JONATHAN KARL: The case against Donald Trump.
REPRESENTATIVE JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): (From video.) Donald Trump surrendered his role as commander in chief and became the inciter in chief.
MR. KARL: House managers make the case Donald Trump incited a mob to storm the U.S. Capitol, jeopardizing the lives of his own vice president and the Democratic leadership, and brutalizing law enforcement.
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): (From video.) I think most Republicans found the presentation offensive and absurd.
MR. KARL: With conviction in the Senate unlikely, what about the court of public opinion?
MICHAEL VAN DER VEEN: (From video.) The House Democrats hate Donald Trump.
MR. KARL: Trump lawyers make the case that the former president is not responsible for the insurrection.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) We just want law and order.
MR. KARL: Next.
ANNOUNCER: This is Washington Week.
MR. KARL: Good evening and welcome to Washington Week. I’m Jonathan Karl.
This week the horrific sights and sounds of January 6th echoed through the very Senate chamber that was ransacked by rioters just five weeks ago. The House impeachment managers did more than make their case against Donald Trump; they documented in vivid and excruciating detail what happened on that day, a minute-by-minute account of the deadly insurrection including never seen before footage of the mob invading the Capitol, brutally attacking the police, threatening revenge on members of Congress, and even the execution of the vice president, and the managers outlined exactly what Donald Trump did before the riot and what he failed to do after it started.
REPRESENTATIVE JOSEPH NEGUSE (D-CO): (From video.) He assembled the mob, he summoned the mob, and he incited the mob.
DELEGATE STACEY PLASKETT (D-VI): (From video.) The first and second in line to the presidency, President Trump put a target on their backs and his mob broke into the Capitol to hunt them down.
REPRESENTATIVE JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): (From video.) Can our country and our democracy ever be the same if we don’t hold accountable the person responsible for inciting the violent attack against our country?
MR. KARL: While some Senate Republicans appeared shaken by the managers’ presentation, few if any seemed to have changed their minds. Trump’s legal team argued that the trial itself is unconstitutional, that anything the president said is protected by the First Amendment, and that responsibility for what happened lies solely with the rioters themselves.
MICHAEL VAN DER VEEN: (From video.) It is constitutional cancel culture.
DAVID SCHOEN: (From video.) Hatred and anger has led House managers to ignore their own words and actions and set a dangerous double standard.
MICHAEL VAN DER VEEN: (From video.) Countless politicians have spoken of fighting for our principles. No human being seriously believes that the use of such metaphorical terminology is incitement to political violence.
MR. KARL: Tonight we have the reporters who have been in the middle of it all, covering the insurrection and the impeachment trial, writing the first draft of history: Rachael Bade, co-author of Politico Playbook; Julie Pace, Washington bureau chief for the Associated Press; Phil Rucker, senior Washington correspondent for The Washington Post; and my colleague Rachel Scott, congressional correspondent for ABC News.
Rachel Scott, let’s get right into it. You were there at the Capitol on January 6th, surrounded by the mob. Did the impeachment managers capture the horror of what you yourself witnessed?
RACHEL SCOTT: Jon, I got to tell you, I remember leaving that day, on January 6th, and thinking to myself it could have been much worse, and as I watched those videos that we’ve never seen before I thought I barely even knew the half of it. It was traumatizing, it was gut-wrenching, and it was the first time that so many of these lawmakers saw just how close they got to the violence. And I remember a Democratic aide texting me in the middle of that 13-minute-long video that played on the very first day of the trial and said if you’re outraged that is the point. They felt like this video would move the needle, would change minds, and it opened up the mind of Senator Bill Cassidy. He ended up changing his vote, voting for the trial to move forward. But as you said there in the open, few if any Republicans were really swayed. Many of them still feel like this trial is unconstitutional.
MR. KARL: Rachael Bade, you know how much the senators kind of treasure their desks and how that is seen as kind of sacred territory, the Senate floor. I thought what was really striking was how they opened the trial. They got right to those rioters there in the Senate chamber, rifling through the desks of the senators.
