House impeachment managers on Wednesday argued that former President Donald Trump spent months priming supporters to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6, in a last-ditch effort to overturn the election results after failed attempts to compel local, state and federal law enforcement and election officials to do so.
They also used never-before-seen Capitol security footage of senators, House members and former Vice President Pence fleeing the chambers during the riot to transport lawmakers back to that moment when many of them were fearing for their lives.
While many Republican senators were moved and angered by the videos, and praised the work of the House managers, few Republicans seemed willing to agree with Democrats’ main point: that Trump was singularly responsible for what unfolded at the Capitol last month.
Here are five key takeaways from the managers’ first day of arguments:
IT COULD HAVE BEEN WORSE
House impeachment managers, relying on Capitol security camera footage, showed just how close some lawmakers came to armed rioters seeking to undo the election.
In one new video, officer Eugene Goodman, the heroic Capitol Police officer who diverted rioters away from the Senate chamber and Pence, is seen sprinting down a Senate hallway, urging Sen. Mitt Romney to return to the chamber instead of retreating to his hideaway office.
“I was very fortunate indeed that Officer Goodman was there to get me in the right direction,” Romney, who did not realize it was Goodman who potentially protected him that day, told reporters before going to thank the Capitol Police officer himself.
Another video showed Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s security detail hustling the New York senator down a tunnel, only to double back to avoid running into rioters under the Capitol. Two officers in his detail were seen closing a door behind him, and barricading it with their bodies.
And in what perhaps were the most searing videos of the day’s arguments, senators, House members and Pence were seen fleeing from the House and Senate chambers just steps away from small groups of Capitol Police officers shielding them from rioters inside the building.
“If the doors to the chamber had been breached just minutes earlier, imagine what they could have done,” Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., said of the potential chaos in the Senate chamber.
Rep. Stacey Plaskett, D-Virgin Island, also revealed for the first time that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who rioters were seeking to attack, was spirited off the Capitol grounds to a secure location during the riot.
“I was kind of oblivious as to how bad it was,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, told reporters.
PENCE THE ‘PATRIOT’
Democrats who have spent years criticizing Pence repeatedly praised him for refusing to accede to Trump’s demands to overturn the election results on Jan. 6.
“That patriotism is also what put the vice president in so much danger on Jan. 6 by the mob sent by our president,” Plaskett said.
Managers drew attention to Trump’s first tweet as the situation worsened at the Capitol – a swipe at Pence for not having “the courage” to overturn the election results – and noted that Trump posted the message two minutes before Pence was forced to evacuate the Senate chamber.
Castro, in his dissection of Trump’s initial response to the riots, played livestream video of rioters responding to Trump’s tweet about Pence – arguing that the president’s initial comments about the riot put a bigger target on the back of the vice president.
“Mike Pence is not a traitor to this country. He is a patriot,” Castro said. “He and his family, who was with him that day, didn’t deserve this, didn’t deserve a president unleashing a mob on them. Especially because he was just doing his job.”
CAN’T MISS THESE TWEETS
For years, reporters have peppered GOP lawmakers with questions about former President Trump’s most incendiary Twitter posts, asking them to respond in the halls of the Capitol in between votes and committee hearings.
“I don’t read Twitter, I only write on it,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., famously told a CNN reporter last year when asked about Trump’s unsubstantiated tweet that a Buffalo protestor injured by police was part of a “set up.”
But for hours, the Senate was a captive audience for the impeachment managers, who read dozens of Trump’s tweets aloud about the November election, the results, and the Jan. 6 riot.
In one instance, Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, pointed to Trump’s Nov. 5 “STOP THE COUNT!” tweet, the same day armed protestors gathered outside the Maricopa County, Arizona, election center, in an effort to force election workers to stop process ballots.
“His words became their actions,” Castro said. “His commands led to their actions.”
The managers said Trump used his tweets to convince supporters to believe his unsubstantiated claims about a stolen election, and provide them with targets and an outlet for their rage: prominent Republicans who acknowledged Joe Biden’s victory, and the Jan. 6 certification of the results on Capitol Hill.
DEMOCRATS PULL PUNCHES AS THEY WORK TO PERSUADE GOP SENATORS
On Jan. 10, just days after the Capitol riot, Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., attacked Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas on Twitter for supporting some House Republicans’ efforts to overturn the election results.
“Forever you will be Ted Coup,” Swalwell said.
He struck a much more conciliatory tone on Wednesday, telling senators that the objections to the electoral college certification was an example of free and open debate in the Capitol.
“What President Trump did was different,” he said.
Castro, who called on Cruz and Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., to resign on Jan. 6, also made an effort to separate Trump’s actions from those of some of his fiercest supporters on Capitol Hill.
While it’s not a surprise that Democrats are working to treat the Senate jurists respectfully as the court their votes to convict Trump, it’s a marked departure from the usual political mudslinging that many of the managers regularly participate in outside of the Senate chamber.
And it’s another example of how Trump’s second impeachment trial is shaping up differently than his first one, when Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and other managers appeared at times to be talking past GOP senators and working to make their case directly to the American people.
FEW NEW REPUBLICANS SIGNAL OPENNESS TO MANAGERS’ ARGUMENT
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, told reporters on Wednesday that she was “angry” and “disturbed” after Democrats’ presentation of the new security footage, and timeline of the Jan. 6 attack.
“We lived this once and that was awful. And we’re now we’re living with a more comprehensive timeline,” she said.
“They’ve done a good job connecting the dots,” Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, a member of GOP leadership, said.
But even as some Republicans praised the managers’ work on Wednesday, and agreed with Democrats that the rioters were out of control on Jan. 6, few new voices joined Murkowski in suggesting that Trump should be held responsible.
“There is no doubt that there was a mob, that the mob had insurrectionist plans in mind,” Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., said. “We do not have the constitutional ability to impeach a person who is not a current officer.”
“When it comes to the people that actually broke in here, it’s their responsibility,” Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., said.
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a senior Republican up for reelection in 2022, likened the Jan. 6 Capitol riot to the largely peaceful protests over police brutality and racial equality over the summer.
“I don’t know what the other side will show from Seattle and Portland and other places, but you’re going to see similar kinds of tragedies there as well,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who was unsparing in his criticism of Trump after the riot subsided on Jan. 6, has kept his silence during the trial.