WASHINGTON (Reuters) - House Democrats prosecuting Donald Trump’s impeachment trial for inciting the deadly siege of the Capitol played chilling security video on Wednesday showing members of the pro-Trump mob searching the building for his vice president, chanting: “Hang Mike Pence!”
Previously unseen videos showed the view from inside the Capitol as rioters smashed windows and fought with police on Jan. 6, coming within 100 feet (30 m) of the room where Pence was sheltering with his family. The mob had set up a gallows outside.
The footage, which also included body-camera views of brutal attacks on Capitol police, showed Pence and lawmakers being hustled to safety steps ahead of an advancing mob that stormed the building, resulting in the death of five people, including a police officer.
The House of Representatives has charged Trump, a Republican, with inciting an insurrection by exhorting thousands of supporters to march on the Capitol on the day Congress was gathered to certify Democrat Joe Biden’s electoral victory.
Trump’s lawyers argue his rhetoric is protected by the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech and that the trial is politically motivated.
Conviction, while unlikely in the closely divided Senate, could lead to a vote to bar Trump from running for office again
The video footage highlighted the fact that hundreds of Trump supporters who attacked the building in an attempt to stop the peaceful transfer of power targeted Republicans - whose votes would be needed to convict Trump.
House managers prosecuting the case frequently highlighted the threat to Pence. Trump had repeatedly said Pence had the power to stop the certification of the election results, even though he did not.
“The mob was looking for Vice President Pence,” Representative Stacey Plaskett said, narrating footage that showed the crowd chanting: “Hang Mike Pence!” and searching for Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“President Trump put a target on their backs and then his mob broke into the Capitol to hunt them down,” she said.
Democratic Representative Joaquin Castro said that during the rampage, Trump tweeted that Pence “didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done.” A video showed rioters spreading word of Trump’s tweet to one another on bullhorns.
“He further incites the mob against his own vice president, whose life was being threatened,” Castro said.
‘SEEDS OF ANGER’
House managers prosecuting the case also said Trump did little to stop the violence as it spiraled out of control, despite pleas from many Republicans to ask his supporters to stop.
They said he had planted the seeds for the riot by encouraging violence and making false claims the election was stolen long before Jan. 6.
“Trump realized last spring that he could lose the November election and began planting seeds of anger among his supporters by saying he could lose only if it was stolen,” said Representative Joseph Neguse.
Several Republican senators said the security footage was emotional, but many added it did not change their minds.
“He bears some responsibility for what happened that day, but ... that doesn’t mean that impeachment is the right way to address it,” said Senator Marco Rubio, who added he thought the best approach was federal prosecution.
Trump’s lawyers, who will have 16 hours to deliver their side of the argument after the House managers are finished, said the video and other evidence presented by Democrats had not made the case for his culpability.
“I didn’t learn anything that I didn’t already know. We know a mob breached the Capitol and wreaked havoc in the building. I’m waiting for them to connect that up to President Trump and so far that hasn’t happened,” said Bruce Castor, Trump’s lawyer.
‘INCITER IN CHIEF’
Castro cited what he called blatant acts of political intimidation against election workers in states Trump was losing. In Philadelphia, Atlanta and Milwaukee, Castro said, Trump’s supporters tried to use armed force to disrupt the counting of votes.
Time and again, Trump “deliberately encouraged” violence by his supporters, Plaskett said.
“The truth is President Trump had spent months calling on his supporters to march on a specific day, at a specific time, in specific places, to stop the certification,” she said.
Trump’s actions threatened a hallmark of American democracy, the peaceful transfer of power, the Democratic managers said, calling Trump the “inciter in chief.”
A two-thirds majority in the Senate must vote to convict, which means at least 17 Republicans would have to defy Trump’s still-potent popularity among Republican voters. On Tuesday, just six out of 50 Republican senators broke with their caucus to vote that the trial could move ahead even though Trump’s term ended on Jan. 20.
Asked whether Republicans had received direction from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on the vote, Senator Kevin Cramer said the senators would vote their “conscience.”
In an Ipsos poll for Reuters that was released on Wednesday, 47% of respondents said Trump should be convicted, while 40% said he should not, with opinions split along party lines.
The trial in the Senate is not the only probe Trump faces after leaving the White House and losing the presidential protections that shielded him from prosecution.
Prosecutors in Georgia’s biggest county have opened a criminal investigation into Trump’s attempts to influence the state’s election results after he was recorded in a Jan. 2 phone call pressuring the secretary of state to “find” enough votes to overturn his Georgia loss.
The Senate trial could conclude as early as Saturday or Sunday, according to a senior Senate aide.
Trump is the first U.S. president to be impeached twice and the first to face trial after leaving office. His first impeachment trial, which stemmed from his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden, ended in an acquittal a year ago in what was then a Republican-controlled Senate.
Reporting by Susan Cornwell and David Morgan; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan, Makini Brice, Karen Freifeld and Jan Wolfe; Writing by Sonya Hepinstall and John Whitesides; Editing by Scott Malone, Alistair Bell and Peter Cooney
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