March 6, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

The 6 most powerful moments from the Trump impeachment trial

The Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump for his role inciting the Capitol siege on Jan. 6 has been driven — much like his presidency — by media. Television news clips, social media posts, animated schematics and eyewitness testimonials were presented in a judiciously assembled timeline this week by House impeachment managers to connect Trump’s “Stop the Steal” campaign to the deadly insurrection.

As ratings for the trial suggest, though, many Americans didn’t have the luxury, time or emotional fortitude to relive democracy’s worst day in recent memory. The trepidation is understandable but given the sheer volume of powerful moments captured on camera — before and during the trial — the proceedings are worth catching up on, even if it’s through your fingertips.

With Trump’s defense on Friday done in the blink of an eye and a vote on the verdict possible as early as Saturday, you’ll want to do so quickly. So to guide you through the hundreds of exhibits compiled for the trial and arranged into a staggering and often devastating timeline of events leading up to and during the tragedy, here are the six moments from Trump’s second impeachment trial to devote your attention.

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), lead manager for the impeachment, speaks on the first day of former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial.

(Handout/Getty Images)

If you don’t watch anything else, watch Tuesday’s opening video montage presented by House impeachment managers. Lead House manager Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, one of nine members of Congress who presented the Democrats’ arguments, introduced a damning 13-minute video timeline of the Capitol siege. It’s a sobering chain of events, starting with the “Stop the Steal” rally — “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” says Trump — and continuing with the growing ire of the crowd, who erect a noose on the lawn outside the building and chant “Hang Mike Pence”; the breaching of the barricades, where law enforcement officers were attacked and slurred by Trump supporters; the breaking of windows and the ramming of doors; the cornering of Capitol police; the vandalizing of hallways and offices; and the hunt for the vice president and other lawmakers. All are chronicled in this terrifying montage, a mix of news reports, social media video, surveillance footage from inside the Capitol and more. Lawmakers were forced to relive the horror of that day when they fled chambers, hid under desks and called loved ones to say goodbye, watching the tragedy unfold from multiple vantage points inside and outside the building.

For a first-person point of view, seek out the previously unreleased audio of police officers’ calls for help — and their body camera footage. New audio of Washington, D.C., police desperately calling for backup was presented by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) and others on Wednesday. The recordings convey the bravery and fear on the frontlines as law enforcement fought to mount a defense but was overwhelmed by the crowd: “We’ve been flanked and we’ve lost the line!” one cried. The video timeline painstakingly reveals that they were doing so hours before help finally arrived. A body camera showed one officer being beaten by the crowd, a horrible first-person perspective of what it meant to be a police officer that day, and how officers especially suffered from the president‘s slow response to the attack.

VIDEO | 02:05

House prosecutors present dramatic new video of Capitol attack

The footage shows rioters coming within feet of intercepting senators and then-Vice President Mike Pence.

To remember the stakes, consider that the mob literally hunted lawmakers through the halls of the Capitol. Security footage never before seen by the public showed how close rioters came to intercepting the in-session lawmakers. Evidence presented by Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands) showed schematics of the Capitol building, with red dots representing where the mob was and where the lawmakers were. We’ve all heard how close the rioters came to apprehending Pence, but here we can see Sen. Mitt Romney was mere steps away from the insurrectionists. It was a cat-and-mouse game in the building’s labyrinth of hallways. In one of the shots, Sen. Majority leader Chuck Schumer is shown scrambling down a hallway with a mob amassing just feet away.

Want to understand the incitement charge? Watch the compendium of moments in which Trump lied that the election was rigged. On the second day of arguments, Democrats sought to show that Trump was not only aware his words could have violent consequences, but that his incitement of violence was intentional. Drawing a direct connection between Trump’s baseless election fraud claims and the deadly attack on the Capitol, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) presented videos showing the multiple times Trump sowed doubt about the results of the November election, dating back to the spring when he tweeted about “the greatest Rigged Election in history.” In retrospect, news clips of his devotees banging on the windows of vote count offices in swing states in response to his false claims were a chilling prelude to the pounding on the Senate doors. “These tactics were road-tested,” as Raskin said. “Jan. 6 was a culmination of the president’s actions, not an aberration from them.”

Of course, don’t get comfortable: This could happen again. Democrats’ closing arguments hammered home that the attack could not have happened without Trump inflaming his followers — and that if the Senate doesn’t impeach him, it could happen again. Here they produced a timeline of Trump’s tweets during the siege pitted against jarring footage: Police being beaten by the mob and senators running for their lives as the president posted more false allegations that the election had been stolen. Even when he finally told rioters to go home, it was couched in supportive language: “We love you. You’re very special.” As Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) put it, “I’m not afraid of Donald Trump running again in four years. I’m afraid he’s going to run again and lose, because he can do this again.”

And finally, if you’re looking for an explanation of the eventual verdict, look at the role Trump’s impunity played in his defense. Trump’s defense team on Friday used just three of their allotted 16 hours to argue for the former president’s acquittal, provided little in the way of exculpatory evidence and at several turns did more harm than good by getting the facts wrong. In short, they operated with the same impunity as their client, a Trump-like confidence that Republicans would continue to protect their president no matter the argument. When asked if Trump knew Pence was in danger during the insurrection, Michael van der Veen said, “The answer is no. At no point was the president informed that the vice president was in any danger,” which was untrue according to several Republican accounts. Whether it will affect the final tally? Now that’s a different matter.