Trump was ‘inciter in chief’ of Capitol attack, say Democrats

Eric Herschmann; Trump lawyer during Impeachment
Eric Herschmann

Prosecutors in Donald Trump’s impeachment trial said they would prove the former president was no “innocent bystander” but the “inciter in chief” of the deadly attack at the Capitol aimed at overturning his election loss to Joe Biden.

Opening the first full day of arguments, the lead House prosecutor said they would lay out evidence that showed the president encouraged a crowd to head to the Capitol, then did nothing to stem the violence and watched with “glee” as a mob stormed the iconic building, during which five people died.

Representative Jamie Raskin said: “To us it may have felt like chaos and madness, but there was method to the madness that day.”

The day’s proceedings were unfolding after an emotional Tuesday start to the trial that left the former president fuming after his lawyers delivered a meandering defence and failed to halt the trial on constitutional grounds.

Some allies called for yet another shakeup to his legal team.

Mr Trump is the first president to face an impeachment trial after leaving office and the first to be twice impeached.

The riot followed a rally during which Mr Trump urged his supporters to “fight like hell”, words his lawyers say were simply a figure of speech. He is charged with “incitement of insurrection”.

Senators, many of whom fled for safety the day of the attack, watched Tuesday’s graphic videos of the Trump supporters who battled past police to storm the halls, Trump flags waving. More video is expected on Wednesday, including some that has not been seen before.

House Democratic prosecutors on Wednesday plan to use Capitol security footage that has not been publicly released before as they argue that Mr Trump incited the insurrection, according to Democratic aides working on the case.

Security remains extremely tight at the Capitol, fenced off with razor wire and patrolled by National Guard troops.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Mr Biden would not be watching the trial.

“Joe Biden is the president, he’s not a pundit, he’s not going to opine on back and forth arguments,” she said.

The House impeachment managers described police officers maimed in the chaos and rioters parading in the very chamber where the trial was being held. Mr Trump’s team countered that the constitution did not allow impeachment at this late date.

That is a legal issue that could resonate with Senate Republicans eager to acquit Mr Trump without being seen as condoning his behaviour.

Lead defence lawyer Bruce Castor said he shifted his planned approach after hearing the prosecutors’ emotional opening and instead spoke conversationally to the senators, saying Mr Trump’s team would denounce the “repugnant” attack and “in the strongest possible way denounce the rioters”.

He appealed to the senators as “patriots first”, and encouraged them to be “cool headed” as they assessed the arguments.

Trump lawyer David Schoen turned the trial toward starkly partisan tones, arguing the Democrats were fuelled by a “base hatred” of the former president.

Republicans made it clear that they were unhappy with Mr Trump’s defence, many of them saying they did not understand where it was going — particularly Mr Castor’s opening.

Six Republicans joined with Democrats to vote to proceed with the trial, but the 56 to 44 vote was far from the two-thirds threshold of 67 votes that would be needed for conviction.

The House prosecutors had argued there is no “January exception” for a president to avoid impeachment on his way out of the door.

Representative Joe Neguse referred to the corruption case of William Belknap, a war secretary in the Grant administration, who was impeached, tried and ultimately acquitted by the Senate after leaving office.

If Congress stands by, “it would invite future presidents to use their power without any fear of accountability”, he said.

It appears unlikely that the House prosecutors will call witnesses, and Mr Trump has declined a request to testify. The trial is expected to continue into the weekend.

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