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Democrats: Trump 'inciter in chief' of Capitol attack

Thursday, February 11, 2021

WASHINGTON, DC, United States (AP) — Prosecutors in Donald Trump's impeachment trial said yesterday they would prove that Trump was no “innocent bystander” but the “inciter in chief” of the deadly attack at the Capitol aimed at overturning his election loss to Joe Biden.

Opening the first full day of arguments, the lead House prosecutor promised to lay out evidence that shows the president encouraged a rally crowd to head to the Capitol, then did nothing to stem the violence and watched with “glee” as a mob stormed the iconic building. Five people died.

“To us it may have felt like chaos and madness, but there was method to the madness that day,” said Representative Jamie Raskin, D-Md.

The day's proceedings were unfolding after an emotional Tuesday start to the trial that left the former president fuming when his attorneys delivered a meandering defence, and failed to halt the trial on constitutional grounds. Some allies called for yet another shake-up to his legal team.

Trump is the first president to face an impeachment trial after leaving office and the first to be twice impeached. The riot followed a rally during which Trump urged his supporters to “fight like hell”, words his lawyers say were simply a figure of speech. He is charged with “incitement of insurrection”.

Senators, many of whom fled for safety the day of the attack, watched Tuesday's graphic videos of the Trump supporters who battled past police to storm the halls — Trump flags waving.

The prosecutors argued that Trump's words weren't just free speech but part of “the big lie” — his relentless efforts to sow doubts about the election results long before the votes were tabulated, and rev up his followers to “stop the steal”, though there was no evidence of substantial fraud.

Trump knew very well what would happen when he took to the microphone at the outdoor White House rally that day, almost to the hour that Congress gavelled in to certify Biden's win, said Representative Joe Neguse, D-Colo.

“This was not just a speech,” he said.

Trump's supporters were prepped and armed, ready to descend on the Capitol, Neguse said. “When they heard his speech, they understood his words.”

Security remained extremely tight yesterday at the Capitol, which was fenced off with razor wire and patrolled by National Guard troops.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said US President Biden would not be watching the trial.

“Joe Biden is the president, he's not a pundit; he's not going to opine on back-and-forth arguments,” she said.

The difficulty facing Trump's defence team became apparent at the start of the trial, as they leaned on the process of the trial, unlike any other, rather than the substance of the case against the former president.

As the House impeachment managers described police officers maimed in the chaos and rioters parading in the very chamber where the trial was being held, Trump's team countered that the constitution doesn't allow impeachment at this late date.

Even though the Senate rejected that argument in Tuesday's vote to proceed to the trial, the legal issue could resonate with Senate Republicans eager to acquit Trump without being seen as condoning his behaviour.

On Tuesday, lead defence lawyer Bruce Castor said he shifted his planned approach after hearing the prosecutors' emotional opening, and instead spoke conversationally to the senators, saying Trump's team would denounce the “repugnant” attack, and “in the strongest possible way denounce the rioters”. He encouraged the senators to be “cool-headed” as they assessed the arguments.

Trump attorney DavidSchoen turned the trial towards starkly partisan tones, arguing the Democrats were fuelled by a “base hatred” of the former president.

Republicans made it clear that they were unhappy with Trump's defence, many of them saying they didn't understand where it was going — particularly Castor's opening. Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy, who voted with Democrats to move forward with the trial, said that Trump's team did a “terrible job”. Maine Senator Susan Collins, who also voted with Democrats, said she was “perplexed”. Senator Lisa Murkowki of Alaska said it was a “missed opportunity” for the defence.

Six Republicans joined with Democrats to vote to proceed with the trial, but the 56-44 vote was far from the two-thirds threshold of 67 votes that would be needed for conviction.

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