Trump could incite violence again, impeachment trial hears

Prosecutors conclude arguments in Senate trial of former US president

House impeachment manager Jamie Raskin said in his closing arguments to Congress that former president Donald Trump's rhetoric is not protected by free speech. Video: Reuters

 

Donald Trump could incite further violence if he is acquitted, the US Senate heard on Thursday, as prosecutors wrapped up their arguments in the impeachment trial of the former president.

House impeachment manager Jamie Raskin urged Republican senators not to let Mr Trump go unpunished for his role in the January 6th attack on the Capitol, arguing that legislators would have “no one to blame but ourselves” if the former president was re-elected and incited further violence.

On the final day of testimony from Democrats, he said: “My dear colleagues, is there any political leader in this room who believes that if he is ever allowed by the Senate to get back into the Oval Office, Donald Trump would stop inciting violence to get his way? Would you bet the lives of more police officers on that? Would you bet the safety of your family on that? Would you bet the future of your democracy on that?”

Mr Raskin’s comments came as Democrats showed more video footage of the events of January 6th on the final day of their presentation, in a bid to prove that Mr Trump incited the insurrection. Some of the coverage focused on physical and verbal attacks on law-enforcement officers on that day, showing clips of rioters attacking police shouting “Fight for Trump, fight for Trump.” Others illustrated the Democrats’ argument that Mr Trump’s comments directly led to the riot, such as a video of a rioter screaming: “We were invited here.”

Prosecutors also focused on civilians who were present on that day, including restaurant staff, congressional personnel and members of Congress themselves. Congressman Dan Kildee described in a video how he and others removed their congressional lapel pins so that it was less easy to identify them as House members. He also recalled phoning his wife as the attack took place.

Asked about the ongoing trial at the White House on Thursday, President Joe Biden suggested that some Republicans may change their mind after viewing the footage. “I think the Senate has a very important job to complete and I think my guess is some minds may be changed, but I don’t know,” he said.

But there were few signs that the new evidence would persuade a sufficient number of Republicans to convict the former president. 

Republican senator Ron Johnson said he was shaken by the video evidence, but stressed that the blame should be on the rioters and not Mr Trump.

‘Offensive and absurd’

Trump ally Lindsey Graham was more direct. “The ‘not guilty’ vote is growing after today,” he tweeted after Wednesday’s session. “I think most Republicans found the presentation by the House Managers offensive and absurd.”

After House Democrats finished their arguments earlier than expected on Thursday, Mr Trump’s legal team will take the floor on Friday at noon to present the defence. Attorney David Schoen – who left the trial during Thursday’s session to give an interview to Fox News – told the network that he did not expect to use the full two days of time allotted, and may wrap up his arguments on Friday. He dismissed the House impeachment manager’s presentation as “offensive” and “repetitive”.

Democrats on Thursday also pre-empted one of the arguments expected to be made by Mr Trump’s legal team on Friday – that the former president’s comments on the day of the insurrection were covered by the first-amendment right to free speech.

Congressman Joe Neguse said the first amendment claim had “no basis in evidence”.

“President Trump isn’t just some guy with political opinions who showed up at a rally on January 6th and delivered controversial remarks. He was the president of the United States and he had spent months using the unique power of his office, his bully pulpit to cultivate the big lie that the election had been stolen.”