Heather Cox Richardson | February 10
“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 not to yell fire in a crowded theater, but to actually set the theater on fire.”
This was how lead House impeachment manager Jamie Raskin (D-MD) explained Trump’s role in the January 6 insurrection to the senators trying the former president Trump for inciting that insurrection.
Over the course of today, the House impeachment managers laid out a devastating timeline of the former president’s effort, beginning even before the 2020 election, to prime his supporters to believe the only way he could lose was if the Democrats cheated. Manager Joseph Neguse (D-CO) used the rioters’ own words to show that they were responding to Trump’s calls to fight for his reelection. Manager Eric Swalwell (D-CA) pointed out that the Trump camp spent $50 million on national “STOP THE STEAL!” ads that ran until the planned “big protest” on January 6. That presentation alone was powerful, as the managers put videos of rally speeches and tweets together to let the story tell itself.
But the tale grew riveting when impeachment manager Stacey Plaskett, a Democratic delegate from the U.S. Virgin Islands, took the story into the Capitol building itself. She followed the rioters using footage from their own cellphones and the cameras of journalists who recorded their actions. But she had more than those videos. Plaskett used previously unseen video from security cameras to illustrate just how close the rioters came to capturing Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, both of whom they were searching for specifically, as well as lawmakers in general. In some cases, the congress members and their staffs were within seconds of being caught.
The mocking, singsong, drawn out calls for “Nancy” from a rioter searching for the House Speaker as if he were a monster stalking a victim in a horror movie, and the angry chants to “Hang Mike Pence!” from rioters who had hung a noose from a gallows they constructed outside the Capitol, left little doubt the rioters were deadly. Richard Barnett, the man photographed with his feet on Pelosi’s desk, carried a 950,000-volt stun gun.
Impeachment manager David Cicilline (D-RI) took the baton from Plaskett, hammering home that Trump had continued to stoke the crowd’s anger against Pence even as the vice president was in lockdown at the Capitol, and that he refused to stop the riot despite pleading from his aides and allies. Manager Joaquin Castro (D-TX) brought the argument home: “On January 6, President Trump left everyone in this Capitol for dead.”
It was a riveting, damning presentation, showing just how close we came to an event even worse than the day turned out to be. In one particularly dramatic new scene from the security cameras, we saw Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman, who later lured the rioters away from the Senate chamber to give the lawmakers enough time—barely—to get to safety, prevent Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) from walking into the mob, likely saving his life.
The story the managers told set out quite clearly that the insurrection was not only planned, it was timed to disrupt the counting of the electoral votes that would make Joe Biden president. As impeachment manager Ted Lieu (D-CA) put it, Trump “ran out of nonviolent options to maintain power…. What you saw was a man so desperate to try to cling to power that he tried everything he could to keep it, and when he ran out of nonviolent measures, he turned to the violent mob that attacked your Senate chamber on January 6.”
The House managers tried to make it possible for Republican senators to convict Trump. They focused on him alone, leaving untouched the fact that some of the senators in the chamber had themselves spread the lie that the election had been marred by massive fraud. (The one apparently in deepest, Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, refused to watch the presentation.)
They held up Vice President Pence as a principled leader attacked while trying to do his constitutional duty, offering Republican senators a choice not between their party and the Democrats, but rather between Trump and Pence, Republicans both. They also detailed the attack on Capitol police officers, offering the chance for Republicans to side against Trump and with the officers.
In their defense of Pence, the impeachment managers made clear a curious thing: the popular anger at Pence was entirely manufactured. Pence’s role on January 6 was largely ceremonial; he could not challenge the counting of the electoral votes, and he said so, both in person and in writing, as Trump continued to pressure him to. Trump’s deliberate stoking of fury at the vice president meant the crowd was actively hunting for Vice President Pence and House Speaker Pelosi, the next two people in line for the presidency should Trump be removed from office.
And yet, there are signs that none of this matters to the Republican senators who have already decided to acquit the president. On Twitter, Senator Lindsey Graham tonight called the day’s presentation “offensive and absurd.”
Still others say that, even if what happened is horrific, the trial is unconstitutional because Trump is no longer president, although the fact the Senate voted that it is constitutional should mean that point is settled. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) told CNN correspondent Ryan Nobles, “I’m learning things. But, again, my basic point is we shouldn’t have having this trial.”
It seems likely that they are contemplating the experience of Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA), whose state Republican Party pounced on his vote yesterday in favor of the constitutionality of the trial, saying it was “profoundly disappointed.”
But those doubling down on Trump’s leadership of the party have their own troubles. In the 25 states that have accessible data, nearly 140,000 Republicans have left the party since January 6, and tonight, Reuters broke the story that “former elected Republicans, former officials in the Republican administrations of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Trump, ex-Republican ambassadors and Republican strategists,” are in talks to form a new center-right political party. While Trump spokesman Jason Miller called the people involved “losers,” they are savvy enough at political strategy to plan to make their influence felt not necessarily by running third-party candidates, but by endorsing the non-Trump candidate in a race, regardless of party.
While almost all eyes are on the Senate impeachment trial, Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill is working its way through the relevant House committees. Today, by a party-line vote, the House Education and Labor Committee moved its portion along with a provision to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025.
At the White House, Biden spoke on the telephone for the first time with Chinese President Xi Jinping, whom he knows from his days as vice president. The two discussed areas of shared interest, such as the pandemic, global health, and climate change. Biden also called the Chinese leader out for “coercive and unfair economic practices,” as well as the anti-democratic crackdown in Hong Kong and, in Xinjiang, human rights abuses.