March 4, 2021

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Trump impeachment trial updates: Previously unseen graphic video shows how close rioters came to senators

8 min read


Donald Trump

The second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump will run through the weekend after all.


Mandel Ngan/Getty Images

Warning that their presentation would include videos containing “graphic and disturbing violence,” lead impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin continued to lay out the case against former President Donald Trump on Wednesday. Relying on never-before-seen footage, radio dispatches between Capitol police, first-hand accounts, posts on social media and affidavits, the House impeachment trial managers argued that Vice President Mike Pence was the main target of the insurrection after he refused to overturn the election results.

Walking the Senate through the attack on Jan. 6, Rep. Stacey Plaskett said Pence was not evacuated until around 2:26 p.m. ET the day of the insurrection. Rioters came very close to finding Pence — who was sheltering in the building with his family — as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, also a major target in the attack on the Capitol, Plaskett said. 

“President Trump put a target on their backs, and his supporters broke into the Capitol to hunt them down,” Plaskett said on the Senate floor.

Plaskett and Rep. Eric Swalwell used video footage and imagery Wednesday afternoon showing how the attack unfolded, and pointed to weapons carried and tactical gear worn by rioters. The insurrectionists were just 58 steps away from senators, Swalwell said, and broke into the Senate chamber within minutes of the senators being evacuated.

Watch: Trump impeachment trial stream: Day 2 arguments

The historic trial against the former president — the first to ever be impeached twice — takes an unprecedented format, from the presiding official to the trial’s expected length and use of supporting video and tweets (more on that below), to the fact that while Trump is represented by lawyers, he himself is nearly a thousand miles away.

At the heart of the trial is Trump’s role in inciting insurrection in the form of the Jan. 6 riot at the US Capitol, which left five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer. In a speech that day in front of the White House, Trump urged supporters to march to the Capitol. The siege of the Capitol building sought to overturn the 2020 election results and halt the process of confirming Joe Biden’s win in the Electoral College. Biden was confirmed after the riot and later inaugurated on Jan. 20.

Keep reading for everything you need to know about the graphic video shown, Trump lawyers’ defense strategy, Trump’s current whereabouts during the trial, who’s presiding, what Tuesday’s day-end vote means and what could happen next. We’ll update this story with Wednesday’s most notable developments, and the biggest takeaways of the trial so far. 

Trump impeachment

All eyes are on former President Trump’s historical impeachment trial this week.


James Martin/CNET

What’s happening today?

House impeachment managers, who serve as prosecutors in the Senate trial, continue to present their case that the former president incited the rioters to violence on Jan. 6. 

Here is what’s happened so far on Wednesday:

  • Prosecutors played a collection of video clips and tweets from Trump to argue that in the weeks leading up to the Jan. 6 riot, Trump repeatedly called on his supporters to storm the Capitol.
  • Video clips included Trump supporters repeating Trump’s false claims about the election, that the only way Trump could lose was if the election was stolen. (The election results were certified by former Vice President Mike Pence.)
  • House representatives claimed Trump deliberately used false claims about election fraud to “trigger an angry base to ‘fight like hell‘ to overturn a legitimate election.”
  • Audio and video recording of Trump pressuring state officials to overturn election results that had certified Biden’s win.
  • An at-times emotional presentation detailed the managers’ claim that Trump attempted to pressure Pence and members of Congress to overturn the results on Jan. 6, the day of the election certification.
  • Video including previously unseen security footage showing the attack on the Capitol, as well as mocked up models showing where rioters were in relation to senators, and dispatches between Capitol police.

Graphic videos are a major part of the prosecution

On Day 1, lead House impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin’s emotional presentation began with a disturbing video timeline of the assault on the Capitol, using footage captured around and inside the Capitol building on Jan. 6. The graphic riot video included attacks on police and the fatal shooting of Ashli Babbitt. Raskin, in his opening remarks, spoke of his son Tommy’s death days before the attack, which he described as “the saddest day of our lives,” and spoke on the emotional effects the Capitol attack had on his family, who were with him during the riot.

Raskin and Democratic prosecutors are relying on both widely available and never-before-seen video footage of the riot and other events. The prosecution is using video evidence in conjunction with emotional arguments to paint a picture of Trump’s speeches and actions culminating in the riot, framing both as an assault on democracy.

The trial schedule has already changed

Trump’s impeachment trial was originally going to pause from Friday at 5 p.m. ET until Sunday morning, if a vote did not occur by Friday. On Wednesday, Trump’s defense reportedly withdrew the request, signaling that the trial could extend through Saturday and Sunday, according to The Hill.

This is how the trial will unfold (and here is where to watch on Day 2):

  • Feb. 10, 12 p.m. ET: House of Representatives trial managers will begin arguing their case; prosecutors and defense will have up to 16 hours each to present their arguments, with neither side permitted to present for more than eight hours per day.
  • Feb. 11: The House managers will complete their presentation.
  • Feb. 12 and 13: The defense will make their presentation.
  • Feb. 14, 2 p.m. ET: Senators’ questions.
  • Next week: Closing arguments and vote.
  • If the House impeachment managers want to call witnesses or subpoena documents, there will be two hours of debate by each side followed by a Senate vote on whether to allow this.
  • If witnesses are called, there will be enough time given to depose them, and for each party to complete discovery before testimony is given.
  • Once witnesses and evidence are dealt with, there will be four hours of closing arguments divided evenly between the prosecutors and defense.
  • Lastly will come the vote on conviction or acquittal, for which a two-thirds majority is required.

