet of the chamber.

    The senators were almost completely still, and it was so silent in that chamber, Judy. I had a felt tip pen. I was above them. The sound of my pen was noticeably loud. Someone turned to me and heard my pen strokes. It was that silent during this video.

    I noticed senators having largest reactions to when depictions of staff being threatened, as Speaker Pelosi's staff barricaded as the rioters stormed around them. I saw Senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, conservative Republican, shake his head in dismay.

    Later, as we saw video of the rioters coming up to that Senate chambers, and they showed video of the senators themselves watching themselves evacuate, including a very close call for Senator Mitt Romney, he shook his head. He told reporters he had never seen that video before.

    I saw Senator Bill Cassidy, an important Republican in this whole proceeding, still as a stone, except for his pen, which was moving in his fingers, as I think he perceived the threat that he actually faced on that day.

    Now, I also have to say one other observation. In the press area where I was, there was a single police officer who was there to protect us and to make sure that we were in our correct positions. He was behind us. I was the only one looking at him. Judy, that police officer had tears in his eyes as he heard how his fellow police officers and perhaps he himself were brutalized that day.

    I saw him look to the sky and hold his hands together. It was a difficult amount of video to watch.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Capitol Police certainly heroes that day. If we didn't know it before now, we certainly know it after seeing and hearing all this.

    But, Lisa, just quickly, there's still more to go. We haven't heard President Trump's defense yet. But what's your sense right now on conviction, the vote?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right. Does this emotion matter?

    We're hearing from Senator Lisa Murkowski, who spoke to reporters a minute ago. She said she's disturbed and angry, and the evidence is pretty damning.

    However, on the other side of this, we're hearing from senators like Marco Rubio, who says: This was powerful material, but I don't think it convinced

    Because he still contends that you cannot convict an ex-president.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And quickly now to Yamiche.

    Yamiche, you have been following this story for a very long time. So much of what we heard today was about what the president has said over the past many months, what he's done. What's your sense of how that is playing out?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, Democrats really put up a damning argument against President Trump. And they were using his own words. And they were also using never-before-seen video of his perceived opponents, his targeted opponents, running for their lives.

    So, we heard from President Trump over and over again. He, of course, is not going to be testifying in this trial. Legal experts are saying that it's because he was scared that he was going to perjure himself.

    But what we saw was President Trump at rallies and interviews over and over again saying that this was an election that was rigged, this was an election that was stolen from him. We know now, Judy, that none of that was true.

    What was also very interesting is that they were going back, the House impeachment managers, months and months and months, back all the way back to even July 19, 107 days before the election, to make this case. Of course, there's also that video of so many of the president's targets running for their lives.

    Let's remember that Mitt Romney was one of the few Republicans who stood up to the president, Vice President Pence, his last act of crossing the president, why the president was then tweeting at him on the day of January 6, angry at him, because he would not overturn the election for him.

    And, as a result, we saw people dressed in the symbols of President Trump going after all these lawmakers trying to hurt them. So, this was stunning video. And it's also video that President Trump's lawyers are going to now have to contend with. They are very confident that the president is going to be acquitted. They don't think that this — all this emotion is going to change any minds.

    But it's still something that the president's going to have to contend with. And Lisa Murkowski said she could not see how the president would ever get reelected, seeing this video and showing this video. So, it also tells us a bit about whether or not the president being acquitted will matter for his actual political future.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We will see. So much yet to unfold.

    Yamiche Alcindor, Lisa Desjardins, thank you both.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You're welcome.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Thanks so much.

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