The first day of the House impeachment managers’ case against Donald Trump was designed to appeal to the senators who will decide whether to convict the former president. But the second and final day of their main presentation is expected to target a different audience: the American people.
The prosecutors know that persuading 17 Republican senators to join all Democrats in convicting Trump is a long shot, so they’ve designed a case that they hope will lead to an arguably harsher punishment: a dramatic fall in public support for Trump that will prevent him from ever holding office or power over the electorate again.
“There’s two pathways towards accountability here,” Delaware Democratic Sen. Chris Coons said. “One of them is a conviction in the Senate. The other is persuading the American people that the conduct of President Trump, up to, during and after Jan. 6 disqualifies him from office, which is a decision ultimately in their hands.”
House impeachment managers spent the first day of their case laying out the timeline of Trump’s “big lie” about the election results and a building pressure campaign that culminated in his Jan. 6 rally urging his supporters to go down to the Capitol to “fight” certification of those results.
In addition to Trump’s words, the managers presented detailed and graphic video evidence, as well as legal affidavits, of Trump’s supporters — many echoing his words—- breaking into the Capitol, looking for Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, threatening to “hang” the former and “shoot” the latter. The prosecutors detailed how the situation could have been much worse and lawmakers could have been injured or killed.
That part of the managers’ case was primarily tailored to sink in with the senators, with several members of the House team speaking directly to senators’ experiences being close to the rioters and, for many, direct targets of Trump’s ire.
‘The terrible toll’
The impeachment mangers will focus Thursday on “the terrible toll that it took and the further support of his role in assembling, inflaming and inciting the insurrectionists,” a senior aide working on the impeachment managers’ team told reporters Wednesday.
The Jan. 6 insurrection not only affected senators and House lawmakers, but it also traumatized others who work in the Capitol, including members’ staff, journalists, custodians, food service workers and others.
Among those affected are the Capitol Police, who fought back the rioters. More than 100 officers on the force were injured. One officer died of his injuries, while two police officers responding to the riot subsequently died by suicide.
"I think a lot of people were not aware of the officers and everything that they’ve done. They saw the videos of some of the damage, they heard about the deaths of course, but I don’t think they understood just how horrible it was until you watch it through their eyes for a number of hours,” Senate Rules and Administration Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., whose panel oversees Capitol Police, said. “It’s one thing to see a snippet on TV for a few minutes and look away, or to hear about a suicide. And then you start to wonder why that suicide happened.”
If the House managers tell those stories on Thursday, that could touch members of the public in ways that it likely won’t reach Republican senators, who experienced the events themselves and have heard countless stories from officers, colleagues, staff and Capitol workers about Jan. 6.
“I think they are very aware — and they should be — of the court of public opinion, which is watching here,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said of the managers. “And their verdict is going to be every bit as important as the verdict of the Senate.”
Public trials — and there’s perhaps no trial more public than a Senate impeachment proceeding aired live on television — provide a “powerful” service by airing evidence in a comprehensive manner, Blumenthal said.
“It changes the views the public has of public officials like Donald Trump," Blumenthal said. “He’ll be convicted by history, even if he’s not convicted here.”
’After the American public sees...’
Many Republicans reacted to the first day of the managers’ presentation with disgust over the events of Jan. 6, saying the rioters should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
But even as they learned for the first time how close they came to the insurrectionists, many declined to blame Trump for inciting the attack.
“The question isn’t that there was an awful thing that happened here on Jan. 6 and people should be held accountable. No one questions that,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.
“I do think that a lot of that drama is to perhaps to influence our constituents to influence us,” Cramer said. “But senators are, you know, pretty analytical as a matter of just a profession, so it doesn’t affect me in terms of how I feel about the president’s culpability. That’s what's on trial.”
Republicans acknowledge that managers are trying to sway the public as much as they are the Senate, especially with Trump potentially running for president again in 2024. And the House managers may ultimately succeed there, even if they do not get enough Republicans to join the Democratic caucus to convict Trump.
“After the American public sees the whole story laid out here — not just in one snippet on this day and another on that, but this whole scenario that has been laid out before us — I just, I don’t see how Donald Trump could be re-elected to the presidency and I just don't see that,” Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski said.
Murkowski is one of only six Republican senators who voted Tuesday that trying a former president is constitutional. She has suggested she is open to convicting Trump.