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Impeachment case against Donald Trump opens with video of Capitol violence

A vote on whether it is constitutionally permissible to prosecute Trump will take place later tonight.

File image of Donald Trump.
File image of Donald Trump.
Image: Kleponis Chris/CNP/ABACA

Updated Feb 9th 2021, 9:11 PM

DONALD TRUMP’S HISTORIC second impeachment trial opened this evening with a dramatic video that included his words to rioters who descended on the US Capitol and the chaos and violence that ensued.

Representative Jamie Raskin, the lead House impeachment manager presenting the case against Trump, introduced the more than 10-minute-long video timeline of the day.

It began with Trump’s speech at a 6 January rally by the White House in which he tells the crowd, “We’re going to walk down to the Capitol”, and it included the crowd marching to the building.

That video was juxtaposed with what was happening inside the building as politicians were preparing to certify Joe Biden’s victory.

The footage included some of the well-know footage from the day:  Trump saying “We will stop the steal”, Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman confronting the crowd and leading them away from Senate chambers, and graphic footage of another officer being crushed between two doors.

In other parts, the footage focused on jarring images of rioters confronting police: yelling epithets, throwing objects and pushing past barricades.

trump-supporters-storm-us-capitol The Capitol building in Washington DC on 6 January as security forces responded with tear gas. Source: Probal Rashid

Trump’s lawyers have insisted that Trump is not guilty of the sole charge of “incitement of insurrection” and that his strong words were just a figure of speech as he encouraged a rally crowd to “fight like hell” for his presidency.

The lead prosecutor in the trial said his case is based on “cold, hard facts,” and proceeded to present video evidence that Trump incited violence on 6 January. 

The Capitol siege saw rioters storming the Capitol building to try to stop the certification of then-president-elect Joe Biden’s victory. Five people were killed in the riot.

With senators gathered as the court of impeachment, the trial has so far seen a debate which is set to be followed by a vote on whether it is constitutionally permissible to prosecute the former president.

impeachment-managers-walking-to-the-impeachment-trial-in-the-senate-chamber House impeachment managers heading into the impeachment trials being held in the Senate chamber. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

This is an argument that could resonate with Republicans who may be keen on voting to acquit Trump without being seen as condoning his behaviour. They argue in filings the trial is “patently ridiculous”.

There is no “January exception” just before he leaves office, they have argued during the debate.

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“Sweeping it under the rug will not bring unity,” Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer said at the Capitol. “You need truth and accountability.”

It appears unlikely that the House prosecutors will call witnesses, in part because the senators sworn as jurors will be presented with graphic videos recorded that day. At his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, Trump declined a request to give evidence.

trump-supporters-storm-us-capitol Rioters clashing with police when trying to enter the Capitol building on 6 January this year. Source: Lev Radin

Trump is the first president to face charges after leaving office and the first to be twice impeached for high crimes and misdemeanours while in office.

In filings, lawyers for the former president lobbed a wide-ranging attack against the House case, dismissing the trial as “political theatre” on the same Senate floor invaded by the mob.

Trump’s defenders are preparing to challenge both the constitutionality of the trial and any suggestion that he was to blame for the insurrection. They suggest that Trump was simply exercising his First Amendment rights when he encouraged his supporters to protest at the Capitol, and they argue the Senate is not entitled to try Mr Trump now that he has left office.

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