Even Trump’s Senate Wingmen Are Shocked by Capitol Riot Videos
They never realized they were so close to harm. But they still want to let Trump off the hook.
The footage was silent. It didn’t need sound.
The pictures were clear enough. The glass from a window on the first floor of the Senate is shattered. A police officer briefly responds, before quickly retreating, realizing how outnumbered he is. The mob pours into the U.S. Capitol.
A Capitol Police officer named Eugene Goodman sprints to Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), who was unwittingly walking toward a mob, and tells him to turn around. He stops cold and turns back inside.
Terrified members of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s staff hurry into a conference room just minutes before the hallways are filled with insurrectionists in tactical gear, several of whom stopped to try to break down the door to where they were hiding under the table, with furniture barricading the door.
This internal security footage detailing the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6 had never been seen publicly before, until it was played on the floor of the Senate during the second day of former President Trump’s impeachment trial. The images showed in new detail how the American seat of government was violently subdued that day—and showed the chilling truth of how much worse it all could have been.
The footage confirmed that if not for heroic acts by law enforcement, the confusion of the crowd, and in some cases sheer luck, the Vice President of the United States, the Speaker of the House, dozens of members of Congress and their staffs would have been at the mercy of a mob with members explicitly trying to kill them.
For the first time, former Vice President Mike Pence and his family were shown on video hustling away from the Senate, steps away from a mob that chanted for his hanging. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the Democratic leader, was shown running through the basement of the Capitol with his security detail, only to quickly retreat, steps away from the mob.
Over the course of an hour and a half on Wednesday, the Senate chamber fell utterly silent as the Democratic impeachment managers recreated that harrowing day. Senators who had doodled, dozed off or simply left earlier in the day sat rapt. Some let out noises of disbelief when they saw these videos, and some would later remark that they had no idea at the time just how close to real, life-threatening danger they were.
At times, others looked away, too overcome with emotion to watch footage of a mob crushing police officers. Many of those videos were not silent, and the angry cacophony of the mob blanketed the halls of the Capitol for the first time since Jan. 6.
The Democrats prosecuting the case against Trump promised new evidence. They promised that they would craft a step-by-step retelling of Jan. 6 that would make the visceral ugliness of that day unavoidable for the 100 jurors of the U.S. Senate.
Nearly all were moved. But the truth of this trial reemerged as soon as the videos ended: No evidence could convince a sufficient number of Senate Republicans to convict Trump for inciting an insurrection, banning him from public office for life. And while impeachment managers know their task of changing minds was near impossible, Wednesday made clear they were not going to let them cast a vote to exonerate the former president without seeing exactly what Trump did.
Leaving the floor afterward, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)—one of the handful of Republicans who objected to the 2020 election results after the insurrection—made the position crystal-clear.
The footage, Cruz said, was horrific, “and everyone involved in that terrorist attack should be fully prosecuted and should go to jail for a very long time.” But he then argued that the connection between that attack and Trump was “strikingly absent” and that Trump did not incite anything.
“I've said many times that the President's rhetoric is at times overheated,” said Cruz. “But this is not a referendum on whether you agree with everything the president says or are or tweets.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who has been advising Trump’s defense, mustered a scoff at a presentation some of his GOP colleagues called “very powerful” and impressive. “The legal theory they have is absurd,” said Graham. “That somehow that Trump’s a secret member of the Proud Boys.”
The Democrats made no such charge. But they did spend Wednesday laying out how the Jan. 6 attack would be impossible without Trump’s words and actions not just on that day—when he exhorted a crowd to march to the Capitol and then declined to call them off as they wreaked havoc—but in the days and weeks beforehand as he tilled the soil for an outburst of violence.
Far from Cruz’s assertion that Democrats failed to link Jan. 6 to Trump, Senate Democrats came away more convinced—and angrier—than ever.
“I mean, I don't know how Republicans sit here and watch that, and rationalize an acquittal,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT). “I just don't know how you square everything you’re seeing with the decision to not hold the person accountable.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) began on Wednesday afternoon by breaking down the case into three parts: the provocation, the attack, and the harm. One by one, Democratic impeachment managers dove first into provocation, explaining how Trump, over the course of months, seeded widespread distrust within his base toward anything other than a landslide Trump win. Rally by rally, speech by speech, tweet by tweet, they used Trump’s own words to illustrate how he fueled his supporters’ growing rage through a torrent of lies.
When Trump finally lost the election, and the series of lawsuits that followed, the managers detailed how the “stop the steal” movement grew into a powerful force that first threatened violence against GOP officials identified as enemies by Trump and then exploded into violence on Jan. 6. They drew on reporting, like from The Daily Beast, detailing how MAGA-heads for weeks egged each other on in far-right internet forums, coordinated, and made clear their plans not just to protest but commit violence against political figures in Washington that day.
In her remarks, Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-VI) outlined how Trump frequently and openly praised violence on his behalf, in one instance resurfacing a video of Trump supporters in Texas attempting to run a Joe Biden campaign bus off the road. Trump not only retweeted it, Plaskett said. His social media team set it to music. Then, when the San Antonio police said they were investigating, Trump defended the caravan, calling the aggressors “patriots.”
And Plaskett painstakingly outlined how his supporters responded to his constant urging to fight, culminating in the rally on Jan. 6. One post Plaskett highlighted in her review of the social media around the planning for the “Save America Rally” was a post from one man who said “today I told my kids goodbye” as he headed to the rally, not knowing if he’d come back alive. “As a veteran this is always something you are prepared to discuss, but it never comes easy,” the post concluded.
“By the time Trump called the cavalry... he had every reason to know that they were armed, that they were violent, and that they would actually fight,” said Plaskett. “He knew who he was calling and the violence they were capable of. And he still gave them marching orders.”
Later, Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA) played footage that made clear that Trump’s words were received as no benign call to fight things out politically. They displayed Trump supporters yelling “take the Capitol” from the crowd as the president spoke, tracing how the president’s words powered them all the way up to the Capitol.
“So they came draped in Trump's flag, using our flag, the American flag, to batter, and to bludgeon,” Dean said, her voice breaking slightly. “And at 2:30 I heard that terrifying banging on the House chamber doors. For the first time in more than 200 years, the seat of our government was ransacked on our watch."
As she closed her black binder, her hands were shaking.