House Democrats began their prosecution of former President Donald Trump on Wednesday, laying the ground work for their accusation he should be impeached for inciting the January 6th MAGA riot on Capitol Hill.
They face an uphill battle. Senate Democrats need 17 Republicans to cross over and vote for conviction and there is no indication those numbers are there.
But Democrats laid out their case that Trump, as it became apparent he could not legally win the election, sought to incite his base in order to stay in power.
Lead House impeachment manager Jamie Raskin said Trump was ‘a man who praised and encouraged and cultivated violence’ in his dispute of Joe Biden’s victory. Trump is charged on one count of impeachment – inciting the insurrection at the Capitol that left five dead.
In his opening remarks, Raskin blasted Trump for inciting the insurrection and enjoying the spectacle of his supporters disrupting the certification in the Capitol.
‘He watched it on TV like a reality show, he reveled in it,’ he charged. ‘There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the U.S. of his office and his oath to the Constitution.’
Raskin, in his nearly 20 minute speech, painted Trump as betraying his duties as president in order to preserve his political power.
‘He incited this attack and he saw it coming,’ Raskin argued. ‘To us it may have felt like chaos and madness but there was method and the madness that day. This was an organized attack on the counting of the electoral college votes in joint session of the United States Congress.’
House impeachment managers have 16 hours to make their case against the former president. Then the defense will offer theirs.
Raskin said the prosecution will show Trump violated his oath of office and abdicated his duty as commander in chief.
‘The evidence will show you that ex-President Trump was no innocent bystander. The evidence will show that he clearly incited the January 6th insurrection. It will show that Donald Trump surrendered his role as commander in chief and became the inciter in chief,’ he said.
House Democrats on Wednesday began to make their case why Donald Trump should be impeached for inciting the January 6th riot on Capitol Hill
Lead House impeachment manager Jamie Raskin called Donald Trump ‘a man who praised and encouraged and cultivated violence’
Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse of Colorado charged Trump with failing to stop the insurrection
TRUMP: GEORGIA CRIMINAL PROBE ON ELECTION CALL
Donald Trump is facing a criminal investigation in Georgia into his call to its secretary of state asking him to ‘find’ votes to overturn the election, it emerged Wednesday.
Newly-elected Fulton County prosecutor Fani Willis, a Democrat, sent a letter to state leaders, state officials telling them to save records related to the call, state officials with knowledge of the letter told The New York Times.
Specifically, the criminal investigation is looking into the then-president’s questionable January 2 call with Georgia’s Secretary of State where Trump told Brad Raffensperger to ‘find’ enough votes to reverse his loss to Joe Biden in the Peach State.
The letter does not specify what crimes are being investigated but experts have suggested that Trump could have committed conspiracy to commit election fraud, which can carry felony charges and a sentence of up to a year in prison on conviction.
A Trump aide dismissed the move as a stunt by Democrats on day two of the impeachment trial.
The managers handed off to one another to methodically tracing Trump’s months long effort to undermine the election. And they repeatedly brought senators back to that day in the Capitol, when the Trump supporters stormed the building.
‘That mob was summoned, assembled and incited by the former president of the United States, Donald Trump. He did that because he wanted to stop the print transfer of power so he could obtain power even though he had lost the election. And when the violence erupted, when they were here in our building with weapons, he did nothing to stop it,’ Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse said.
Trump is only the president in American history to be impeached. It’s also the first time senators have set in judgement of a president accused of putting their lives in danger while trying to overthrow a legitimate election.
Neguse focused his argument on demonstrating that Trump was ramping up his supporters long before his January 6th speech, intending to counter Trump’s defense that his speech was protected under the first amendment. Trump’s attorneys also argue that federal evidence shows the insurrection had been in the works for some time – meaning Trump’s speech that morning could not have incited it.
‘I’d respectfully ask that you remember those three phrases as you consider the evidence today. ‘Election was stolen. Stop the steal. And fight like hell’ because they did not just appear on January 6,’ Neguse said.
He showed clips of Trump speeches and rallies where the president complained – falsely and repeatedly – that the election was stolen.
‘He didn’t just tell them to fly like hell, he told them how, where, and when, he made sure they had advance notice, 18 days advance notice, he sent his save the date for January 6th,’ Neguse said.
He also showed video clips of the rioters from January 6th, saying they were at the Capitol because of Trump: ‘Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump!,’ one said. ‘We were invited by the president of the United States,’ said another.
Neguse also argued Trump didn’t do enough to stop the rioters that day.
