Impeachment prosecutors plan to prove that Trump incited Capitol riots with ‘blockbuster’ video juxtaposing the former president’s remarks with chaotic scenes at the insurrection
- Donald Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate will begin Tuesday
- Prosecutors plan to focus their case around a dramatic video chronicling the Capitol insurrection on January 6, sources told the New York Times
- The video will juxtapose clips of Trump’s remarks before and during the riots with clips of the chaos
- The goal is to remind lawmakers of the fear they felt when they were whisked to safety as Trump supporters breached the Capitol, the sources said
- In a pre-trial brief prosecutors accused Trump of ‘creating a powder keg, striking a match, and then seeking personal advantage from the ensuing havoc’
- Defense attorneys for Trump are expected to argue that the trial is unconstitutional because he is no longer in office
- The defense will also argue that Trump’s rhetoric casting doubt on election results and his January 6 remarks were constitutionally protected speech
Impeachment prosecutors are planning to prove that Donald Trump incited the January 6 Capitol riots with a dramatic video juxtaposing chaotic scenes at the insurrection with the former president’s remarks.
One year after his first impeachment, Trump finds himself the target of an unprecedented second trial beginning Tuesday in the Senate.
The lead prosecutor, Democratic Rep Jamie Raskin of Maryland, offered a preview of the trial in an interview with the New York Times published Sunday.
‘The story of the president’s actions is both riveting and horrifying,’ Raskin said. ‘We think that every American should be aware of what happened – that the reason he was impeached by the House and the reason he should be convicted and disqualified from holding future federal office is to make sure that such an attack on our democracy and Constitution never happens again.’
Rather than relying on witness testimony to make their case, as has been the norm in previous impeachment trials, Raskin and his eight colleagues who make up the prosecution are taking a creative approach, six sources familiar with the plans told the Times.
The prosecutors are expected to focus on a video the newspaper likened to a ‘blockbuster action film’ – splicing together clips from the insurrection with the comments Trump made as the violence unfolded.
The goal of the video is to remind lawmakers of the fear they felt when they were whisked to safety as hundreds of Trump supporters breached the Capitol, the sources said.
Impeachment prosecutors are planning to prove that Donald Trump incited the January 6 Capitol riots with a dramatic video juxtaposing chaotic scenes at the insurrection with the former president’s remarks. Pictured: Trump speaks at a rally moments before his supporters marched on the Capitol
The prosecutors are expected to focus their case on a ‘blockbuster action film’, splicing together clips from the insurrection with the comments Trump made as the violence unfolded
The goal of the video is to remind lawmakers of the fear they felt when they were whisked to safety as hundreds of Trump supporters breached the Capitol, the sources said. Pictured: Members of Congress rush to evacuate the House Chamber on January 6
Prosecutors set the tone for their arguments in a pre-trial brief, accusing Trump of ‘creating a powder keg, striking a match, and then seeking personal advantage from the ensuing havoc’.
Meanwhile defense lawyers focused on two points: that the trial is ‘moot’ because Trump cannot be removed from an office he no longer holds, and that his rhetoric casting doubt on the election results and his combustible January 6 remarks amounted to constitutionally protected speech.
The likelihood of conviction is low, because it would require 17 Republicans breaking ranks to join all 48 Democrats and two Independents in finding Trump guilty.
But the prosecutors are armed with the unique benefit of lessons learned during Trump’s last Senate impeachment trial.
That trial, in which Trump was acquitted on charges that he abused power by pressuring Ukraine to investigate now-President Joe Biden, was led by Rep Adam Schiff (D – California), who has been quietly advising prosecutors in the new trial.
Schiff’s prosecution team had also worked on a video as a central component of their case, compiling clips of witness testimony illustrating Trump’s pressure campaign.
Raskin reportedly went to the same production firm for help creating his team’s video after spending dozens of hours gathering footage to use.
At the heart of the video will be clips of Trump speaking to supporters at a rally outside the White House on the morning of January 6, where he encouraged supporters to march on the Capitol and make their voices heard as Congress met to certify Biden’s victory.
‘You’ll never take back our country with weakness,’ Trump said, urging supporters to ‘fight like hell’.
The video will also feature clips of Trump’s supporters describing how they were energized by his comments and went to the Capitol at his command.