Trump lawyers’ defense rests on two things 

On Day 1, Trump’s legal team took the stand, relying on a more dispassionate analysis of the Constitution to suggest that the impeachment trial is without merit. The defense is widely expected to counter the prosecution’s emotional arguments with the opposite approach.

“Presidents are impeachable. Presidents are removable. Former presidents are not because they can’t be removed,” Trump attorney David Shoen said. “The Constitution is clear. Trial by the Senate is reserved for the President of the United States, not a private citizen or used-to-be president.”

Raskin countered: “The Constitution makes clear there is no January exception to the impeachment power, that a president can’t commit grave offenses in their final days and escape any congressional response.”

In addition to arguing that the trial is unconstitutional, Trump’s lawyers are also expected to argue that Trump exercised his right to free speech, and that the Capitol Hill rioters acted on their own.

Read more: The 14th Amendment is a cornerstone of Trump’s impeachment on Day 2

Where is Trump during his trial? Will he testify?

Trump on the first day of his trial was in Florida, at his private club Mar-a-Lago, nearly 1,000 miles from Capitol Hill.

The New York Times reported Trump was “furious” with how his lawyers handled the first day, describing the former president as being “frustrated and irate” with attorneys’ often “rambling” performance. Despite his reported frustration with his defense, Trump is not expected to appear at his trial.

Raskin last week sent a letter to Trump’s legal team asking that the former president testify under oath and submit to cross-examination before or during the trial. Trump lawyer Bruce Castor called the request a “publicity stunt” and said his client wouldn’t provide testimony.

Because Trump “immediately rejected” the opportunity to testify in person, the House will allege this decision “supports a strong adverse inference regarding [his] actions and inaction on January 6,” the House pretrial brief says.

6th Republican Senator joins Democrats in test vote

Following the arguments from the two sides, the Senate voted on whether it is constitutional to try a former president. A total of 56 senators voted in favor and 44 against — meaning 6 Republican senators voted to continue the trial along with the 48 Democrats and 2 independents. 

“It was disorganized, random,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Republican from Louisiana, following the proceedings. “[Trump’s lawyers] talked about many things but didn’t talk about the issue at hand … Is it constitutional to impeach a president who’s left office? And the House managers made a compelling, cogent case, and the president’s team did not.”

To convict Trump, 17 Republican senators would need to vote in favor, along with the 48 Democrats and 2 independents, to reach a two-thirds supermajority.

A previous motion on Jan. 27 to declare the trial unconstitutional saw just five Republicans vote with Senate Democrats. On Monday, Republican Sens. Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Pat Toomey were this time joined by Cassidy in voting in favor.

The senator presiding over Trump’s impeachment trial is a juror, too

The US Constitution lays out clear guidelines for impeaching a sitting president: The Supreme Court Chief Justice should preside. Trump’s trial is an unusual case, however, since he is now a private citizen as of Jan. 20.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, the new Senate President Pro Tempore, is presiding. As a senator he is also still expected to be able to vote in the trial. He is also a witness to the Capitol riot. The House is prosecuting the case, and the Senate sits as jury and will ultimately vote to convict or acquit. 

To convict Trump, 67 senators — or two-thirds of the Senate — must vote in favor. Following Biden’s inauguration, the Senate is now made up of 48 Democrats, two independents who caucus with Democrats and 50 Republicans, for an even 50-50 split.

Here’s happens if the Senate either convicts or acquits Trump

If the former president is convicted in the Senate, there will be an additional vote to bar him from running again (per the US Constitution Article 1, Section 3), which would preclude a possible presidential run in 2024. This vote would only require a simple majority, where Vice President Kamala Harris serving as president of the Senate would cast a tie-breaking vote if required.

cnet-impeachment-trial-story-inline-graphic-v3.png

Brett Pearce/CNET

Trump could also be disqualified from the benefits given to former presidents by the Post Presidents Act, including a Secret Service security detail, pension and yearly travel allowance.

According to the US Constitution, impeached presidents also can’t be pardoned.

If acquitted, Trump would have access to all the benefits of a former US president, including the option to run for public office.

More background: Trump’s second Senate impeachment trial: Here’s what could happen

More details on Trump’s impeachment in 2019

Trump was impeached in December 2019 by the House, but the Republican-majority Senate acquitted him at the beginning of 2020.

His first impeachment involved articles accusing Trump of abusing power and obstructing Congress. The issue was Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, including a July 2019 phone call in which he appeared to be using US military aid as a bargaining chip to pressure Ukraine into investigating alleged ties between his political opponent Biden, Biden’s son Hunter and a Ukrainian gas company. The articles also charged Trump with interfering with a House inquiry into the Ukraine matter.





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