Democrats focus Trump trial on mob’s threat to his fellow Republicans


February 11, 2021


The rioters stormed the building, sending lawmakers into hiding and leaving five people dead, including a police officer. PHOTO: REUTERS




WASHINGTON – House Democrats prosecuting Donald Trump’s impeachment trial for inciting the deadly siege of the Capitol highlighted through video on Wednesday (Feb 10) how members of the pro-Trump mob searched the building for his vice-president, chanting: “Hang Mike Pence!”

Previously unseen security videos showed the view from inside the Capitol as rioters smashed windows and fought with police on Jan 6, coming within 30m of the room where Pence was sheltering with his family. The mob had set up a gallows outside.

The House of Representatives has charged Trump, a Republican, with inciting an insurrection by exhorting thousands of supporters to march on the Capitol on the day Congress was gathered to certify Democrat Joe Biden’s electoral victory.

The rioters stormed the building, sending lawmakers into hiding and leaving five people dead, including a police officer.

The security footage highlighted the fact that hundreds of Trump supporters who attacked the building in an attempt to stop the peaceful transfer of power targeted Republicans – whose votes will be needed to convict Trump.

“The mob was looking for Vice-President Pence,” Representative Stacey Plaskett said, narrating footage that showed the crowd chanting: “Hang Mike Pence!” and searching for Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“President Trump put a target on their backs and then his mob broke into the Capitol to hunt them down,” she said.

Trump had repeatedly said Pence had the power to stop the certification of the election results, even though he did not.

The Democratic House managers prosecuting the case for impeachment, an uphill task in an narrowly divided Senate, said on Wednesday that Trump planted the seeds for the riot by encouraging violence and making false claims the election was stolen long before Jan 6.

“Trump realised last spring that he could lose the November election and began planting seeds of anger among his supporters by saying he could lose only if it was stolen,” said Representative Joseph Neguse.

“If we are to protect our republic and prevent something like this from ever happening again, he must be convicted.”

Conviction, while unlikely, could lead to a vote to bar Trump from running for office again.

Trump’s lawyers, who will have 16 hours to deliver their side of the argument after the House managers are finished, argue his rhetoric was protected by the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech, and that the individuals who breached the Capitol were responsible for their own criminal behaviour.

They also say the trial is politically motivated.

‘Inciter in chief’

Representative Joaquin Castro cited what he called blatant acts of political intimidation against election workers in states Trump was losing.

In Philadelphia, Atlanta and Milwaukee, Castro said, Trump’s supporters tried to use armed force to disrupt the counting of votes.

Time and again, Trump “deliberately encouraged” violence by his supporters, Plaskett said.

“The truth is President Trump had spent months calling on his supporters to march on a specific day, at a specific time, in specific places, to stop the certification,” she said.

Trump’s actions threatened a hallmark of American democracy, the peaceful transfer of power, the Democratic managers said, calling Trump the “inciter in chief.”

“This case is not about blaming an innocent bystander for the horrific violence and harm that took place on Jan. 6,” lead manager Jamie Raskin said as he opened the proceedings.

“This is about holding accountable the person singularly responsible for inciting the attack.” A two-thirds majority in the Senate must vote to convict, which means at least 17 Republicans would have to defy Trump’s still-potent popularity among Republican voters.

On Tuesday, just six out of 50 Republican senators broke with their caucus to vote that the trial could move ahead even though Trump’s term ended on Jan 20.

Republican Senator Ron Johnson, a Trump ally, told reporters during a break that the proceedings would become “pretty tedious”.

“This is a political exercise,” he said. Asked whether Republicans had received direction from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on the vote, Senator Kevin Cramer said the senators would vote their “conscience”.

Divided nation

In an Ipsos poll for Reuters that was released on Wednesday, 47 per cent of respondents said Trump should be convicted, while 40 per cent said he should not, with opinions split along party lines.

The trial in the Senate is not the only probe Trump faces after leaving the White House and losing the presidential protections that shielded him from prosecution.

Prosecutors in Georgia’s biggest county have opened a criminal investigation into Trump’s attempts to influence the state’s election results after he was recorded in a Jan 2 phone call pressuring the secretary of state to “find” enough votes to overturn his Georgia loss.

The Senate trial could conclude as early as Saturday or Sunday, according to a senior Senate aide. Some Democrats had expressed concern that a prolonged trial could delay progress on Biden’s agenda, including a proposed US$1.9 trillion (S$2.52 trillion) coronavirus relief package.

Biden was not planning to watch the trial, the White House said. Asked on Tuesday about the proceedings, the president said he was focused on his own job.

“The Senate has their job; they’re about to begin it. I’m sure they’re going to conduct themselves well,” he said.

Trump is the first US president to be impeached twice. His first impeachment trial, which stemmed from his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden, ended in an acquittal a year ago in what was then a Republican-controlled Senate.

No US president has ever been removed from office via impeachment.

Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998 and Andrew Johnson in 1868 but they also were acquitted. Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 rather than face impeachment over the Watergate scandal.

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