Entering day two of the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump, the Democratic managers promised to show never-before-seen video and audio footage of the deadly 6 January insurrection at the US Capitol that would demonstrate just how much worse it all could have been.
The new footage — much of it from inside the Capitol — was haunting.
If not for the quick thinking of US Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman, who diverted the pro-Trump mob away from the Senate chamber as lawmakers and vice president Mike Pence were being evacuated, the death toll could have included those very same senators and members of their families.
Other USCP officers on the House side of the Capitol delayed the mob from reaching that chamber’s doors as hundreds of lawmakers, journalists and staffers ducked for cover. They eventually cleared a path for them to evacuate.
“As horrific as it was,” said impeachment manager Eric Swalwell, “we all know that awful day could have been so much worse. The only reason it was not was because of the extraordinary bravery of the men and women of the Capitol Police and the Metropolitan Police Department.”
Yet the managers’ best argument on Wednesday that Mr Trump was the one who incited that violence was their skilfully mapped-out presentation of the ex-president’s own words: his actions and statements — public for months — leading up to, during, and after the riot.
In his own words
Mr Trump dropped dot after dot after dot of evidence that he had whipped his supporters into a fury in the weeks and months prior to 6 January, the managers argued.
For hours on Wednesday, all the Democrats had to do was connect these dots, chronologically and thematically.
During the first half of their presentation on Wednesday, they played clips of his speeches not just from the day of the riot, but as far back as April, when he told reporters at the White House the only way he could lose the 2020 election was if it was marred by election fraud.
“I have to see. Look, you — I have to see. No, I’m not going to just say ‘yes.’ I’m not going to say no. And I didn’t last time either,” the then-president told Fox News’ Chris Wallace in an interview from June 2020, played by the managers on Wednesday.
Impeachment managers Madeleine Dean, Ted Lieu, and Stacey Plaskett presented dozens of other clips and screenshots of the the former president proclaiming to angry crowds and his Twitter army that he’d won by a “landslide” and that they had to “fight” to “stop the steal”.
Seen individually, each of the clips could be dismissed as the frivolous ramblings of an incumbent in the middle of a heated campaign for re-election — as they were by most Republican politicians for months.
But as Mr Trump’s baseless warnings of a “stolen election” before November morphed into (still baseless) accusations that it actually was stolen after Joe Biden was declared the winner, the lame-duck president’s constituents began taking his words literally when he urged them to “fight like hell” for their country.
The impeachment managers skilfully spliced together clips of the ex-president’s speeches, tweets, and public comments demanding that election officials stop counting votes in states where he was winning or keep counting votes in states where he was losing.
Those proclamations were accompanied by other video clips and news reports of the former president’s supporters intimidating those same election workers their leader had targeted, state officials in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, and elsewhere.
Mr Trump never disowned his supporters’ actions. He encouraged them, the managers argued.
Trump knew the mob's intentions
Not only did Mr Trump spend his last months in office sowing distrust in the election results, the managers showed, but he knew many of his most ardent supporters had violence on their minds.
In fact, he had previously encouraged and endorsed such violence, in full public view.
“I LOVE TEXAS,” the ex-president tweeted in the days leading up to the election, posting a video from 30 October of a fleet of cars with Trump flags menacing a bus full of Biden campaign aides and surrogates.
Ms Plaskett explained that the some of the drivers of the pro-Trump vehicles had tried to run the bus off the road.
On the debate stage with Mr Biden in September, Mr Trump told the Proud Boys, a militant right-wing group that supports him, to “stand back and stand by”.
The comment quickly became the organisation’s “official slogan”, Ms Plaskett said.
“Donald Trump knew the people he was inciting, he saw the violence that they were capable of. And he had a pattern and practice of praising and encouraging that violence. Never, ever condemning it,” she said.
Day of the riot
By 6 January, a day that Mr Trump had promised his supporters on Twitter would be “wild”, the then-president’s supporters had demonstrated time and again that they were willing to take action against the public officials who were following their constitutional duty to carry the 2020 election to its conclusion.
So when he said the words “fight” or “fighting” more than 20 times over the course of his speech on the National Mall that day before sending them up to the Capitol, the mob — groomed for months — did just that. (Mr Trump, Ms Dean noted, made a reference to “peaceful” protest or “non-violence” just once.)
"They came, draped in Trump’s flag, and used our flag, the American flag, to batter and to bludgeon," Ms Dean said, fighting through tears, voice quavering.
"And at 2.30, I heard that terrifying banging on those House chamber doors."
She concluded: "The truth is, this attack never would have happened but for Donald Trump."
But the impeachment managers’ presentation did not stop there.
They forced senators to relive for themselves Mr Trump’s public video statements and tweets during and after the riots — comments that underscored how he saw 6 January as a day of triumph, something to “celebrate”, as one of the impeachment managers put it.
Instead of urging his throngs of supporters back after they had overpowered the police perimeter, Mr Trump sat on his hands, reportedly “delighted” about the attack that forced the Mr Pence and his family to flee for its life.
"He could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence,” impeachment manager Joe Neguse said. “It was his duty as commander-in-chief to stop the violence, and he alone had that power, not just because of his unique role, but because they believed that they were following his orders.”
The president spent the afternoon calling senators to urge them to overturn the election results. For hours, he could not be prevailed upon to issue a public statement telling his supporters to go home.
Meanwhile, as the managers later showed in gruesome video footage on Wednesday, police officers on the ground were being pummelled by the rioters. One was tased, causing him to have a heart attack. Some were trampled after being hit with bear spray.
“[January 6] is a day that will live in disgrace in American history,” lead impeachment manager Jamie Raskin said to begin Wednesday’s proceedings. “That is unless you ask Donald Trump.”
The Maryland Democrat went on to display a screenshot of Mr Trump’s tweet from 6.01pm on the day of the insurrection, more than four hours after rioters had initially broken into the Capitol.
The president was taking a victory lap:
“These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & peace. Remember this day forever!” he wrote in a tweet that was quickly wiped from the social media platform.
Mr Raskin explained how that tweet — along with all the other evidence lawmakers were to see on Wednesday — showed that Mr Trump had envisioned how the day would go, that he celebrated it when it had concluded, and that it was the logical culmination of his months-long crusade to undermine faith in the election results.
“He incited this attack,” Mr Raskin said. “And he saw it coming.”
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies