Trump trial video shows Capitol police begging for help and US senators fleeing
Never-before-seen security video shows close calls between pro-Trump mob and US leadership during deadly Capitol riot
Prosecutors unveiled new security video in Donald Trump’s impeachment trial on Wednesday, showing the mob of rioters breaking into the Capitol, smashing windows and doors and searching for former vice president Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as overwhelmed police beg for help on their radios.
In the previously unreleased recordings, House prosecutors showed gripping scenes of how close the rioters were to the country’s leaders, roaming the halls chanting “Hang Mike Pence”, some equipped with combat gear and members of extremist groups among the first inside. Outside, the mob had set up a makeshift gallows.
“It tears at your heart and brings tears to your eyes.
Senator Mitt Romney
At one point, the video shows police shooting into the crowd through a broken window, killing a San Diego woman, Ashli Babbitt.
The vice president, who had been presiding over a session to certify Joe Biden’s victory over Mr Trump – thus earning Mr Trump’s censure – is shown being rushed to safety, where he sheltered in an office with his family about 30 metres from the rioters. Ms Pelosi was moved from the complex while her staff hid behind doors in her suite of offices.
Police, overwhelmed by the mob, frantically announce “we lost the line” and urge officers to head to safety. One officer is seen being crushed by the mob and prosecutors said another suffered a heart attack. One later died.
Alhough most of the Senate jurors have probably already made up their minds on acquittal or conviction, they sat riveted as video showed the rioters taking over the chamber where the impeachment trial is now being held. Screams from the audio filled the chamber.
“They did it because Donald Trump sent them on this mission,” said House prosecutor Stacey Plaskett, the Democratic delegate representing the Virgin Islands.
“President Trump put a target on their backs and his mob broke into the Capitol to hunt them down.”
The presentation opened the first full day of arguments in the trial as prosecutors argued that Mr Trump was no “innocent bystander” but the “inciter in chief” of the deadly Capitol riot, spending months spreading unsubstantiated claims about the election and building a mob of supporters primed for his call to stop Mr Biden’s victory.
The House Democrats showed evidence from the former president himself – hundreds of Trump tweets and comments that culminated in his January 6 rallying cry to go the Capitol and “fight like hell” to overturn his defeat. Mr Trump then did nothing to stem the violence and watched with glee, they said, as the mob ransacked the building. Five people died.
The senators on Wednesday saw for the first time the detailed security video of the break-in and heard grim emergency calls from Capitol police.
“To us, it may have felt like chaos and madness, but there was a method to the madness that day,” said Jamie Raskin, the lead prosecutor, who pointed to Mr Trump as the instigator.
“And when his mob overran and occupied the Senate and attacked the House and assaulted law enforcement, he watched it on TV like a reality show. He revelled in it.”
In one scene, a Capitol Police officer redirects Senator Mitt Romney down a hallway to avoid the mob. The same officer, Eugene Goodman, was praised as a hero for having lured rioters away from the Senate doors.
“It tears at your heart and brings tears to your eyes,” Mr Romney said after watching the video. He said he did not realise how close he had been to danger.
The day’s proceedings unfolded after Tuesday’s emotional start that left the former president fuming when his attorneys delivered a meandering defence and failed to halt the trial on constitutional grounds. Some allies called for yet another shake-up to his legal team.
Mr Trump is the first president to face an impeachment trial after leaving office and the first to be twice impeached. He is charged with “incitement of insurrection”, although his defence lawyers say his speech before the riot is protected by the First Amendment and that his words were not meant to be taken literally.
The prosecutors are arguing that Mr Trump’s words were part of “the big lie” – his relentless efforts to sow doubt about the election results. Those began long before the votes were tabulated, revving up his followers to “stop the steal”, although there was no evidence of substantial fraud.
Mr Trump knew very well what would happen when he took the microphone at the outdoor White House rally that day, almost to the hour that Congress gavelled in to certify Biden’s win, said Joe Neguse, a representative from Colorado.
“This was not just a speech,” he said.
Mr Trump’s supporters were prepped and armed, ready to advanceon the Capitol, Mr Neguse said. “When they heard his speech, they understood his words.”
Security was extremely tight on Wednesday at the Capitol, which was fenced off with razor wire and patrolled by National Guard troops.
The difficulty facing Mr Trump’s defence team became apparent from the start as they leaned on the process of the trial rather than the substance of the case against the former president. They said the constitution does not allow for impeachment after a president has left the White House.
Even though the Senate rejected that argument in Tuesday’s vote, allowing the trial to proceed, the legal 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, the 56-44 vote was far from the two-thirds threshold of 67 votes that would be needed for conviction.
Minds did not seem to be changing, even after the graphic video.
“I’ve said many times that the president’s rhetoric is at times overheated, but this is not a referendum on whether you agree with everything the president says or tweets,” said Ted Cruz, a senator who was among those leading the effort to challenge the Electoral College tally certifying the election result. “This is instead a legal proceeding.”
Earlier, Josh Hawley, another senator who led the election challenge, said: “Nothing new here, for me, at the end of the day.”
As the country grows numb to the Trump era’s shattering of civic norms, the prosecutors sought to remind senators and the nation how extraordinary it was to have a sitting US president working to discredit the election.
In hundreds of tweets, remarks and interviews as far back as spring and summer, Mr Trump was spreading unsubstantiated claims about the election and refusing to commit to the peaceful transfer of power once it was over, they said.
Mr Trump’s second impeachment trial is expected to diverge from the lengthy, complicated affair of a year ago. In that case, Mr Trump was charged with having privately pressured Ukraine to dig up dirt on Mr Biden, then a Democratic rival for the presidency. It could be over in half the time.
Updated: February 11, 2021 06:20 PM