Rioters acted on Trump’s order, Democrats say during trial

Democratic prosecutors finished their defence in the impeachment trial of the former president on Thursday, with Trump's lawyers starting on Friday

U.S. House lead impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) pleads the impeachment managers’ case in the impeachment trial of former U.S. President Donald Trump on charges of inciting the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol, on the floor of the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 11, 2021. U.S. Senate TV/Handout via Reuters  EDITORIAL USE ONLY NO COMMERCIAL SALES
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House prosecutors concluded two days of emotional arguments in Donald Trump's impeachment trial on Thursday.

They insisted that the Capitol invaders believed they were acting on "the president's orders" to stop Joe Biden's election, the deadly culmination of the former president's pattern of spreading false and violent rhetoric that will continue to trouble American politics if left unchecked.

The Democratic prosecutors described in stark, personal terms the horror on January 6 in the same Senate chamber where Mr Trump's trial is under way. They displayed the many public and explicit instructions Trump gave his supporters – long before the White House rally that preceded the Capitol attack that occurred as Congress was certifying Mr Biden's victory. Five people died in the chaos and its aftermath.

In videos, some posted to social media by rioters themselves, invaders talked about how they were doing it all for Mr Trump.

“If we pretend this didn’t happen, or worse, if we let it go unanswered, who’s to say it won’t happen again?” said prosecutor Joe Neguse, a representative from Colorado.

Mr Trump’s defence will take the floor on Friday, and the proceedings could finish with a vote this weekend.

The Democrats, with little hope of conviction by two thirds of the evenly divided Senate, are making their most graphic case to the American public, while Mr Trump's lawyers and the Republicans are focused on legal rather than emotional or historic questions, hoping to end it as quickly as possible.

This second impeachment trial, focused on the charge of incitement of insurrection, has echoes of last year’s impeachment and acquittal over the Ukraine issue, as prosecutors warn senators that Mr Trump has shown no limits and will do it again, posing a danger to the civic order unless he is convicted and banned from future office. Even out of the White House, the former president holds influence over a large number of voters.

The prosecutors on Thursday drew a direct line from Mr Trump's repeated comments condoning and even celebrating violence – praising "both sides" after the 2017 outbreak at the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia – and urging his rally crowd last month to go to the Capitol and fight for his presidency. He spread unsubstantiated claims about election fraud, even though there was no evidence of it, and urged his supporters to "stop the steal" of the presidency.

Prosecutors used the rioters’ own videos from that day to pin responsibility on Mr Trump.

“We were invited here,” said one. “Trump sent us,” said another. “He’ll be happy. We’re fighting for Trump.”

“They truly believed that the whole intrusion was at the president’s orders,” said Diana DeGette, a representative from Colorado. “The president told them to be there.”

At the White House, Mr Biden said he believed "some minds may be changed" after senators saw chilling security video footage, including rioters searching for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former vice president Mike Pence.

Mr Biden said he did not watch any of the previous day’s proceedings live but later saw news coverage.

Although most of the Senate jurors seem to have made up their minds, making Mr Trump's acquittal likely, the never-before-seen audio and video released on Wednesday is now a key exhibit as legislators prosecuting the case argue he should be convicted of inciting the siege.

Senators sat riveted as the jarring video played in the chamber on Wednesday. Senators shook their heads, folded their arms and furrowed their brows. Screams from the audio and video filled the chamber.

Videos of the siege have been circulating since the day of the riot, but the graphic compilation offered a moment-by-moment retelling of one of the nation’s most alarming days. And it underscored how dangerously close the rioters came to the nation’s leaders, shifting the focus of the trial from an academic debate about the constitution to a raw recounting of the assault.

The footage showed the mob smashing into the building, rioters engaged in hand-to-hand combat with police and audio of Capitol Police officers pleading for backup. Rioters were seen roaming the halls chanting “Hang Mike Pence,” and eerily singing out “Where are you, Nancy [Pelosi]?”

Mr Trump's lawyer David Schoen said the presentation was offensive and that they "haven't tied it in any way to Trump".

Trump's lawyers call trial 'offensive' and citizens have their say.

Trump's lawyers call trial 'offensive' and citizens have their say.

He told reporters on Thursday at the Capitol that he believed Democrats were making the public relive the event in a way that “tears at the American people” and impedes efforts at unity in the country.

By Thursday, senators sitting through a second full day of arguments appeared fatigued, slouching in their chairs, crossing their arms and walking around to stretch.

One Republican, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, said during a break: “To me, they’re losing credibility the longer they talk.”

The goal of the two-day presentation by prosecutors from the House, which impeached the outgoing president last month a week after the siege, was to cast Mr Trump not as an innocent bystander but rather as the “inciter in chief” who spent months spreading falsehoods and revving up supporters to challenge the election.

They are seeking not only a conviction, but to bar him from future office.

“This attack never would have happened but for Donald Trump,” Madeleine Dean, one of the impeachment managers, said as she choked back emotion. “And so they came, draped in Trump’s flag and used our flag, the American flag, to batter and to bludgeon.”

Mr Trump’s lawyers are likely to blame the rioters themselves for the violence.

Body camera footage shows Capitol Hill officers being beaten by rioters

Body camera footage shows Capitol Hill officers being beaten by rioters

The first president to face an impeachment trial after leaving office, Mr Trump is also the first to be impeached twice.

His lawyers say he cannot be convicted because he is already gone from the White House. Even though the Senate rejected that argument in Tuesday's vote to proceed to trial, the issue could resonate with Senate Republicans eager to acquit Mr Trump without being seen as condoning his behaviour.

While six Republicans joined Democrats to vote to proceed with the trial on Tuesday, the 56-44 vote was far from the two-thirds threshold of 67 votes needed for conviction.