RACHAEL BADE: Yeah, I mean, clearly the managers sort of made this calculation that they could make this personal appeal to Senate Republicans, who lived through this as well just like Democrats, but the interesting thing about this whole trial is that a lot of Senate Republicans, while perhaps publicly not saying how they’ll vote, were looking for an excuse to sort of vote to acquit. I mean, we had been reporting even before this trial began on private calls between Senate Republicans where a lot of them were saying, you know, how can we get out of this, can we – Mitch McConnell, can you go to the Supreme Court and say this trial is unconstitutional and stop it in its tracks? McConnell responded that he wouldn’t and he couldn’t. But the reality is the Republican base right now is behind President Trump, and so a lot of these senators, we’ve heard them come out this week, leave the chamber, and say the managers were very effective in their presentations, a lot of them are expressing that they were very impressed with the Democrats – Jamie Raskin, the lead manager – but is it really going to make a difference? I mean, they need 17 Senate Republicans to vote to convict Trump to actually have that conviction. It’s very unlikely to happen. And again, it just goes back to the politics; a lot of people are looking at this through a very political lens.
MR. KARL: But Julie, when you look at their presentation, they – clearly, the managers, I think in stark contrast to the first impeachment trial of Donald Trump, tried to speak to those Republican senators, but there is also something much bigger at stake here than what the final whip count, the final vote count will be on acquittal or conviction. They were also speaking to the country and speaking to history, weren’t they?
JULIE PACE: And I think that’s really important to make clear here. You know, impeachment is inherently a political process, so politics will clearly guide the votes of many of these Republicans, but this was about something much more than laying down a marker on Donald Trump’s future. This is about this moment in this country, and even though it feels like in some ways that this riot was so long ago, it was just a few weeks ago and this is a really seminal moment for the country. And the forces that we saw that were guiding those rioters to storm the Capitol, they are very much still out there. The fervor that we saw, the willingness of people to be taken in by false attacks on this election, by lies about this election, that exists, and so the Democrats feel like they have to really hone in on the emotion of that day, really make clear to people just how dangerous this was regardless of whether it ultimately changes the minds of Republican senators or not.
MR. KARL: And we’ll have a vote, Phil, tomorrow on witnesses – it seems all but certain there will be no witnesses in this trial – but there kind of needs at some point to be an even more – I mean, a much more detailed accounting. There are still basic questions we don’t know. I guess the one that’s in the top of my mind is what was Donald Trump doing inside the White House for the first hours that this riot was underway? I mean, Phil, that’s something, you know, you would have liked to have seen Mark Meadows called as a witness, for instance, or other White House officials.
PHILIP RUCKER: Yeah, Jon, that’s exactly right, and those are questions that senators asked of Trump’s impeachment lawyers today in this trial and the lawyers were unable to provide an answer. And there’s been detailed, rigorous reporting in the news media about how Trump spent that day, and yet there still has not been a minute-by-minute tick-tock accounting of when did he find out about the siege, when did he find out that his vice president was under attack, and when was he getting those phone calls from people like Senator Lindsey Graham, when did Ivanka Trump come into the Oval Office to try to plead with him to try to tell his people to stand down, all of the decision points and the activity of the president in the Oval Office and in his private study watching this on television the public should know about, and especially the details relating to the vice president. When did the president, as commander in chief, know that his own vice president was under threat, and how long did it take before he did anything?
MR. KARL: And you know, I mean, among those potential witnesses, I mean, Kevin McCarthy. There’s been reporting out there, and I’ve certainly talked to Republicans in the House who talk about McCarthy getting in a screaming match with the president as he was getting evacuated from the Capitol, pleading with him – and McCarthy has said some of this publicly – pleading with him to get out there and call off the rioters. I mean, you could have – you could have Kevin McCarthy as a – as a witness here, and I imagine if there is a further inquiry we’ll have to ask questions about that as well. So –
MR. RUCKER: That’s exactly right, and so much of this process should be about the truth and bringing the truth to the public. Remember, after major moments of national crisis, like 9/11, there have been extensive investigations designed to sort of bring a factual narrative to the public’s attention. And while the House impeachment managers put together the narrative as best they could based on the resources they had – which was mainly social media posts and video feeds and news reporting – there has not been that oral history, the interviews with the people who were in the room, to really provide the full accounting.
