Despite searing images at Senate impeachment trial, impact on vote or Trump’s legacy remains unclear
By JORDYN PHELPS and BEN GITTLESON, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — The video was graphic and at times hard to watch. The audio of police frantically calling for reinforcements as they were overtaken by the mob was chilling. The diagrams showing how close the rioters came to lawmakers illustrated just how harrowing the day’s assault really was — and how much worse it could have been.
House impeachment managers on Wednesday relied heavily on never-before-seen video and audio to reconstruct the deadly Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol as they forced senators, now sitting as jurors, to relive the horror as part of their case against former President Donald Trump.
But while the Democrats’ emotional appeal may have succeeded in forcing senators to relive the trauma of the day, it remains to be seen if they succeeded in actually winning Republican votes.
And since many of the GOP senators have seemingly already made up their minds — with a vote to acquit Trump widely expected — the Democrats have also been speaking to another audience: the American public.
The searing images and jarring testimony about the deadly attack could well damage Trump politically for years to come and make a potential run for the presidency in 2024 difficult. But with so many Republicans still supportive of the former president, it remains to be seen how much of an impact the trial will have on his political future.
The House impeachment managers showed never-before-seen security video of Vice President Mike Pence and his family being whisked away to safety down a set of stairs, just yards away from rioters who came to the Capitol chanting “Hang Mike Pence.”
Another video showed Sen. Mitt Romney walking down a hall, unknowingly in the direction of the approaching mob, before Capitol Hill Police Office Eugene Goodman came sprinting down the hall to redirect Romney, who then ran in the opposite direction.
And in another video, Democrats drove home just how close the mob came to endangering the entire US Senate.
“You know how close you came to the mob. Some of you, I understand, could hear them,” Rep. Eric Swalwell told the Senate, as he played security footage that showed senators rushing down a hallway after being evacuated from the Senate chamber. “But most of the public does not know how close these rioters came to you. As you were moving through that hallway, I paced it off. You were just 58 steps away.”
And they traced it all back to Trump, labeling him the “inciter-in-chief.”
“The truth is, this attack never would have happened but for Donald Trump. And so they came, draped in Trump’s flag, and used our flag, the American flag, to batter and to bludgeon,” Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., told the Senate.
Democrats traced their accusations of incitement against the former president back months, replaying interview clips and reading tweets from the former president in which he propagated what they labeled the “big lie” that the only way he could lose the election would be fraud.
“He built this mob over many months with repeated messaging until they believed that they had been robbed of their vote and they would do anything to stop the certification,” Swalwell said. “He made them believe that their victory was stolen and incited them so he could use them to steal the election for himself.”
But however compelling and dramatic the Democrats have been in presenting their case, the political reality remains that they need to convince two-thirds of the Senate to conclude that the president’s actions in the months leading up to the insurrection — and his call for supporters to “fight like hell” on the day of the attack — should result in conviction.
Only a handful of Republicans appear to be keeping an open mind.
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, one of only six Republicans who voted Tuesday that that trial has constitutional grounds to move forward, said she was “disturbed” and “angry” after watching Wednesday’s presentation.
“The evidence presented thus far is pretty damning. But I also know that I have an obligation and responsibility and one that I accept to listen to what the defense will present,” Murkowski said.
One of the president’s staunchest allies, Sen. Lindsey Graham, expressed confidence that Wednesday’s arguments were not effective in swaying Republicans toward conviction and instead postured that the exact opposite happened.
“The ‘Not Guilty’ vote is growing after today. I think most Republicans found the presentation by the House Managers offensive and absurd,” he tweeted.
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