Senators often saw themselves in the evidence Wednesday while House impeachment managers made their case against Donald Trump, on new security footage from the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol Building or in the tweets of the former president on trial for inciting that insurrection.
California Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell played a remarkable series of videos from inside the Capitol that day. They captured senators scrambling out of the chamber through a back door, fleeing down a hall just 58 steps from a police line that held back the mob, and Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York turning and running from a near encounter.
Swalwell showed photos of two insurrectionists in the Senate chamber with plastic handcuffs and said, “Imagine what they could have done with those flex-cuffs.” He described the text message he sent his wife from the House chamber amid the chaos: “I love you and the babies. Please hug them for me.”
He added, “I imagine many of you sent a similar message.”
The House impeachment team, over more than six hours, often made direct appeals to senators to use their own experiences, both as experienced politicians and victims of the attack, to evaluate whether Trump should be convicted of incitement of insurrection.
Maryland Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin, the leader of the House impeachment team, called the trial “a moment of truth for America.” But faced with a Republican caucus that appears unlikely to convict their party’s de facto leader, the team challenged the senators in both subtle and overt ways to have a moment of truth for themselves.
The team of House Democrats spent all day meticulously building a case that Trump had spent months setting up a “big lie” that fraud cost him the 2020 election, weeks calling for supporters to “stop the steal” and days pressuring members of Congress and other officials to participate in his campaign to stop President Joe Biden’s win.
When it came to the claims of election fraud, impeachment manager Joaquin Castro asked senators to compare it to their own behavior.
“Can you imagine telling your supporters that the only way you could possibly lose is if an American election was rigged and stolen from you?” the Texas Democrat asked. “And ask yourself whether you’ve ever seen anyone at any level of government make the same claim about their own election.”
Twice, the impeachment team displayed a Trump tweet from the day before the attack that he said showed Trump’s pressure campaign against members of Congress to overturn the election, which mentioned Sens. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, John Thune of South Dakota and John Cornyn of Texas.
The tweet described the “weak and ineffective RINO section of the Republican Party” and how thousands of people were pouring into Washington who “won’t stand for a landslide election victory to be stolen.”
When the tweet was read, Cornyn looked directly at Thune. But Thune stared straight ahead at the screen. McConnell was stoic. He didn’t move.
All three were among the 44 Republicans who on Tuesday voted that the impeachment was unconstitutional, a likely sign that not enough Republicans will eventually vote to convict Trump.
“I think they were very effective,” Thune told reporters about the presentation. “And I’ll see what kind of arguments the defense put out. But yeah, I’m going to listen and draw conclusions when it’s all done.”
South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of Trump’s most vocal supporters, called the arguments “absurd” and said that “there’s more votes for acquittal after today than there was yesterday.” He called the House presentation “very hypocritical” because they had a different reaction to “rioters when they came to my house.”
Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt echoed that sentiment. “I mean, you have a summer where people all over the country are doing similar kinds of things,” Blunt told reporters. “I don’t know what the other side will show from Seattle and … other places, but you’re going to see similar kinds of tragedies there as well.”
House managers need to convince 17 Republicans to join all 50 Democrats to convict Trump, a high hurdle.
But the trial shows how the impeachment team is asking senators to consider the evidence through their own political lens, such as being on the receiving end of the Trump tweets.
“Let me be very clear. The president wasn’t just coming for one or two people or Democrats like me. He was coming for you, for Democratic and Republican senators,” California Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu said about the tweet. “He was coming for all of us. Just as the mob did at his direction.”
And Lieu also showed a series of tweets that mocked Republicans as the “surrender caucus” or called them “pathetic,” including one on Dec. 24 that said McConnell and other Republican senators were not fighting against the Democrats, and “I will NEVER FORGET!”
“President Trump was telling you that you owe him, that if you don’t help them fight over the results he will never forget and that there will be consequences,” Lieu said. “These are threats, just like the threats he made to state and local officials.”
Other appeals to Republicans were less direct, such as when Del. Stacey Plaskett of the Virgin Islands described how Vice President Mike Pence had told Trump that his oath to the Constitution meant he could not do as the president asked and unilaterally send election results back to states.
“Vice President Pence had the courage to stand against the president, tell the American public the truth and uphold our Constitution,” Plaskett said. “That is patriotism.”
“I imagine many of you sitting here today picked up your phone to try to reach someone at the White House to ask for help,” Cicilline said.
Trump on that call reportedly asked Tuberville to make additional objections to the counting of the Electoral College votes to further delay the election results — just as Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford had to stop speaking on the Senate floor, Cicilline said.
“He was not calling to assess the security threats, or check on the well-being of you or anyone else,” Cicilline told the senators.
“The only action we know he took, an hour into this attack, was to call Sen. Tuberville to ask him to delay the certification,” Cicilline said. “This is as clear evidence I have ever seen as to what Donald Trump cared about that day.”
The day ended on a sour note for the House impeachment team when it comes to winning over Republicans, as a visibly agitated Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee, whom the team cited as the source of information about the Tuberville call, said it was false and asked that it be struck from the record.
After confusion on the floor, Raskin said Cicilline based his account on a newspaper article and that the team would withdraw that information as “much ado about nothing because it’s not critical in any way to our case.”
Lee replied: “You’re not the one being cited as a witness, sir.”
Katherine Tully-McManus, Lindsey McPherson and Dean DeChiaro contributed to this report.