By Kenneth Tiven in the US
50 Republican jurors spent the day watching a riveting, chilling presentation setting out former President Donald Trump’s months of lying about the presidential election while he groomed and fostered the mob that rioted at the US Capitol on 6 January.
What difference will it make? The US Senate’s impeachment process means 50 Democratic members as jurors need to convince 17 Republicans to join them in convicting Trump of fomenting an insurrection because a 2/3 plus 1 majority of the 100 member Senate is needed.
A succession of Democratic House prosecutors organized Trumps own words in video clips and tweets to make the case. Capitol security camera footage never seen before was added to the interior and exterior videos. Watching it was distressing, perhaps more so for 50 Republican senators who as jurors have made it clear it will be difficult for them to convict Trump since he is their political leader.
“That mob was summoned, assembled, and incited by the former president of the United States, Donald Trump,” said Rep. Joe Naguse, a Democrat from Colorado and one of the impeachment managers. “And he did that because he wanted to stop the transfer of power so that he could retain power, even though he had lost the election.”
As in a theatrical play or movie the various segments seamlessly wove together a narrative that was confident and compelling. The video clips laced with profanity made clear the malevolence the insurrectionists displayed against the Capitol Police. Because the building is a labyrinth of look alike halls and floors on both the Senate and House sides of building it was difficult for the insurrectionists to know where to go as they shouted “Nancy where are you” seeking House Speaker Peolosi and Vice President Mike Pence.
In an audio clip, an police officer who was shocked with a stun gun and dragged down the stairs by the mob called it “some of the most brutal combat I’ve ever encountered … People were yelling out: ‘We got one, we got one!’”
Delegate Stacey Plaskett, the non-voting representative of the US Virgin Islands on the impeachment team, focused on what happened inside the Capitol. The chamber sat silently, watching large screens showing clips of the attack on the very place they were now sitting. Sen. James Lankford, a Republican appeared shaken as video showed a police officer yelling in pain while being crushed in a doorway by rioters. Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican, his seatmate, put his hand on Lankford’s arm to comfort him.
The second major event Plaskett spotlighted was Trump being asked at a September presidential debate to repudiate extreme elements of the conservative movement, prompting him to tell the Proud Boys, a far-right group with a history of violence, to “stand back and stand by.” The comment was criticized at the time as promoting potential violence. The Proud Boys adopted it as a mantra and their leadership figured prominently in the storming of the Capitol.
On that day both house of Conges were in a joint session for the largely ceremonial purpose of certifying the Electoral College vote that made Joseph Biden the nation‘s 46th president. Trump wanted Vice President Mike Pence to refuse the certification as a last possible means of keeping Joe Biden from taking his job. Pence refused. When Trump tweeted that refusal the insurrectionists at the Capitol started shouting “Hang Mike Pence.‘ In making his escape from the Capital along with his family members, Pence missed the insurrectionists in the hall by about 20 meters.
From a noon start the Senate wrapped up at 19:45 having taken an hour for dinner. If the earlier part of the day’s session was the wide-angle view, the post dinner period used the extreme close up lens.
Rep Joaquin Castro drove home the fact that Trump ignored White House staff urging him to stop the attack and when he finally tweeted something it was basically a thank you to the rioters. For a man who could tweet 100 times a day, Castro said, Trump only tweeted 16 times between the evening of 5 January and noon on 6 January and most of those tweets were about “fighting.”
Castro noted Trump’s role in starting the big lie about fraud, but stressed that Trump didn’t just light the fire, he declined to snuff it once it started burning. That indicates, at the very least, this was an outcome he was desired.
Rep. Eric Swalwell said Trump sought to “prime” his supporters for months in advance “That took time,” Swalwell said, using a metaphor to explain. “Just like to build a fire, it doesn’t just start with the flames. Donald Trump for months and months assembled the tinder, the kindling, threw on logs for fuel to have his supporters believe that the only way their victory would be lost was if it was stolen — so that way President Trump was ready, if he lost the election, to light the match and douse it with kerosene.”
On Tuesday Republicans lost on the claim you can’t impeach a president after he leaves office. Lead Democrat impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin had ridiculed them for seeking a “January Exception,” where impeachment did not exist in his final three weeks in office. On this second day, Raskin, a former Constitutional law professor, took issue with the Republicans who say Trump’s speech, no matter how untrue, is protected by the free speech clause of the 1st Amendment. There are limits, which include incitement and defamation. The generic example is shouting fire in a crowded theater. He likened Trump to a fire chief who sits idly by when a fire starts. “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.”
Sen. Mike Lee, Republican from Utah, is perhaps the most conservative member of the Senate and can be outspoken, especially when he’s unhappy, a trait he exhibited at the end of the second day of the impeachment trial. He suddenly demanded that comments Democrats attributed to him regarding Trump be stricken from the record. He was outraged claiming the source was an untrue newspaper article. “I never said that,” he shouted. It is Interesting that he had nothing to say about any of the outrageous insurrection videos he saw all day sitting as a trial juror. Perhaps this, inadvertently, explains how some Republicans feel about Trump’s behavior.