House managers say Trump showed a pattern of encouraging violence long before Jan. 6 and remains a threat
WASHINGTON – House managers argued Thursday that former President Donald Trump showed a pattern of glorifying violence against his political enemies, and they warned senators that a failure to convict him of inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol riot would raise the risk of further attacks.
As they wrapped up their arguments in the Senate impeachment trial, the managers, who act as prosecutors, detailed instances when Trump gave rhetorical support to people who committed violent acts and expressed extremist and racist views.
In charting Trump’s history on the national political stage, they played videos of Trump encouraging supporters to attack protesters at his rallies; supporting white nationalists who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia; and criticizing Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who became the subject of a kidnapping plot.
The managers argued that those episodes foreshadowed the riot at the Capitol, where Trump’s supporters said they rampaged at his invitation. Five people died as a result of the mob swarming through the Capitol, ransacking offices and searching for Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
“If we don’t draw the line here, what’s next?” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., the lead House manager. “What makes you think the nightmare with Donald Trump… and violent mobs is over?”
Trump’s defense team begins arguments Friday. The trial could end as early as this weekend, if neither side calls witnesses, after senators ask questions of both sides and after closing arguments.
Trump’s lawyers called the riot repugnant, but they and several Republican allies of the former president said House managers haven’t shown that Trump incited the violence. Many Republicans suggested that chilling videos of the riot haven’t persuaded the required two-thirds majority to convict Trump.
“I’m not a lawyer, but I didn’t see a case there that a prosecutor can make in court against the president,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
Trump’s lawyers argued that he urged a peaceful protest and shouldn’t be blamed for the mob’s actions. His speech to the crowd that later descended on the Capitol was protected by the First Amendment, the lawyers contend.
“They haven’t in any way tied it to Donald Trump. I think it’s offensive, quite frankly,” David Schoen, one of Trump’s lawyers, said.
House managers argued the former president had a history of inflaming his supporters and showed no remorse during the attack on the Capitol. Raskin played videos of a series of Trump rallies where he supported violence.
“These tactics were road tested,” Raskin said. “Jan. 6 was a culmination of the president’s actions, not an aberration from them.”
Video from Oct. 23, 2015, in Miami showed then-candidate Trump’s supporters drag a man across the floor, while Trump says he ratchets up his response to protesters until he becomes “a little more violent.” Video of a rally Nov. 21, 2015, in Birmingham, Alabama, showed supporters grappling with an opponent on the floor.
At a campaign event on Feb. 1, 2016, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Trump said security warned him about tomatoes in the audience.
“If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you?” Trump said. “I promise you I will pay for the legal fees.”
Another video from Trump’s first year in office showed his response after white supremacists marched and chanted, “Jews will not replace us” in August 2017 in Charlottesville. A counterprotester was hit by a car and killed.
“I think there’s blame on both sides,” Trump said. “You have people who were very fine people on both sides.”
House managers argued that Trump knew his encouragement could spur supporters to action, citing a siege at the Michigan Capitol last year by people protesting coronavirus lockdown rules. Raskin compared militants who occupied the Michigan Capitol on April 30 with rioters at the U.S. Capitol because at both events, participants wore Trump caps, carried Confederate flags and wielded weapons and military gear.
“The siege of the Michigan Statehouse was effectively a state-level dress rehearsal for the siege of the U.S. Capitol that Trump incited on Jan. 6,” Raskin said. “It was a preview of the coming insurrection.”
On Oct. 8, the FBI charged 13 men with plotting to storm the Michigan Capitol and kidnap Whitmer. Raskin said the conspirators considered using Molotov cocktails and one of the men charged in the Washington riot was found with a rifle and enough material to make 11 Molotov cocktails.
Raskin said Trump couldn’t bring himself to denounce the plot against Whitmer. Raskin said that case revealed Trump’s knowledge of the unavoidable consequences of his incitement.
House managers argued that Trump’s supporters rioted at his invitation. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., said Trump invited them to the time and date with clear instructions to block Congress from counting the Electoral College votes confirming Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election.
DeGette cited a USA TODAY analysis that found that after Trump urged supporters to the Capitol, use of the phrase “civil war” quadrupled – jumping from 40 in the hour before his speech to 156 in the hour after – on the social media platform Parler. “Time to fight,” one user wrote. “Civil war is upon us.”
Managers played videos of rioters inside the Capitol saying they were invited by Trump.
“We are listening to Trump – your boss,” one man yelled at police in a video. “Let’s call Trump,” a rioter said at a desk with a phone. “He’ll be happy.”
When Trump told insurrectionists to go home in a video tweeted at 4:17 p.m., insurrectionists claimed victory.
“Today is ours. We won the day,” said Jacob Chansley, who wore horns and animal furs in the Capitol and faces federal charges. “That’s right, Donald Trump has asked everyone to just go home.”
Chansley contends he feels duped and wouldn’t have come unless Trump asked.
“They didn’t hide their crimes because they thought they were following orders from their commander in chief,” DeGette said.
“Personally, I do not feel a sense of shame or guilt from my heart from what I was doing,” Texas real estate agent Jennifer Ryan, who was charged federally, said in a video. “I thought I was following my president.”
“Today President Trump told us to ‘fight like hell,’” Troy Smocks posted Jan. 6 on Parler, according to court documents. Trump “said that our cause was a matter of national security.”
Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., said Trump’s support for the rioters was implicit in his failing to respond and his lack of remorse.
“We saw during the attack, as well as in the days after the attack, that this was a president who showed no remorse and took no accountability,” Lieu said. “Donald Trump’s conduct was wrong, it was destructive, dishonorable and un-American.”
Trump’s lawyers said they weren’t aware rioters claimed they were invited by Trump.
“I don’t believe that’s what happened, no,” Trump attorney Bruce Castor said.
Trump’s defense lawyers and Republican senators said he called for a peaceful protest.
“I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard,” Trump said in his speech.
Contributing: Savannah Behrmann