Impeachment Briefing: Retelling the Riot
By Maggie Astor
This is the Impeachment Briefing, The Times’s newsletter about the impeachment investigation. Sign up here to get it in your inbox.
What happened today
The impeachment managers painted a vivid timeline of the past several months, describing Mr. Trump’s efforts to delegitimize the election even before it happened and retelling the events of Jan. 6 in intricate, often painful detail.
The presentation relied on extensive video footage, much of it never before shown publicly, from Capitol security cameras and police officers’ body cameras.
Videos and audio underscored the brutality of the rioters’ actions and showed several moments at which they came closer to hurting lawmakers than was previously known.
The footage and the detailed chronology were intended to reinforce the impeachment managers’ central argument: that Mr. Trump laid the groundwork to delegitimize the election so that his supporters would be primed to fight the results if he lost. The Capitol riot, they said, was the intended and foreseeable outcome of his actions.
Coming up tomorrow: The impeachment managers will continue their presentation, for which they are allowed a total of 16 hours.
New, graphic footage
The impeachment managers presented many previously unseen video and audio clips. Here were some of the most striking moments:
A crowd that was chanting for Vice President Mike Pence’s death inside the Capitol came very close to reaching him. At one point, a group came within 100 feet of the room where Mr. Pence and his family were sheltering.
Officer Eugene Goodman of the Capitol Police, who became famous for diverting rioters away from the Senate chamber, also protected Senator Mitt Romney of Utah. A video clip showed Officer Goodman sprinting down a hallway and turning Mr. Romney away from a group of approaching rioters. Mr. Romney then broke into a run.
Just a few minutes before the rioters breached Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, a group of Ms. Pelosi’s staffers barricaded themselves inside a room. The new footage showed a rioter throwing himself against the door and breaking it down, only to be stymied by a second, interior door. Inside the room, the banging was easily audible as a staffer whispered to the police over the phone.
Richard Barnett, the rioter previously pictured with his feet up on Ms. Pelosi’s desk, was carrying a powerful stun gun in his belt, as seen in a photo the impeachment managers showed.
The managers played several audio clips of police officers saying they had been overrun and were pulling back and telling their supervisors — fear evident in their voices — how serious the situation was. “Give me D.S.O. up here now!” one officer yelled, using an abbreviation to call for backup. “D.S.O.! Multiple law enforcement injuries! D.S.O., get up here!”
The storytelling strategy
The impeachment managers’ exhaustive chronology was a powerful tactic. As Charlie Savage, a Washington correspondent for The Times, put it in our live chat today, the House managers appeared to be “telling a story in chapters”:
Chapter One detailed how Mr. Trump made his followers believe the election had been stolen and summoned them to Washington for Jan. 6, when Congress would be certifying the Electoral College votes. Mr. Trump “assembled the tinder, the kindling, threw on logs for fuel,” Representative Eric Swalwell of California said. “That way, President Trump was ready, if he lost the election, to light the match.”
Chapter Two reconstructed the events of the riot at the Capitol, using extensive maps, graphics and vivid, upsetting audio and videos that clearly showed how lawmakers and police officers were in danger. “That was a mob sent by the president of the United States to stop the certification of an election,” Delegate Stacey Plaskett of the Virgin Islands told the Senate. “President Trump put a target on their backs, and his mob broke into the Capitol to hunt them down.”
Chapter Three shifted the scene to the White House and what Trump was doing — and, most pertinently, not doing, such as condemning and meaningfully trying to stop the riot. “These were Americans from all sides trying to force our commander in chief to protect and defend our country,” Representative David Cicilline of Rhode Island said. “What we know without any doubt is that from the very beginning, the people around Donald Trump lobbied him to take command. What’s also clear is what Donald Trump, our commander in chief did in those initial hours to protect us. Nothing. Not a thing.”
It is not yet clear if the visceral footage swung any Republican votes. But even if Mr. Trump is acquitted, Charlie noted, “there is real value in the House managers’ efforts to put together all the disparate pieces that went into this presentation for history.”
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What You Need to Know
- A trial is being held to decide whether former President Donald J. Trump is guilty of inciting a deadly mob of his supporters when they stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, violently breaching security measures and sending lawmakers into hiding as they met to certify President Biden’s victory.
- The House voted 232 to 197 to approve a single article of impeachment, accusing Mr. Trump of “inciting violence against the government of the United States” in his quest to overturn the election results. Ten Republicans joined the Democrats in voting to impeach him.
- To convict Mr. Trump, the Senate would need a two-thirds majority to be in agreement. This means at least 17 Republican senators would have to vote with Senate Democrats to convict.
- A conviction seems unlikely. Last month, only five Republicans in the Senate sided with Democrats in beating back a Republican attempt to dismiss the charges because Mr. Trump is no longer in office. Only 27 senators say they are undecided about whether to convict Mr. Trump.
- If the Senate convicts Mr. Trump, finding him guilty of “inciting violence against the government of the United States,” senators could then vote on whether to bar him from holding future office. That vote would only require a simple majority, and if it came down to party lines, Democrats would prevail with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tiebreaking vote.
- If the Senate does not convict Mr. Trump, the former president could be eligible to run for public office once again. Public opinion surveys show that he remains by far the most popular national figure in the Republican Party.
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