WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — Democrats made their case that former President Donald Trump should be convicted of inciting the deadly siege at the U.S. Capitol, focusing Thursday on the damage wrought in the rampage and Trump’s alleged role in inflaming the rioters before wrapping their opening argument.
The House of Representatives charged Trump with inciting an insurrection by exhorting thousands of supporters to march on the Capitol on Jan. 6, the day Congress gathered to certify Joe Biden’s election win.
House Democrats said Thursday that Capitol invaders believed they were acting on “the president’s orders” and reflected his violent rhetoric when they set out to storm the Capitol.
Impeachment managers wrapped up their arguments Thursday afternoon, telling their Senate colleagues that “the evidence is clear” and speaks for itself without any other witnesses.
Rep. Joe Neguse spoke of possible long term consequences if the Senate does not convict Trump, contending, “if we pretend this didn’t happen, or worse, if we let it go unanswered, who’s to say it won’t happen again.”
Lead Prosecutor for the House, Rep. Jamie Raskin, closed their opening arguments by listing the questions he would have asked Trump if the former president had agreed to testify during the trial.
The trial will continue Friday, resuming at noon EST. NewsNation will live stream the impeachment proceedings here.
Prosecutors used eyewitness accounts of the attack and videos of rioters to make their case, some posted to social media by the rioters themselves, to showcase how the rioters believed they were doing the attack for Trump.
“They truly believed that the whole intrusion was at the president’s orders,” said Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado. “The president told them to be there.”
Trump’s lawyers will launch their defense on Friday, and the trial could wrap by the weekend.
The lawyers representing Trump described the presentation by House impeachment managers as “offensive” with Trump legal team member David Schoen maintaining they haven’t successfully tied the capitol riot to the former president.
When the Trump legal team takes the floor Friday and Saturday, they have up to 16 hours to lay out their defense. Following the presentations by both sides, senators will have four hours to submit written questions to the managers and the defense team, according to the rules of the trial.
The Senate will then consider any motions to call witnesses. If no witnesses are requested, the House managers can then ask the Senate to consider additional evidence. After, each side will have four hours to present closing arguments once any motions regarding witnesses or evidence have been considered. Senators will then proceed to vote on conviction.
Trump’s lawyers will argue his words were protected by the First Amendment and just a figure of speech. They are expected to cite the rioters themselves as to blame for the violence.
His lawyers also say Trump cannot be convicted because he is already gone from the White House. Even though the Senate rejected that argument in Tuesday’s vote on the basis of constitutionality to proceed to the trial, the legal issue could resonate with Senate Republicans eager to acquit Trump without being seen as condoning his behavior.
Tuesday’s 56-44 vote was far from the two-thirds threshold of 67 votes needed for conviction.
Some Republican senators have said that the House Democrats presented their arguments against Trump well, but many remained unconvinced Trump should be convicted. A senior Senate Republican aide said “the cake is baked,” with most of the party’s 50 senators opposing conviction.
Impeachment managers opened their first day of arguments Wednesday with never-before-seen footage of the riot and said they would prove that Trump was no “innocent bystander” but the “inciter in chief” of the deadly attack at the Capitol.
The footage showed the moment the rioters broke through windows and entered the Capitol in a purported attempt to overturn the election results.
“You can see that the rioters first break the window with a wooden beam and a lone police officer inside responds and begins to spray the first man who enters, but is quickly overwhelmed,” said House impeachment manager Del. Stacey Plaskett while showing the footage.
Later in the video, U.S. Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman can be seen warning Republican Sen. Mitt Romney that rioters were headed his way. The video showed Goodman running toward Romney to warn him that the Capitol had been breached. After encountering Goodman, Romney turns around and runs.
After seeing the footage for the first time on Wednesday, Romney said he did not know he was that close to the rioters and looks forward to thanking Goodman in person.
“I was very fortunate indeed that Officer Goodman was there to get me in the right direction,” Romney said.
The House managers who are prosecuting the case in the Senate spent much of Wednesday recounting the events that led to the riot and highlighting the threat to Mike Pence, Trump’s vice president.
The managers presented more evidence from the former president himself — 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.
“To us it might’ve felt like chaos and madness, but there was method to the madness that day,” Rep. Jamie Raskin said in opening remarks, arguing President Trump’s complicity in the riot.
“I’m going to listen and draw conclusions when it’s all done,” said Sen. John Thune (R-SD), the second-ranking Republican in the Senate. “I think they’ve done a good job connecting the dots. The president’s Twitter feed is a matter of public record and they’ve done, like I said, an effective job of going back several months and just showing that public record.”
The start of trial arguments comes after a divided Senate decided that his impeachment trial could proceed even though Trump has already left office.
Senators on Tuesday voted 56-44 that it is constitutional to try a former president on impeachment charges. Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana joined Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Main, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, in breaking party ranks and voting yes.
Trump’s lawyers argued in opening statements that the former president’s rhetoric, including repeated claims without evidence that the election was stolen, is protected by the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech and that the individuals who breached the Capitol were responsible for their own criminal behavior.
The lawyers sought to portray the trial as a sham, asserting that Democrats had weaponized impeachment to end Trump’s political career while ignoring basic principles of fairness and due process.
“We are really here because the majority in the House of Representatives does not want to face Donald Trump as a political rival in the future,” Bruce Castor, one of Trump’s lawyers, told senators.
The Democratic-led House impeached Trump one week after the riot, making him only the third U.S. president to be impeached and the first to be impeached twice.
Trump’s first impeachment trial, which stemmed from his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden during the presidential campaign, ended in an acquittal a year ago in what was then a Republican-controlled Senate.
Party leaders have agreed on a fast-moving schedule that could lead to a vote on conviction or acquittal by early next week. Some Democrats had expressed concern that a prolonged trial could delay progress on Biden’s agenda, including a proposed $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.