Heads in hands, a whisper, a sigh: Senators react as violent footage of Capitol riot plays at Trump impeachment trial

The Senate chamber went quiet Wednesday as the first pieces of never-before-seen video footage were shown on the second day of the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump.

All turned their heads, almost in one motion, as the first radio transmissions and video footage played loudly on a pair of TVs in the chamber. Nearly every senator sat attentively, while some, including Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., readjusted their chairs to get a better view.

Several senators in the back row of the chamber, including Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., stood for several minutes to see the screens.

House impeachment managers, who are acting as prosecutors in the trial, played video of rioters brawling with police outside the Capitol, smashing windows to climb inside, and rampaging through the halls with bats and poles looking for Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Rioters erected a gallows outside the Capitol and chanted “Hang Mike Pence” and “Bring out Pence.” As they swarmed throughout the building, they shouted that they were looking for Pelosi, calling her “crazy Nancy.”

The impeachment managers also showed security footage of staffers rushing to safety, locking themselves in rooms just minutes before rioters entered Pelosi’s offices.

‘They’re pounding on the doors’

Stacey Plaskett, a House impeachment manager and Democratic delegate from the Virgin Islands, played audio from one of Pelosi’s aides pleading in a whisper for help in a phone call after staff members barricaded themselves in a conference room.

Stacey Plaskett, delegate of the U.S. Virgin Islands, arrives to the Senate chamber Wednesday for the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump. Plaskett is one of the nine House Democratic impeachment managers serving as prosecutors.

“They’re pounding on the doors trying to find her,” the staffer whispered into the phone.

Senators mostly remained motionless. Some jotted down notes, others leaned in toward the screens and quite a few whispered to one another as more and more videos were shown.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, held her head between her hands several times as the clips continued to play. She at times wrote down notes.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., shook her head several times. During one clip that showed rioters banging on the doors of the Capitol, she held her hands on her stomach and to her chest for several moments, appearing to take a deep breath.

Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., who was sworn in after the attack, continued staring at the screen even when it turned black after several clips played. He bowed his head for several moments and had his hands clasped.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., crossed her arms and shook her head several times after Democrats played footage of a man who stormed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office.

‘Reinforces my belief that it was a terrible day for our country’

Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., pointed to the screen as impeachment managers played a clip showing Pence being evacuated from the chamber. Rounds whispered to several senators seated nearby.

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., who got emotional at one point while the footage aired, said seeing the videos again brought back the memories of that day. He said it wasn’t a particular clip or moment that led to him getting upset, but a person’s escape from the building when it was being attacked.

“There’s a lot of emotion,” he said. “It’s tough to be able to walk through that. That was a horrible day for the entire country.” Lankford said he talked with his seatmate, Sen. Daines, R-Mont., about the footage recounting one person’s escape, someone Lankford said he’s close with but wouldn’t name.

“I was recounting the story to Steve of their particular escape. And it just came over me again, thinking that through for them,” he said.

​Collins said the presentations were “riveting” and “compelling.”

“That just reinforces my belief that it was a terrible day for our country,” she said.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said it was “very troubling to see the great violence that our Capitol Police and others are subjected to.”

“It tears at your heart and brings tears to your heart eyes, that was overwhelmingly distressing and emotional,” Romney said.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said he went to talk to staff and aides after watching the footage, explaining “it was reliving a horrible day.”

“I talked to some of the staff afterwards and, you know, for them they were worse position than we were,” he said. “I talked to some leadership staff and they were, you know, in their offices and people were banging on the doors. And that was a lot more frightening.”

Portman, who voted the trial was unconstitutional, said he was still keeping his mind open.

“I’m impressed with the presenters,” he said. But, he added, “I think it’s a bad precedent to be convicting former presidents, private citizens.”

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