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Graphic Video of Capitol Attack Leaves Emotions Raw but May Not Change Votes

By Admin , in Politics , at February 11, 2021

The terror of that day felt palpably real again as senators sitting in judgment of Donald J. Trump were forced to relive the first mass siege of the Capitol since British invaders ransacked the building in 1814.

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Delegate Stacey Plaskett of the Virgin Islands presented a series of previously unseen security videos and audio recordings from the Capitol riot at the impeachment trial.Senate Television, via Associated Press

It was ghastly to watch, but that was the point. A rampaging crowd threatening death as protesters hunted the vice president and speaker of the House. Senators spinning around midstep to run for their lives. Staff members barricading themselves in an office as attackers pounded on the door. Overwhelmed police officers retreating from rioters, desperately calling for help.

It seems safe to assume that never in American history has such gut-churning video footage been shown on the floor of the Senate, where matters of great weight have been debated but hardly brought home in such a visually powerful way. The images shown in former President Donald J. Trump’s impeachment trial on Wednesday were all the more resonant because some of the jurors themselves were onscreen.

The display of never-before-seen video from Capitol security cameras, along with newly disclosed police dispatch audiotapes, brought the mob assault of Jan. 6 back to life as mere words from the House managers prosecuting Mr. Trump never could. The terror of that day felt palpably real all over again as senators sitting in judgment of the former president were forced to relive the first mass siege of the Capitol since British invaders ransacked the building in 1814.

The emotions inside and outside the Senate chamber were raw as the sun set on Wednesday evening after the House managers sought to use the montage of disturbing pictures to drive home their case against Mr. Trump. Some current and former senators struggled to regain control after watching, which was exactly the reaction that the managers were trying to generate.

“I’m angry, I’m disturbed, I’m sad,” Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican of Alaska who has been critical of Mr. Trump’s actions, told reporters afterward. Even after living through the attack on the Capitol that day, she said, she found the video shown by the managers eye-opening. “I knew what it meant to be running down this hallway with my colleagues. I wasn’t fully aware of everything else that was happening in the building.”

But it was not clear that it would change the overall dynamics of a trial governed largely by partisan divisions, with most Republicans still backing Mr. Trump and likely to block the two-thirds vote required for conviction. Several of his Republican allies said afterward that they too found the video images distressing but did not consider it the former president’s fault.

“Today’s presentation was powerful and emotional reliving a terrorist attack on our nation’s capital,” said Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas. “But there was very little said about how specific conduct of the president’s satisfies the legal standard” of convicting him of high crimes and misdemeanors.

As former Senator Doug Jones, Democrat of Alabama, wryly described his onetime Republican colleagues on Twitter, “Apparently shaken, but not stirred.”

There was a lot to be shaken about. The footage from Capitol security cameras showed Vice President Mike Pence, who had alienated Mr. Trump’s supporters by refusing to try to overturn the election as the president had demanded, being rushed with his family by Secret Service officers down a staircase to escape invaders calling for his death. Young aides to Speaker Nancy Pelosi were shown scrambling into an office and barricading themselves inside just minutes before the mob arrived and tried to break down the door.

Other clips showed Eugene Goodman, a Capitol Police officer, facing the mob alone and encountering Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, and warning him about the danger, prompting him to abruptly spin around and run the other way. Likewise, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, was seen being led away by his security detail only to suddenly realize they were heading toward the mob, forcing them to turn around and race in the opposite direction.

“They were within 100 feet of where the vice president was sheltering with his family, and they were just feet away from the doors of this chamber where many of you remained at that time,” Stacey Plaskett, a Democratic delegate from the Virgin Islands and one of the House impeachment managers, told the senators sitting as jurors.

Vice President Mike Pence is shown being evacuated from the Senate chamber in security footage from the breach of the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Senate Television, via Associated Press

She and other managers played police dispatch audio recordings and cited legal filings, social media postings and videos to make clear that the rioters posed a serious danger to Mr. Pence, Ms. Pelosi and other lawmakers as well as to police officers, some of whom sound nearly panicked.

“Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!” the crowd could be heard chanting. Outside the Capitol, where a gallows had been set up, others called out, “Bring out Pence!” One rioter taped a video saying, “He’s a total treasonous pig.”

They likewise were searching for Ms. Pelosi, and Ms. Plaskett pointed out that the intruder famously photographed sitting at a desk in her office was actually carrying a 950,000-volt stun gun. “Where are you, Nancy?” some of the rioters called out. “We’re looking for you!”

To make the point vivid, the managers created a graphic representation of the Capitol using menacing red dots to show the progress of the mob as it invaded the building and approached the chambers where senators and House members were meeting to count the Electoral College votes ratifying the victory of Joseph R. Biden Jr. over Mr. Trump.

“Again, that is a mob that was sent by the president of the United States to stop the certification of an election,” Ms. Plaskett told the Senate. “The vice president, the speaker of the House — the first and second in line to the presidency — were performing their constitutional duties presiding over the election certification and they were put in danger because President Trump put his own desires, his own need for power, over his duty to the Constitution and our democratic process.”

“President Trump,” she added, “put a target on their backs and his mob broke into the Capitol to hunt them down.”

The video footage was the culmination of a methodical presentation by the managers arguing that Mr. Trump’s incitement of the insurrection began months before Jan. 6 with the propagation of what they called the “Big Lie” that the election would be stolen if he lost. The managers laid out the timeline of the president’s efforts to rile up supporters, setting the stage for the eventual outburst of violence at the Capitol.

The president, they added, cared not about the havoc he had unleashed but continued to push his efforts to block the Electoral College count even after the attack began. The video showing Mr. Pence being evacuated was time-stamped at 2:26 p.m. — just two minutes after Mr. Trump posted on Twitter attacking his own vice president for not trying to overturn the election: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution.”

Even at that point, the managers told the senators on Wednesday, Mr. Trump disregarded pleas from his aides and allies to intervene to explicitly call on the mob to stop the attack, issuing instead only a belated and mildly worded video telling supporters to be peaceful and return home even as he embraced them. “We love you,” he said at the time. “You’re very special.”

Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland and the lead House manager, said that Mr. Trump bore responsibility for the actions of supporters who were acting on his false assertions of widespread election fraud that did not exist.

“Donald Trump surrendered his role as commander in chief and became the inciter in chief of a dangerous insurrection,” Mr. Raskin said. “He told them to fight like hell,” he added, “and they brought us hell that day.”


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