WASHINGTON – House impeachment managers wielded former President Donald Trump’s words against him Wednesday, arguing that he spent weeks fueling the rage behind the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and then “reveled in” the mayhem and destruction.
The managers, who are acting as prosecutors in the Senate impeachment trial, pointed to Trump’s remarks and Twitter messages in which he claimed that the Nov. 3 election was stolen and urged his supporters to come to Washington on the day Congress was scheduled to formalize the election results.
Trump was quoted tweeting that dead people had voted and that illegal votes altered results, even though his own Justice Department found no evidence of widespread election fraud. Managers said Trump whipped supporters into a frenzy by exhorting them to “fight like hell” and “you have to show strength.”
House managers argued that Trump was warned that violent protesters were headed to Washington through news reports, law enforcement reports and arrests.
“He watched it on TV like a reality show,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., citing news reports quoting senior aides to Trump. “He reveled in it.”
The managers played video – some of it security footage that hadn’t been released before – of rioters brawling with police outside the Capitol, smashing windows to climb inside and rampaging through the halls with bats and poles looking for Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Rioters erected a gallows outside the Capitol and chanted “Hang Mike Pence” and “Bring out Pence.” As they swarmed through the building, they shouted they were looking for Pelosi, calling her “crazy Nancy.”
Trump is charged with inciting the insurrection in which a mob broke doors and windows to swarm through the Capitol, interrupting lawmakers as they counted Electoral College votes certifying President Joe Biden’s victory.
The assault left five people dead, including a police officer and a woman who was shot by an officer outside the House chamber. Other officers were beaten by rioters and had their eyes gouged. One officer lost three fingers. The Associated Press, citing unidentified sources, reported that the officer who died, Brian Sicknick, may have been hit in the head by a fire extinguisher. But no official cause of death has been released, and U.S. Capitol Police have said only that he died “due to injuries sustained while on-duty” and provided no other details.
One of Trump’s lawyers, Bruce Castor Jr., said the video was powerful, but he hadn’t heard the violence connected to the former president.
“We know a mob breached the Capitol and wreaked havoc in the building,” Castor said. “I’m waiting for them to connect that up to President Trump and so far that hasn’t happened.”
Trump’s defense team, including Castor and David Schoen, have argued that Trump’s speech is protected by the First Amendment and that he can’t be held accountable for the mob’s actions.
Several Senate Republicans called the House arguments predictable and redundant.
“This is pretty obvious this is a political exercise,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said at midday that he hadn’t heard anything new. “I don’t think there’s anything that’s been said by either side that has changed any votes. That’s what I believe,” Inhofe said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who said he spoke with Trump on Tuesday and Wednesday morning, predicted the former president would be acquitted. A two-thirds majority of the Senate is required for conviction, which would mean at least 17 Republicans would need to join 50 Democrats in a finding that Trump was guilty of inciting an insurrection.
“The bottom line is: I reinforced to the president the case is over,” Graham said. “It’s just a matter of getting the final verdict now.”
House managers spent Wednesday arguing that Trump began inciting unrest weeks before the election with baseless claims of massive fraud. The managers said the complaints culminated in Trump’s speech near the White House on Jan. 6 before the mob laid siege to the Capitol.
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., cited a Nov. 15 tweet from Trump that said, “I concede NOTHING!!!!!” On Nov. 17, Trump tweeted: “DEAD PEOPLE VOTED” without elaboration. On Nov. 28, Trump tweeted: “We have found many illegal votes. Stay tuned!”
Among Trump’s speeches, Swalwell played a recording of Trump saying that “dead people were requesting ballots and they were dead for years.” Trump said Biden’s margins of victory in some states were the result of “extraordinarily large midnight vote dumps.”
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., could be heard laughing in the Senate chamber during the video about dead people voting.
Trump never documented the claims. State election officials certified Biden’s victory. And then-Attorney General William Barr said the Justice Department found no widespread election fraud.
“Donald Trump for months and months assembled the tinder, the kindling, threw on fuel to have his supporters believe that the only way their victory would be lose was if it was stolen,” Swalwell said. “Instead of accepting the results, he told his base more lies. He doused the flames with kerosene.”
Stacey Plaskett, a Democratic delegate from the Virgin Islands, cited witness testimony from charges against rioters who said “anyone they got their hands on they would have killed.”
“They were talking about assassinating the vice president of the United States,” Plaskett said. “They did it because Donald Trump sent them.”
Trump called his Jan. 6 speech “totally appropriate.” His defense team compared the riot to a bad accident or natural disaster for which society sought someone to blame. But Raskin said Trump was warned by media reports, law enforcement reports and arrests that the supporters he spurred to the Capitol could become violent.
“In short, we will prove that the impeached president was no innocent bystander, whose conduct was ‘totally appropriate,’” Raskin said. “He incited this attack and he saw it coming.”
Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, argued that Trump’s crusade against voting by mail allowed Biden to dominate mail voting by a 2-to-1 margin nationwide. That resulted in Trump having a lead on Election Day in some states that later evaporated once mailed ballots were counted. Trump’s supporters gathered outside election centers in Georgia, Michigan, Arizona and other states as votes were being counted inside.
“They bought into his big lie,” Castro said.
House managers argued that Trump knew the effect his words would have. Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., quoted Trump’s former chief of staff, retired four-star Marine Gen. John Kelly, as evidence Trump knew he could inflame a crowd.
“He knows who he is talking to and knows what he wants them to do,” Kelly said the day after the riot. “No surprise what happened yesterday.”
On Thursday, the managers plan to review the death and carnage from the insurrection in more detail. That session will complete up to 16 hours of opening arguments in the historic second trial for Trump.
The former president’s defense team will then have up to 16 hours for their arguments starting Friday.
Contributing: Savannah Behrmann and William Cummings
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Impeachment trial: New video shows threat to Mike Pence, Nancy Pelosi