MR. KARL: Clearly that has to happen. Getting back to the trial, the House managers argued that President Trump both incited the riot and refused to stop it, even as he certainly should have known what was going on. They cited both his actions in the days leading up to the riot –
REPRESENTATIVE JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): (From video.) This pro-Trump insurrection did not spring into life out of thin air. We saw how Trump spent months cultivating America’s most dangerous extremist groups. We saw how he riled them up with corrosive lies and violent rhetoric, so much so that they were ready and eager for their most dangerous mission – invalidating the will of the people to keep Donald Trump in office.
MR. KARL: And his push on January 6th to get Vice President Mike Pence to stop the electoral count.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) Mike Pence, I hope you’re going to stand up for the good of our Constitution and for the good of our country. And if you’re not, I’m going to be very disappointed in you, I will tell you right now.
MR. KARL: The managers show Pence being evacuated from the Senate chamber and the mob calling on him – calling for him to be hanged. So, Julie, we know about the mob, we knew about the calls to hang Mike Pence, but we learned something new in this trial. We saw just how close that mob came to actually getting him.
MS. PACE: Absolutely, I mean, that was one of the things that was so striking about this, is just seeing just how close this was to the vice president, the second in command of this country. To also see, I think, the way that the rioters were very clearly targeting, trying to get after Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House. And also, the other thing I thought was so powerful about these videos is really the audio, actually hearing the words of these rioters and seeing just how directly motivated they were by these false attacks on the election.
There was a feeling among some of those rioters that they actually were going to be able to go and stop this process. They were actually going to be able to go and stop Joe Biden from being certified as the winner of this election. And that is directly linked to the attacks that Donald Trump was making for weeks and months, beyond the rally that he had just hours before the riot. This had been a pretty calculated process for the – for Trump to try to build this kind of fervor among his supporters. And we see where it led.
MR. KARL: You know, I had a meeting with Donald Trump a few weeks after the mass shootings in 2019 in El Paso and Dayton. And I brought up to him his rhetoric about journalists. I said – I wrote about this in my book. I told him that his – that some crazy person could take his words to heart when he talks about the press as the enemy of the people – that somebody could take his words to heart. And I urged him to change that rhetoric. This was a meeting in the Oval Office. And his answer I thought of as we saw this all unfold. And it really – it was haunting. He told me: I hope people take my words to heart.
And I don’t think he meant that he wanted people to literally, you know, go out and act and take out enemies of the people. But it’s almost, Rachel Scott, you covered so many of these – you covered the Trump campaign. You were at countless rallies before – you know, Trump rallies during the course of the campaign. I almost get a sense, like, he never is able to comprehend or deal with the fact that people could act on what he is saying, could take him literally and act on what he’s saying.
MS. SCOTT: Yeah, and Jon, I really do think back to some of those rallies. I was at the rally when President Trump suggested that four congresswomen of color should go back to where they came from, and then heard thousands of people inside of that arena chant: Send her back. They hang on his every word. And when I covered the riots, that deadly insurrection here on January 6th, that’s what I thought about. It felt a little bit like a Trump rally. And they were echoing every single claim. They felt like they were there because they were defending the president of the United States.
And I also thought that was so compelling in the House impeachment managers’ case here because they were playing back his supporters’ words, in which they were – they were saying, no, we felt like President Trump wanted us to storm the United States Capitol. They were using his own supporters’ words against him in those moments. But still, his team, firing back today and saying he didn’t incite the riot, that those people that broke inside the Capitol right here did it on their own accord. That they did it without former President Donald Trump. But there is no denying just how much of an effect that he has on his supporters. They listen to everything that he says.
MR. KARL: But, Phil, one argument that the defense team made is that, you know, Trump has spoken like this for five years. In fact, the managers brought up things that he had said back in the early stages of the campaign, as far back as 2015. And we never saw something like this. So what – I mean, what is different here? You know, Trump has talked about getting your country back, and they’re trying to steal your country. He’s talked about voter fraud even before the election actually happened. So what different happened here? Did the managers kind of establish that?
