WASHINGTON – Prosecutors unveiled chilling new security video in Donald Trump’s impeachment trial Wednesday, showing the mob of rioters breaking into the Capitol, smashing windows and doors and searching menacingly for Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as overwhelmed police begged on their radios for help.
In the previously unreleased recordings, the House prosecutors displayed gripping scenes of how close the rioters were to the country’s leaders, roaming the halls chanting “Hang Mike Pence,” some equipped with combat gear and members of extremist groups among the first inside. Outside, the mob had set up a makeshift gallows.
At one dramatic moment, the video shows police shooting into the crowd through a broken window, killing a San Diego woman, Ashli Babbitt.
The vice president, who had been presiding over a session to certify Joe Biden’s victory over Trump — thus earning Trump’s censure — is shown being rushed to safety, where he sheltered in an office with his family just 100 feet from the rioters. Pelosi was evacuated from the complex as her staff hid behind doors in her suite of offices.
Though most of the Senate jurors have clearly already made up their minds on acquittal or conviction, they were riveted on the video and audio as the rioters took over the chamber where the impeachment trial is now being held. Screams from the audio filled the chamber. At times, it almost seemed as if some senators were seeing and hearing Trump for the first time as he urged his supporters on.
“They did it because Donald Trump sent them on this mission,” said House prosecutor Stacey Plaskett, the Democratic delegate representing the Virgin Islands.
“President Trump put a target on their backs and his mob broke into the Capitol to hunt them down.”
The stunning presentation opened the first full day of arguments in the trial as the prosecutors argued Trump was no “innocent bystander” but the “inciter in chief” of the deadly Capitol riot, a president who spent months spreading election lies and building a mob of supporters primed for his call to stop Biden’s victory.
The House Democrats showed piles of evidence from rom the former president himself -- hundreds of Trump tweets and comments that culminated in his Jan. 6 rally cry to go the Capitol and “fight like hell” to overturn his defeat. Trump then did nothing to stem the violence and watched with “glee,” they said, as the mob ransacked the iconic building. Five people died.
The senators on Wednesday saw for the first time the detailed security video of the break-in and heard grim emergency calls from Capitol police.
“To us it may have felt like chaos and madness, but there was method to the madness that day,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., the lead prosecutor, who pointed to Trump as the instigator.
“And when his mob overran and occupied the Senate and attacked the House and assaulted law enforcement, he watched it on TV like a reality show. He reveled in it.”
The day’s proceedings unfolded after Tuesday’s emotional start that left the f ormer president fuming when his attorneys delivered a meandering defense and failed to halt the trial on constitutional grounds. Some allies called for yet another shakeup to his legal team.
Trump is the first president to face an impeachment trial after leaving office and the first to be twice impeached. He is charged with “incitement of insurrection” with fiery words his defense lawyers say are protected by the Constitution’s First Amendment and just figures of speech.
The prosecutors are arguing that Trump’s words were part of “the big lie” — his relentless efforts to sow doubts about the election results. Those began long before the votes were tabulated, revving up his followers to “stop the steal” though there was no evidence of substantial fraud.
Trump knew very well what would happen when he took to the microphone at the outdoor White House rally that day, almost to the hour that Congress gaveled in to certify Biden’s win, said Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo.
“This was not just a speech,” he said.
Trump’s supporters were prepped and armed, ready to descend on the Capitol, Neguse said. “When they heard his speech, they understood his words.”
Security remained extremely tight Wednesday at the Capitol, fenced off with razor wire and patrolled by National Guard troops.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki has said Biden would not be watching the trial.
The difficulty facing Trump’s defense team became apparent at the start as they leaned on the process of the trial, unlike any other, rather than the substance of the case against the former president. They said the Constitution doesn’t allow impeachment at this late date, after he has left the White House.
Even though the Senate rejected that argument in Tuesday’s vote to proceed to the trial, the legal issue could resonate with Senate Republicans eager to acquit Trump without being seen as condoning his behavior.
Defense lawyer Bruce Castor said Tuesday he shifted his planned approach after hearing the prosecutors’ emotional opening and instead spoke conversationally to the senators, saying Trump’s team would denounce the “repugnant” attack and “in the strongest possible way denounce the rioters.” He encouraged the senators to be “cool headed” as they assessed the arguments.
Trump attorney David Schoen turned the trial toward starkly partisan tones, arguing the Democrats were fueled by a “base hatred” of the former president.
A frustrated Trump revived his demands to focus on his unsupported claims of voter fraud, repeatedly telephoning former White House aide Peter Navarro, who told The Associated Press in an interview he agrees. He is calling on Trump to fire his legal team.
“If he doesn’t make a mid-course correction here, he’s going to lose this Super Bowl,” Navarro said, a reference to public opinion, not the unlikely possibility of conviction.
Republicans made it clear that they were unhappy with Trump’s defense, many of them saying they didn’t understand where it was going — particularly Castor’s opening.
While six Republicans joined with Democrats to vote to proceed with the trial, the 56-44 vote was far from the two-thirds threshold of 67 votes that would be needed for conviction.
Minds did not seem to be changing. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., a leader of the effort to challenge the Electoral College tally that day certifying the election, watched from the public gallery with a shrug. “Nothing new here, for me, at the end of the day,” he said during a break.
As the country numbs to the Trump era’s shattering of civic norms, the prosecutors sought to remind senators and the nation how extraordinary it was to have a sitting U.S. president working to discredit the election.
In hundreds of tweets, remarks and interviews as far back as spring and summer, Trump was spreading false claims about the election and refusing to commit to the peaceful transfer of power once it was over, they said.
As violence mounted in the states in the weeks and months before Trump supporters marched to the Capitol, he could have told loyalists to stand down. But he didn’t.
The mob “didn’t come out of thin air,” said Rep . Joaquin Castro, D-Texas.
The public scenes of attack were distilled in highly personal terms, first when Raskin broke down in tears Tuesday describing his family hiding in the Capitol that day. On Wednesday, Neguse, the son of immigrants, recalled telling his father how proud he was to return to Congress that night to finish the work of certifying the election. Castro said as a Democrat from Texas, he knew how hard it is to lose elections.
They also shared comments of the Capitol Police, including a Black officer who described racial epithets being hurled at him by the rioters.
“That’s the question before all of you in this trial, is this America?” Raskin told the senators.
It appears unlikely that the House prosecutors will call witnesses, and Trump has declined a request to testify. The trial is expected to continue into the weekend.
Trump’s second impeachment trial is expected to diverge from the lengthy, complicated affair of a year ago. In that case, Trump was charged with having privately pressured Ukraine to dig up dirt on Biden, then a Democratic rival for the presidency. It could be over in half the time.
The Democratic-led House impeached the president swiftly, one week after the attack. A Capitol police officer was among those who died.