Emotional testimony, harrowing video and viral trip-ups were among the headline-making parts of the former president's trial for incitement

By Sean Neumann
February 13, 2021 07:00 PM
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Led by lead manager Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), House impeachment managers walk to the Senate Chamber on the first day of former President Donald Trump's second impeachment trial at the U.S. Capitol on February 9, 2021
Led by lead manager Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), House impeachment managers walk to the Senate Chamber on the first day of former President Donald Trump's second impeachment trial at the U.S. Capitol on February 9, 2021
| Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty

Tears, anger and moments of reflection were all to be found at Donald Trump's second impeachment trial this week.

Impeachment managers from the House of Representatives — which last month charged Trump, 74, with "incitement of insurrection" for his conduct before and during the deadly U.S. Capitol attack — relied on extensive video footage and firsthand accounts in what they hoped would be a gripping effort to sway enough Republicans to vote to convict.

Quoting Thomas Paine in his closing, lead impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin said:

"Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered. But we have this saving consolation: The more difficult the struggle, the more glorious in the end will be our victory. Good luck in your deliberations."

They were ultimately unsuccessful, with only seven of the needed 17 GOP senators (nonetheless a historic number of defections from a president's own party) voting against Trump.

His attorneys had alternately argued that his conduct did not constitute incitement and was shielded by the First Amendment (a controversial stance among lawyers and scholars) and that it was unconstitutional to try a former president in the Senate.

Republicans who voted to acquit him — including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who then quickly gave a speech lambasting Trump — agreed.

"No matter how much truly horrifying footage we see of the conduct of the rioters, and how much emotion has been injected into this trial, that does not change the fact that Mr. Trump was innocent of the charges against him," Trump attorney Michael van der Veen said in his closing argument on Saturday.

Nonetheless, Trump's unprecedented second impeachment trial provided a startling recap of last month's Capitol attack, in which five people died as throngs of Trump supporters stormed the building during a joint session of Congress, sending lawmakers into hiding.

Here were some of the biggest moments.

New Security Video Showing How Close Pro-Trump Rioters Came to Reaching Lawmakers

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Mike Pence (masked) is evacuated from the Senate after Donald Trump's supporters breached the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
| Credit: capitol security footage

Previously unseen security footage from inside the Capitol further detailed how former Vice President Mike Pence and other lawmakers reacted after the pro-Trump mob breached the building.

One clip showed Pence, 61, being ushered down a staircase by security while he turned to look out behind him. Another video showed Sen. Mitt Romney turning to run in the other direction after Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman came down a hallway to warn that the rioters were inside.

Other clips, played publicly for the first time, showed security rushing Congress members off to safety — some holding large guns and quickly barricading doors behind them.

"Imagine what they could've done," impeachment manager Rep. Eric Swalwell said, introducing some of the video. "We all know that awful day could've been so much worse."

Rep. Raskin, Others Share Emotional First-hand Accounts

Representative Jamie Raskin, a Democrat from Maryland, speaks in the Senate Chamber in a video screenshot in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021
Rep. Jamie Raskin
| Credit: Senate Television/Bloomberg via Getty

Rep. Raskin provided perhaps the most emotional personal account from the Jan. 6 attack.

During his opening remarks on Feb. 9, the lead impeachment manager showed an edited 13-minute video recap of the deadly attack and then shared how his youngest daughter, Tabitha, and oldest daughter Hannah's husband had come with him to work that day. The day before, the Raskins had buried his son Tommy and the family wanted to provide him support, Raskin said.

Then the Capitol was attacked, forcing his daughter and son-in-law to hide in a colleague's office.

"They thought they were going to die," Raskin said, holding back tears. After being reunited, Raskin said he hugged them and apologized for what happened, promising such violence wouldn't happen again. But Raskin said his daughter told him: "Dad, I don't want to come back to the Capitol."

"Of all the terrible and brutal things that I saw on that day and since then," Raskin said, "that one hit me the hardest."

Mike Lee Contests Against Evidence

Trump Impeachment
Sen. Mike Lee
| Credit: Uncredited/AP/Shutterstock

The first three days of Trump's trial were mostly a solemn review — though not without disruption.

Sen. Mike Lee interrupted impeachment managers' opening arguments Wednesday to ask that details of a phone call he helped facilitate between Trump and Sen. Tommy Tuberville be struck from the record.