MS. SCOTT: And I think that was a challenge for –
MR. RUCKER: Yeah, what the House –
MR. KARL: Go ahead, Phil.
MR. RUCKER: What the Democratic House managers established is they built this whole foundation that Trump had laid over the course of many months, dating back to the summer of 2020 before the election, that he was predicting there would be widespread election fraud, even though there was no evidence of that. Then he was predicting that the mail-in ballots would be fraudulent, even though there was no evidence of that.
And then, of course, after the election, day after day after day in his public comments and in his tweets on social media, claiming that the election had been stolen, claiming it was rigged, claiming that there was all of this fraud and that he had actually won in a landslide. None of that is true, but it creates the context through which those – the rioters, the demonstrators, gathered on January 6th here in Washington. And that’s where that anger, and that violence, and that organized insurrection – that’s what it was motivated by. That’s the case that the Democratic House managers made.
MR. KARL: I mean, in some ways, Julie, it seemed to me that this was a shocking event, of course, January 6th, but it wasn’t entirely surprising because Donald Trump had been calling for something like this for a long time. And now finally, his supporters really took him at his word – at least some of them.
MS. PACE: And one of the things that I think was pretty disingenuous in the case that his lawyers were making was this idea that he has been saying some of these things for so long. Because actually, there’s been some concern for quite some time. And you mentioned it, Jon, in your conversation with him. There has been a lot of concern about what the impact of his rhetoric would be. And just because we hadn’t seen something like this before didn’t mean that that concern had been alleviated. And so there was almost – even though it was so incredible to watch that riot unfold in real time, and really almost unbelievable to see this happen at the U.S. Capitol, there was this sense that something like this was inevitable. That this has been building for so long that we were – we were due to reach a boiling point, which we of course did.
MR. KARL: And Senator McConnell had some of his strongest words against Donald Trump and what he was saying about the election before the riot, when he – when he went on the Senate floor and talked about how we have to finally acknowledge that this election is done, and that Joe Biden is the president-elect. He has also told his Republican colleagues that this a vote of conscience, this vote on impeachment. But 44 Republican senators have voted to end the trial. They did it twice. They did it before the trial even started. And most of them all, as we have discussed, seem poised to vote “not guilty” again.
So, Rachael Bade, my question to you – you wrote something very interesting and very provocative this morning. You said, effectively, it’s not impossible that Mitch McConnell could surprise everybody. He hasn’t ruled out voting guilty. I think most people would be shocked if he did. But you’re saying there’s a chance?
MS. BADE: Well, look, if I’m a betting person, if you’re a betting person, I guess I wouldn’t put any money on this. (Laughs.) But I think the reality here is, if you talk to Senate Republicans who are very close to McConnell, they will even tell you that they don’t know what he’s going to do. He hasn’t been telling them. He hasn’t been signaling which way he’s leaning. If you watch him in the trial, he barely moves. He barely blinks. He’s got his hands in his lap. He doesn’t take notes. And he’s just been very quiet.
And we know – we said this when we were talking before the show, McConnell more than any other Republican wants Trump to be gone. He thinks he’s bad for the Republican Party. He accused him of, you know, provoking the January 6th riots – said that in no uncertain terms. McConnell is also 78 years old. And he perhaps is in the twilight of his career, in legacy mode. What does he want to be remembered by? Perhaps this is his moment where he does something that is surprising. And, you know, as somebody who’s covered him, if you go read his memoir he talks very fondly about his idols – Henry Clay, the great compromiser who tried to keep the union together before the Civil War, a senator who broke with his constituents to support the Civil Rights Act even when his constituents were pro-segregationist. He talks very fondly of these Republican leaders who, you know, had this vote of conscience at one point or another to stake a stand. And so I agree with pretty much every Republican on – or I’m sorry, every congressional reporter on the Hill saying that this is very unlikely, but it’s just really different from the last impeachment where McConnell was whipping people behind the scenes, you knew how he was going to vote, and he’s been very quiet. So we’ll just have to see. Right now we think there are probably going to be about five Senate Republicans that vote to convict, but behind the scenes, I mean, there are Senate Republicans who are predicting there could be more and McConnell could be on that list, we just don’t know.