But not all of the clips will be from January 6. Raskin’s team also pulled clips from the months leading up to the insurrection, in which Trump sought to undermine the validity of the election by claiming it was ‘rigged’ and ‘stolen’.
Trump supporters invaded the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 and broke into the Senate, the very chamber that is to host the trial of the former president
Speaking to the Times, Schiff highlighted the importance of the older footage in demonstrating that the riots were borne out of a broader campaign by Trump to upend the election process.
‘The more you document all the tragic events leading up to that day and the president’s misconduct on that day and the president’s reaction while people were being attacked that day, the more and more difficult you make it for any senator to hide behind those false constitutional fig leaves,’ Schiff said.
‘Even with this trial, where senators themselves were witnesses, it’s very important to tell the whole story.
‘This is not about a single day; it is about a course of conduct by a president to use his office to interfere with the peaceful transfer of power.’
As Raskin and his colleagues make their final preparations with the prosecution, senators are gearing up to step into uncharted territory when they sit in judgment of a president who is no longer in office, a deeply damaged political figure who remains a potent force in his party even without the power of the White House. Pictured: The Senate is sworn in on January 26
A new Ipsos/ABC News poll found that 56 percent of Americans believe Trump should be convicted by the Senate
As Raskin and his colleagues make their final preparations with the prosecution, senators are gearing up to step into uncharted territory when they sit in judgment of a president who is no longer in office, a deeply damaged political figure who remains a potent force in his party even without the power of the White House.
The House of Representatives indicted Trump for ‘incitement of insurrection’ on January 13, forever branding him a twice-impeached president. No other commander-in-chief has been so disgraced.
Yet no US president has ever been convicted in a court of impeachment – and the odds are that such a record will stand.
A principal goal of Democrats driving the trial would be to ban Trump from holding federal office in the future, should they win an unlikely conviction.
The mob riot itself is beyond dispute. US networks covered the mayhem live, and thousands of self-incriminating photographs and video clips – including of some rioters insisting Trump ‘wants us here’ storming the Capitol – made their way into the world’s news media.
Critics aver that Trump’s role was such that he violated his oath of office by inciting his supporters to launch the attack.
The Republican billionaire and his allies, however, argue that the trial itself is unconstitutional, saying the Senate can convict and remove from office a current president but not a private citizen.
‘If it happened in the Soviet Union, you would have called it a show trial,’ Republican Senator Bill Cassidy said on NBC’s Meet the Press.
The claim of unconstitutionality could allow the defense team and Republican senators to avoid having to defend the fiery tweets and diatribes by Trump in the run-up to the violence.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi insisted the trial should go on, and that failing to convict him would damage American democracy.
‘We’ll see if it’s going to be a Senate of courage or cowardice,’ Pelosi told reporters on Thursday.
Even though Trump retains a strong base of support, the riot has eroded his popularity – not good for a 74-year-old who may eye a fresh presidential run in 2024.
Public support for a Trump conviction is stronger now than during his first impeachment trial, according to a new Ipsos/ABC News poll.
It found 56 percent of Americans favoring conviction to 43 percent who disagreed.
EXPLAINER: How Trump’s second impeachment trial will work
Former President Donald Trump’s historic second impeachment trial begins Tuesday, forcing the Senate to decide whether to convict him of incitement of insurrection after a violent mob of his supporters laid siege to the US Capitol on January 6.
While Trump’s acquittal is expected, all 100 senators will first have to sit at their desks and listen to hours of graphic testimony from House Democrats about the riots, which left five people dead. The House impeached Trump on January 13, one week after the violence.
A look at the basics of the upcoming impeachment trial:
HOW DOES THE TRIAL WORK?
The Constitution says the House has the sole power of impeachment while the Senate has the sole power to try the individual on the charges. The person being impeached – who can be the president, the vice president or any civil officer of the United States – can be convicted by two-thirds of the senators present.
The House appoints managers as prosecutors who set up on the Senate floor, along with the defendant´s lawyers, to present their case. The prosecutors and Trump’s defense team will have a set amount of time to make arguments, and then senators can ask questions in writing before a final vote.
The chief justice of the United States normally presides over the trial of a president, but because Trump has left office, the presiding officer will be Sen Patrick Leahy (D – Vermont), who is the ceremonial head of the Senate as the longest-serving member of the majority party.
