Using never-before-seen video footage, the Democrats prosecuting the impeachment case against Donald Trump viscerally moved the jurors of the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, temporarily bringing them all right back to the horrific day they had experienced.
But as the impeachment managers attempted to seal their case on Thursday, it was quickly clear the spell had broken.
The intention of the Democrats' second and final day of argument was to leave no reasonable doubt that Trump incited the riot, drawing on the very words of the rioters themselves that the ex-president had invited them to D.C. that day and encouraged them to “fight” and take the Capitol.
They sought to prove just how remorseless and unmoved Trump was in the face of calls from Republican governors, lawmakers, and former members of his White House, who begged him to intervene and stop the violence. They again surfaced reams of audio and video evidence to back up their claims.
The intensity they had created on Wednesday, however—which moved senators to tears—had passed, even as the managers resurfaced disturbing moments from Jan. 6, like pro-Trump rioters defacing the U.S. Capitol and the stories of Capitol workers scarred by their experiences that day.
Where yesterday the chamber was in rapt silence as new security footage showed just how close they all came to serious harm, on Thursday, many senators on both sides appeared to wander, the air of tension replaced by one of exhaustion and distraction.
Republicans were especially disengaged as Democrats pilloried the ex-president. Many looked down and reviewed papers or were simply not there. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) finished an elaborate doodle of the Capitol rotunda at his desk. Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) was poring over a map of Asia. At one point, Trump’s attorney David Schoen had left the defense’s table in the chamber to head across the street for a hit on Fox News.
At one point, Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) went through the physical and psychological harm that was caused on Jan. 6 to members, their staff, the press as well as Capitol Hill cleaning and maintenance workers. Audio of unnamed staffers describing their terror that day was played in the chamber. Cicilline read quotes from media reports from janitorial workers, one who said he spent the riot “hiding in a closet, all by himself.” He addressed the emotional and physical injuries suffered by law enforcement, including the deaths of three of their own.
Many on the GOP side were paying close attention. But at this key moment in the Democrats’ case, a dozen Republican senators were absent from the chamber.
Republicans said that the longer the Democrats talked, the less powerful their case became. “To me,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), “the more you hear it, the less credibility there is in it.” Later in the afternoon, when Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), the lead impeachment manager, signaled that Democrats would continue just a bit longer to drive the point home, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) shook his head in disbelief and then left the room shortly thereafter.
By the time the prosecution rested their case Thursday afternoon, Democrats’ window to change enough minds to secure Trump’s conviction had decisively slammed shut—if it were ever open at all. Many on both sides are eager to steam ahead to the conclusion that has been inevitable for some time and move on, with top GOP and Democratic lawmakers predicting that a final vote could take place as soon as Saturday.
The prospect that the impeachment managers might call more witnesses—a question they can force a vote on if they so choose—has been roundly rejected by Democratic senators. They have gushed about the managers’ case but are, to a person, largely resigned to the reality that, at this point, no additional evidence could sway the GOP.
Asked by The Daily Beast if the managers’ case would benefit from new testimony, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) shook his head. “I mean, I'm not a lawyer, but I think on the merits they've already won.”
Still, Democratic managers took care to issue a preemptive rebuttal to the Trump team’s arguments that the impeachment proceeding was unconstitutional, that it was a violation of the First Amendment to impeach him for his words, and that Democrats had used the same rhetoric, dismissing all those claims as without merit.
“They're not arguing that it's OK for a person to incite a mob to violence, at least, I don't think they're arguing that,” said Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO). “Instead, what they are doing is offering a radically different version of what happened that day, totally inconsistent with the evidence."
Raskin, a former constitutional law professor, took issue in particular with Trump’s First Amendment claims. “The First Amendment does not create some superpower immunity from impeachment for a president who attacks the Constitution in word, in deed, while rejecting the outcome of an election he happened to lose,” said Raskin.
The Maryland Democrat also gently urged the Trump team sitting at the table beside the podium to steer clear of constitutional arguments—which he argued were settled by the vote on the trial’s constitutionality—and focus on “the facts” of Jan. 6.
After Trump’s lawyers mounted an opening argument on Tuesday that baffled senators and infuriated their client, expectations are low heading into Friday, when Schoen and fellow attorney Bruce Castor will begin and likely end their presentation.
Republicans like Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) left the chamber Thursday believing that the Democratic side raised the bar for Trump’s team over the last two days. On Tuesday, the Texas Republican was critical of Schoen and Castor’s argument. Asked by The Daily Beast about them again on Thursday—in which neither uttered a word on the floor—Cornyn deadpanned, “I thought [they] were much better today.”
“I have to compliment the impeachment managers just in terms of their presentation and preparation. I thought it was excellent,” continued Cornyn. “I don't agree with everything they said, but I think they set the standard pretty high. I hope the president's lawyers can meet it.”
Additional reporting from Jackie Kucinich