‘He alone, our commander in chief, had the power to stop it. And he didn’t. You will hear evidence tonight, tomorrow, throughout the trial about his refusal as commander in chief to respond to numerous desperate pleas on the phone, across social media, begging him to stop the attack,’ he said.
Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro also showed multiple examples of Trump falsely claiming the election was stolen from him.
And he appealed to the senators to remember their own election contests when listening to what Trump said.
‘All of us in this room have run for election. It’s no fun to lose. I’m a Texas Democrat. We’ve lost a few elections over the years. But can you imagine telling your supporters that the only way you could possibly lose is if an American election was rigged and stolen from you? Ask yourself if you have ever seen anyone make the same claim about their own election. That’s exactly what President Trump did,’ he said.
He went on to say when the media, including Fox News, said when the remaining votes were counted Biden would be the victor ‘President Trump began urging his supporters to stop the count.’
‘I would imagine that if we went around this room, there are folks sitting here that started down on election night and ended up coming back up and winning their races. Perhaps that’s why some of you are seated in this room today. But imagine if you were behind and the results start coming in, and as you started pulling ahead, your opponent said, that’s not fair, stop the count while I’m still ahead. That’s what Donald Trump did. But that’s not how America works. Here every vote counts. You don’t just stop counting when one person is ahead. We count every vote,’ he added.
Trump’s goal, Castro argued, was to incite his base, ‘to make sure that his supporters were angry, like the election was being ripped away from them.’
‘This is clearly a man who refuses to accept the possibility or the reality in our democracy of losing an election,’ Castro said.
As part of their case, House impeachment managers will show never-before-seen Capitol security footage of the January 6th riot as they start their case for impeaching Donald Trump.
The footage will demonstrate the extent of the violence that occurred and the threat the rioters posed to everyone in the Capitol, senior aides on the House impeachment team told CNN.
They did not say what the new footage was, or whether it came from Capitol Police or Washington DC’s Metropolitan Police.
The video will show ‘extreme violence’ and make clear what additional safety risks were posed by the insurrection, a House aide told The Washington Post, including ‘just how close Trump’s mob came to senators, members of Congress and staff.’
‘It will show the extent of what Donald Trump unleashed on our Capitol,’ said the aide.
The House managers are not expected to use the full 16 hours they are allotted for their presentation. After they finish, the defense will make its case and also is not expected to use its full 16 hours.
Trump’s second impeachment trial could end as soon as this weekend. He is expected to be acquitted.
The Democratic impeachment managers previewed their case against the former president with a 14-minute video on Tuesday that contained dramatic footage of Trump supporters storming the Capitol and taunting police officers with obscenities as they bashed in doors and windows.
Democrats showed video of the rioters on January 6th, stating why they were there
The new footage will show the extent of the violence that occurred and the threat the rioters posed to everyone in the Capitol
Trump’s defense tried to counter the lingering image of the video, which visibly affected many senators in the chamber. Those lawmakers were also in the Capitol on January 6th.
But Trump wasn’t happy with his defense team after their first day making arguments, according to reports.
Trump, viewing the proceedings from his new home at Mar-a-Lago, was aghast that one of his lawyers, Bruce Castor, acknowledged the potency of the opening argument put forward by House Democratic impeachment managers, ABC News reported.
Castor even acknowledged that his team changed course after viewing the Democrats’ dramatic video.
‘I’ll be quite frank with you, we changed what we were going to do on account that we thought that the House managers’ presentation was well done,’ Castor admitted. ‘And I wanted you to know that we have responses to those things.’
One Trump advisor even told CNN getting good legal representation was a concern if he is ever charged in criminal court, which is now possible since he is out of office.
‘Trump is f***** if anyone ever charges him. No one wants to work with him,’ said the advisor.
Raskin compares Trump to a fire chief ‘who set the theater on fire’
Democratic impeachment manager Jamie Raskin sought to explode the First Amendment defenses put forward by Donald Trump’s lawyers in their impeachment legal brief.
Trump’s team had argued that the president’s call for his supporters to ‘fight’ where not an incitement to riot but protected political speech.
Raskin, a constitutional law professor, picked apart the claim and brought up the well-worn example of a limit on free speech – that you can’t yell ‘fire in a crowded theater,’ a concept explored by Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.
‘But even that time-honored principle doesn’t begin to capture how off base the argument is,’ Raskin said. ‘This case is much worse than someone who falsely shouts fire in a crowded theater. It’s more like a case where the town fire chief who’s paid to put out fires sends a mob yet to yell fire in a crowded theater but to actually set the theater on fire,’ he said.
