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House managers rest case, argue Trump could stoke more violence if not convicted

The former president's defense is set to begin Friday after methodical and at times emotionally wrenching presentations from Democrats.
Image: Trump Supporters Hold \"Stop The Steal\" Rally In DC Amid Ratification Of Presidential Election
Pro-Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol after a rally with President Donald Trump on Jan. 6.Samuel Corum / Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — House managers wrapped up their case in former President Donald Trump's second impeachment trial Thursday, arguing that he controlled the mob that wreaked deadly havoc on the U.S. Capitol and that he could incite further violence if he is not convicted.

The impeachment managers, who act as prosecutors in the Senate, spent the third day of the proceedings trying to prove Trump's responsibility for the graphic and emotionally jarring scenes they had presented as evidence the day before — video of rioters roaming the halls in search of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Vice President Mike Pence, of a Capitol Police officer screaming as he was crushed against a door by the mob, of senators and congressional staffers running for their lives.

"He didn't react to the violence with shock or horror or dismay, as we did. He didn't immediately rush to Twitter and demand in the clearest possible terms that the mob disperse, that they stop it, that they retreat," Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., one of the managers, said in his final remarks for the day. "Instead, he issues messages in the afternoon that sided with them, the insurrectionists, who had left police officers battered and bloodied."

The managers made the case that the mob believed they were acting at the direction of president, citing many of the rioters' own statements. They also cited the words of Republicans who publicly pleaded with Trump to call off his supporters as the siege was underway to bolster their argument that Trump was in control.

The managers sought to underscore Trump's "lack of remorse," saying he still wields enormous power over his supporters.

"Impeachment is not to punish, but to prevent," said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., another of the managers. "We are not here to punish Donald Trump. We are here to prevent the seeds of hatred that he planted from bearing any more fruit.

"They truly believed that the whole intrusion was at the president's orders — and we know that because they said so," DeGette added. "They were following his instructions. They said he invited them."

Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., another impeachment manager, warned earlier Thursday that there could be more violence if Trump is exonerated: "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."

It made an impression on some Republicans.

"Several of us wrote that down," Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., told reporters Thursday. "I think that was a strong statement on his part."

Still, Rounds said, questions about what Trump might do are "hypotheticals," and he signaled that they would not form the basis of how senators vote.

"What I think right now is that we're basing everything that we're doing on what's already happened," he said. "And we're not going to try to do hypotheticals about what's happening in the future."

The House managers previewed likely arguments from Trump's attorneys, who begin his defense Friday.

The First Amendment would not protect Trump's exhortations for the crowd to "fight" the acceptance of the presidential electoral votes before his supporters marched on the Capitol, the Democrats argued, comparing him not to the proverbial private citizen who falsely shouts "fire" in a crowded theater but to a fire chief who incites a mob to set the theater ablaze and then lets it burn.

"Absolutely nobody in America would be protected by free speech if they did the things Donald Trump did," said the lead impeachment manager, Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., citing a letter signed by 144 free speech lawyers. "This is a classic case of incitement."

It would take 67 senators — including at least 17 Republicans — to convict Trump. Some in the GOP seemed unmoved.

"Today was not connecting the dots for me," Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., told reporters.

Already this week, 44 of the 50 Republicans in the Senate have voted to declare the entire proceedings unconstitutional because Trump is no longer president, making it unlikely that any evidence would persuade them.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a staunch Trump ally, had a one-word response when asked by NBC News whether anything he had heard had changed his mind: "Nope."

On the other hand, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and several other GOP senators told allies and reporters that they were undecided as recently as Wednesday night. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., surprised many when he voted in favor of the trial's constitutionality Tuesday.

Some Republicans told reporters that they would not comment at all until they hear the defense, because their roles are akin to those of jurors in a criminal trial.

Nonetheless, the impeachment managers were playing to an audience beyond the 100 men and women in the Senate chamber, presenting a compelling narrative backed by abundant evidence for those watching on TV or through the news media.

DeGette cited words from a livestream recorded inside the Capitol in which rioters were heard saying: "Our president wants us here. ... We wait and take orders from our president. ... He'll be happy. We're fighting for Trump."

DeGette cited statements from attorneys of some of the rioters who have since been arrested, who said their clients broke into the Capitol specifically because Trump "told them to."

The attorney for Jacob Chansley (also known as Jake Angeli), the so-called "QAnon shaman" who was seen wearing horns, a fur headdress and face paint, said his client "was there at the invitation of the president," DeGette noted.

And she quoted the attorney for Dominic Pezzola, a member of the right-wing Proud Boys extremist group, who said his client breached the building only because he felt Trump "invited us down."

Her remarks were part of a broad effort to build a compelling case that Trump's statements before and at the Jan. 6 "Stop the Steal" rally directly motivated the rioters to storm the Capitol.

Managers went on to play a series of clips of times when Trump explicitly called on his supporters to commit violent acts or expressed support for violent groups, including his telling the Proud Boys during the first presidential debate last fall to "stand back and stand by." They said such incidents proved that Trump has exhibited a "pattern and practice of inciting violence."

As he drew a link to the violence and Trump's penchant for conspiracy theories, Raskin quoted Voltaire: "Anyone who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."

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The managers sought to place the violence in the context of Trump's long history of divisive actions, the law and America's standing on the world stage.

Another manager, Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, said the riot galvanized America's anti-democratic rivals abroad, pointing to examples of Chinese propaganda and Russian officials' celebrating the chaos. He also appealed directly to senators who had served in the military.

"The world is watching," Castro said. "To fail to convict ... would be to forfeit the power of our example as a North Star on freedom, democracy, human rights and, most of all, on the rule of law. And to convict Donald Trump would show America stands with the rule of law, no matter who breaks it."

At another point, Lieu said the fact that several of Trump's Cabinet secretaries resigned and suggested that they were doing so because they felt Trump had contributed to the riot also proved that he had incited the attack.

Lieu quoted former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' statement that "there is no mistaking the impact your rhetoric had on the situation" and former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao's statement that the riot happened "following a rally he addressed." Both resigned after the riot.

At various points while the managers played video clips, several Republican senators appeared to be pained by what they were watching. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, stood, with his hands on his chair, while Cassidy and Ben Sasse, R-Neb., appeared troubled. Susan Collins, R-Maine, crossed her arms tightly as she watched a video.

All are seen as swing voters on the Republican side of the aisle. All 50 Democrats are expected to vote to convict.

President Joe Biden has tried to keep his distance from the trial, but he said Thursday morning that he thought the case was strong enough that it could change some Republican minds.

"I think the Senate has a very important job to complete, and my guess is some minds may have been changed, but I don't know," Biden told reporters in the Oval Office.

The managers' remarks came on their second and final day of opening arguments and one day after they played never-before-seen riveting video of the Capitol riot.

Trump is the first president to have been impeached twice by the House, and he is the first former president to be put on trial in the Senate. He was impeached Jan. 13 on an article charging him with "incitement of insurrection" for his role in the riot.

When opening arguments for both sides are done, senators will be able to question the two sides for four hours by submitting written questions to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the Senate president pro tempore, who is presiding over the trial and who will read them aloud.

Trump's legal team plans to use only one day for arguments and to wrap its presentation by Friday evening, Trump adviser Jason Miller.