MR. KARL: And by the way, if there are five or four Senate Republicans that vote to convict, that will be smashing the record for the most senators of a president’s party voting to convict in an impeachment trial; in fact, we never saw it happen once until last year, when Mitt Romney voted guilty on one of those counts. But let me ask you, Rachel Scott, the question of is there anything else they can do. So if the Republicans, who have by and large not defended Donald Trump’s actions on January 6th, they don’t want to vote to convict him in a Senate trial, making the case it’s unconstitutional, is there any sense of any movement to try to do something else to be on record – censure, something to say that as an official part of the record that they condemn what he did?
MS. SCOTT: Yeah, well, Senator John Thune today, the number-two Republican senator, said that he would possibly maybe be open to the idea of censure. I know that is something that Democrats have floated before and they have to get some agreement on the language, on the idea of the resolution, but at this point I think it still remains to be seen. Clearly, the Republican Party is struggling with their identity going forward, even thinking about to Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy at first placing some of the blame on President Trump for what happened there and then flying to Florida to go meet and have lunch with him just a few days before the trial started. I mean, it’s clear that they’re trying to figure out what to do, and so much of that hinges on what Trump wants to do. And frankly, as you know, Jon, from covering him so extensively, nobody knows what Trump is going to do until Trump decides that himself, and I think so much of the future of what the Republican Party does and especially in these moments following this trial will hinge on what Trump wants to do, as well.
MR. KARL: All right, well, let’s take it to that, Trump’s future. We saw a very intriguing article about Nikki Haley in Politico by Tim Alberta – very long article, gets into some of the very contradictory things Haley has said about Donald Trump over time, but of course she served in his administration. She has very rarely criticized him, considered a potential presidential candidate, maybe even a leading presidential candidate, and look what she said to Tim Alberta on January 12th, just published today: We need to acknowledge he – Donald Trump – let us Republicans down. He went down a path we shouldn’t have, and we shouldn’t have followed him, and we shouldn’t have listened to him, and we can’t let that ever happen again. Now, Phil, unclear whether or not Nikki Haley still believes that – again, this was an interview she did a few weeks ago – but how widespread is that view among Republicans that they cannot listen to Donald Trump, they cannot follow Donald Trump’s lead anymore?
MR. RUCKER: You know, the interesting thing, Jon, is I think if you were to do a silent survey of Republican elected officials you would find many of them in agreement with Nikki Haley, but you would probably find very few of them willing to say so on the record and by name, and that’s because Donald Trump remains the dominant force in the Republican Party. He has widespread support among Republican voters according to virtually any poll and survey. The question, however, will be what kind of role will Trump have going forward. He’s been canceled, effectively, on social media. He’s lost that platform and that ability to speak out hour by hour and inject himself into the news cycle. He has told advisors he’s determined to play kind of a kingmaker role in the next election cycle, in the 2022 midterms. He, of course, has talked and mused about maybe running for president again in 2024, although many people around him have told me they think that’s very unlikely. But nonetheless, he could be a big force; he could also just disappear and you could see the Republican Party rebuild in his wake. And there’s going to be real competition among Haley and many others, dozens of other leaders around the country – governors, senators, members of Congress, even mayors – who are going to want to have a stake in that future.
MR. KARL: And I suspect, Phil, whatever the kind of long-term plans are, that as soon as this is over and if he is acquitted he will want to get out there pretty quickly – (laughs) – and declare himself vindicated.
MR. RUCKER: Absolutely. (Laughs.) Yeah.
MR. KARL: All right, that is all the time we have tonight. I want to thank Rachael Bade, Julie Pace, Phil Rucker, and Rachel Scott. Thank you for your reporting and thank you for joining us – taking the time to join us at the end of what has been a very busy and truly historic week.
The conversation continues on Washington Week Extra, which streams live on our website and social media. Join us for a conversation on President Biden’s agenda and his efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
I’m Jonathan Karl. Good night from Washington.