Once the senators reach a final vote on the impeachment charge – this time there is just one, incitement of insurrection – each lawmaker will stand up and cast their vote: guilty or not guilty.
HOW LONG WILL THE TRIAL LAST?
Unclear. The Senate has to agree to the rules of the trial, and party leaders are still working out the details.
Trump’s first impeachment trial, in which he was acquitted on charges that he abused power by pressuring Ukraine to investigate now-President Joe Biden, lasted almost three weeks. But this one is expected to be shorter, as the case is less complicated and the senators know many of the details already, having been in the Capitol during the insurrection.
And while the Democrats want to ensure they have enough time to make their case, they do not want to tie up the Senate for long. The Senate cannot confirm Biden’s Cabinet nominees and move forward with their legislative priorities, such as COVID-19 relief, until the trial is complete.
WHY TRY TRUMP WHEN HE IS OUT OF OFFICE?
Republicans and Trump’s lawyers argue that the trial is unnecessary, and even unconstitutional, because Trump is no longer president and cannot be removed from office. Democrats disagree, pointing to opinions of many legal scholars and the impeachment of a former secretary of war, William Belknap, who resigned in 1876 just hours before he was impeached over a kickback scheme.
While Belknap was eventually acquitted, the Senate held a full trial. And this time, the House impeached Trump while he was still president, seven days before Biden’s inauguration.
If Trump were convicted, the Senate could take a second vote to bar him from holding office again. Democrats feel that would be an appropriate punishment after he told the angry mob of his supporters to ‘fight like hell’ to overturn his election defeat.
Democrats also argue that there should not be a ‘January exception’ for presidents who commit impeachable offenses just before they leave office. They say the trial is necessary not only to hold Trump properly accountable but also so they can deal with what happened and move forward.
‘You cannot go forward until you have justice,’ said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this week. ‘If we were not to follow up with this, we might as well remove any penalty from the Constitution of impeachment.’
HOW IS THIS TRIAL DIFFERENT FROM TRUMP’S FIRST TRIAL?
Trump’s first trial was based on evidence uncovered over several months by the House about a private phone call between Trump and the president of Ukraine, as well as closed-door meetings that happened before and afterward. Democrats held a lengthy investigation and then compiled a report of their findings.
In contrast, the second trial will be based almost entirely on the visceral experience of a riot that targeted the senators themselves, in the Capitol building. The insurrectionists even breached the Senate chamber, where the trial will be held.
The fresh memories of January 6 could make it easier for the House impeachment managers to make their case, but it doesn’t mean the outcome will be any different. Trump was acquitted in his first trial a year ago Friday with only one Republican, Utah Sen Mitt Romney, voting to convict, and there may not be many more guilty votes this time around.
In a test vote January 26, only five Senate Republicans voted against an effort to dismiss the trial – an early indication that Trump is likely to be acquitted again.
WHAT WILL TRUMP’S LAWYERS ARGUE?
Beyond the constitutionality of the trial, Trump’s lawyers say that he did not incite his supporters to violence and that he did nothing wrong. ‘It is denied that President Trump ever endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of Government,’ they wrote in a brief for the trial. ‘It is denied he threatened the integrity of the democratic system, interfered with the peaceful transition of power, and imperiled a coequal branch Government.’
Trump’s lawyers also say he was protected by the First Amendment to ‘express his belief that the election results were suspect.’
There was no widespread fraud in the election, as Trump claimed falsely over several months and again to his supporters just before the insurrection. Election officials across the country, and even former Attorney General William Barr, contradicted his claims, and dozens of legal challenges to the election put forth by Trump and his allies were dismissed.
WHAT WOULD ACQUITTAL MEAN FOR TRUMP?
A second impeachment acquittal by the Senate would be a victory for Trump – and would prove he retains considerable sway over his party, despite his efforts to subvert democracy and widespread condemnation from his GOP colleagues after January 6.
Still, acquittal may not be the end of attempts to hold him accountable. Sens Tim Kaine (D – Virginia) and Susan Collins (R – Maine) floated a censure resolution after last month’s vote made clear that Trump was unlikely to be convicted.
While they haven’t said yet if they will push for a censure vote after the impeachment trial, Kaine said this week that ‘the idea is out there on the table and it may become a useful idea down the road.’
Reporting by the Associated Press
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