He continued: And who then when the fire alarms go off and the calls start flooding into the fire department asking for help, does nothing but sit back, encourage the mob to continue its rampage and watch the fire spread on TV with glee and delight.’
Raskin was alluding to Trump’s inaction during the riot, and his tweets praising rioters even when he finally asked them to go home.
‘So then we say this fire chief should never be allowed to hold this public job again and you’re fired and you’re permanently disqualified and he objects. And he says, we’re violating his free speech rights just because he’s pro-mob or pro-fire or whatever it might be,’ he added.
Then he quoted conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. ‘As Justice Scalia once said, memorably, you can’t ride with the cops and root for the robbers.’
Raskin acknowledged the potential attractiveness of the free speech argument – but said it didn’t apply.
‘They present president trump as merely like a guy at a rally expressing a political opinion that we disagree with, and now we’re trying to put him in jail for it. That has nothing to do with the reality of these charges where his constitutional offense,’ he said.
He said his legal team would demonstrate ‘with overwhelming evidence portraying Trump as a guy on the street being punished for his ideas is a false description of his actions, his intent, and the role that he played on January 6th when he willfully incited an insurrectionary mob to riot at the Capitol.’
Impeachment manager Rep. Joe Neguse pointed to the specifics of some of Trump’s comments in and around the riot.
‘He didn’t’ stop it. He didn’t’ condemn the violence. He incited further,’ Neguse said.
‘He didn’t’ just tell them to fight like hell. He told them how, where and when.’
‘What time was that rally scheduled for?’ Neguse told senators. ‘The exact same time that this chamber was certifying the election results in joint session,’ he said. He noted that Trump concluded his Jan. 6 speech ‘literally moments’ after Pelosi gaveled the House into session.
THE IMPEACHMENT LEGAL TEAMS
THE HOUSE IMPEACHMENT MANAGERS
Who’s who in the prosecution (from left): Jamie Raskin, David Cicilline, Joaquin Castro, Diana DeGette, Rep. Eric Swalwell, Stacey Plaskett, Joe Neguse
Lead impeachment manager: Jamie Raskin. Constitutional law professor who lectured at American University, in Washington D.C., before moving into politics as a Maryland state senator then House member. Fierce critic of Trump who called for his impeachment after the Mueller report.
David Cicilline: One-time public defender and mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, which is now in his district. Lead author of the article of impeachment.
Joaquin Castro: Texas rep whose twin brother Julian ran for president. Lawyer and member of Texas Legislature before joining Congress.
Diana DeGette: Longest-serving member of Congress in the team with 13 terms for her Colorado district. A civil rights attorney before she went into public office.
Eric Swalwell: California prosecutor turned rep who is the only member of the impeachment managers who was also involved in the first trial. Target of Republican ire for his admitted relationship with a Chinese spy called Fang Fang which he ended when the FBI warned him she was a spy
Stacey Plaskett: Represents the Virgin Islands and therefore has no vote but was an assistant district attorney in the Bronx before entering Congress.
Joe Neguse: Private practice lawyer who is now a two-term Colorado congressman.
Ted Lieu (not in photo): Former Air Force officer who is a reserve colonel in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. The California rep is another bitter public critic of Trump.
Madeleine Dean (not in photo): Pennsylvania attorney turned English professor and member of its house of representatives whose Pennsylvania district is also home of Bruce Castor, one of Trump’s defense team.
David Schoen: Alabama-based criminal defense attorney who has previously represented Roger Stone, and met with Jeffrey Epstein just before his death – then suggested he did not believe it was suicide. Observant Jewish attorney said he would not work on the Sabbath, leading to impeachment trial being scheduled not to sit from 5pm on Friday, but later said he was not needed that day, allowing it to go on.
Bruce Castor: Castor was Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, district attorney when he decided not to prosecute Bill Cosby on rape charges which his successor went ahead with, leading to the comedian being convicted and imprisoned. Castor settled a defamation case with victim Andrea Costand. Later became acting attorney general of Pennsylvania, and is now in private practice.
Michael van der Veen: Added to the roster of attorneys on the eve of the trial. Philadelphia personal injury attorney who is close to Castor – Castor joined his firm in December – and has also been a criminal defense attorney. A former client said he called Trump a ‘f***ing crook’ in summer 2020.
William Brennan: Veteran Philadelphia criminal defense attorney who appears to have joined on the first day of the trial. Has represented pro-Trump figures but also a college student charged with trying to steal Trump’s tax returns.