Trump had reportedly called Lee by accident during the attack, trying to reach Tuberville to encourage the newly elected Republican senator to continue protesting the election results despite the ongoing attack.

Lee argued the evidence presented was "false" because he did not know the details of the conversation between Tuberville and Trump — though he had previously texted a Salt Lake Tribune reporter and confirmed he handed the phone to Tuberville and stood next to him during the exchange, waiting to get his phone back.

Lee's dispute over the minor piece of evidence confused many lawmakers and set off a brief procedural scramble in the Senate over how to vote on his objection, with some senators not seeming to understand his request.

The impeachment managers eventually agreed to strike the detail from the record in order to move on. "This is much ado about nothing, because it's not critical in any way to our case," Raskin said then.

Trump’s Defense Team Makes Its Case

Bruce Castor, Trump Impeachment Trial
Bruce Castor, Donald Trump's defense attorney
| Credit: AP/Shutterstock

Trump's defense team was a study in contrasts with the impeachment managers, sometimes for the wrong reasons.

Bruce Castor Jr., one of Trump's lawyers, delivered an unfocused and oftentimes confusing argument on Tuesday, lasting nearly an hour. The attorney weaved in-and-out of personal stories loosely tied to the case, told lawmakers about his childhood and made accusations that Democrats were "afraid" of facing Trump in future elections (though he simultaneously complimented the impeachment managers' presentation far as "brilliant.")

David Schoen, another Trump defense attorney, gave a more forceful case for their client, though he seemed to become unusually emotional while reading from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem "The Building of the Ship."

Trump was reportedly angry with his representation while watching on TV in Florida, according to a New York Times report.

A third Trump attorney, van der Veen, handled much of the arguments for him later in the week.

He swerved from the core of the defense case — "They have carried out a grossly unconstitutional effort to punish Mr. Trump for protected First Amendment speech ... an unprecedented action with the potential to do grave and lasting damage" — to his own viral moments, as when he threatened to depose Vice President Kamala Harris and others in his Philadelphia law office, drawing laughter from the Senate chamber.

Impeachment Team Argues Trump Will Incite More Violence If Not Convicted

pro Trump protesters breach Capitol building
Rioters at the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6.
| Credit: Tasos Katopodis/Getty

After days presenting their evidence against Trump, the House impeachment managers argued Thursday the former president was capable of inciting further violence if he was not convicted.

"He will undoubtedly cause future harm if allowed," Rep. Ted Lieu argued.

"This sends exactly the wrong signal to those of us who support the very core of our democratic principles and took a solemn oath to the constitution," Lieu said. "It is time to say enough is enough."

Rep. Joe Neguse echoed that in his own part of Thursday's closing, saying:

"There can be no doubt that the risk of violence was foreseeable. And what did he do in the days leading up to the rally? Did he calm the situation? Ask yourself: Did he call for peace? No. He spread his big lie … that Americans votes were being stolen and that the final act of theft would occur here, at the Capitol."

Stacey Plaskett Makes History

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Del. Stacey Plaskett
| Credit: Senate Television/Bloomberg Getty Images

U.S. Virgin Islands Del. Stacey Plaskett, who does not have voting power in the House, was selected to help present the impeachment case in the Senate — a history-maker in the select group of impeachment managers.

The Brooklyn-born Democratic delegate could not vote with her House colleagues to impeach Trump last month, but she played a notable role in the trial by introducing most of the new video evidence.

"I've learned throughout my life that preparation and truth can carry you far," said Plaskett, 54, adding that it can allow "you to speak truth to power."

An About-Face About Witnesses

Trump Impeachment
Donald Trump's impeachment trial
| Credit: Uncredited/AP/Shutterstock

The former president's impeachment trial concluded on Saturday but that is not how the day began.

Surprising many observers, the Senate's Democratic majority and a handful of Republicans voted to allow witnesses at the trial — which begat questions about which witnesses would be called and when and how much longer the trial would last.

Within hours, however, the senators had reached a new agreement in which the impeachment managers would enter into the record a statement from a Washington Republican representative who said Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had a contentious phone call during the rioting.

The back-and-forth stirred a flurry of social media commentary about the underlying strategy, but it amounted to little.

No witnesses were called and the trial quickly proceeded to closing arguments and a final vote.