'If you don't convict Trump, if we pretend the US Capitol insurrection didn't happen who's to say it won't happen again,' say Democrats
House prosecutors wrapped up their impeachment case against Donald Trump on Thursday with an impassioned appeal to the Senate to convict the former president of inciting the deadly January 6 attack on the US Capitol and bar him from holding office again.
"We humbly, humbly ask you to convict President Trump for the crime [of] which he is overwhelmingly guilty," said Democratic Representative Joe Neguse, one of the nine impeachment managers from the House of Representatives.
"Because if you don't, if we pretend this didn't happen – or worse, if we let it go unanswered – who's to say it won't happen again?"
The House impeachment managers rested their case after two days of arguments that included Trump's own words and hours of graphic video from the assault on the Capitol by Trump supporters who were seeking to halt certification of Democrat Joe Biden's November 3 election victory.
Trump's lawyers will begin their defence on Friday, arguing that the former president cannot be held personally responsible for the storming of Congress.
So very proud of my colleagues for the amazing job that they and their staff did laying out the case for #impeachment to the American people. Each one deserves our thanks and gratitude. pic.twitter.com/xRBU7vOEe7— Dwight Evans (@DwightEvansPA) February 11, 2021
They have also argued that the trial itself is unconstitutional because Trump is now out of office, although the Senate rejected that argument earlier this week.
Jamie Raskin, the lead House manager, reminded the 100 senators who are sitting as jurors of their oath to render "impartial justice."
"Exercise your common sense about what just took place in our country," Raskin said, noting that Trump stood by doing nothing for two hours as his supporters rampaged through Congress.
"Why did president Trump not tell his supporters to stop the attack on the Capitol as soon as he learned about it?" Raskin asked. "As our constitutional commander in chief, why did he do nothing to send help?"
Earlier, Biden said the video evidence against his 74-year-old predecessor presented at the Senate trial may change "some minds."
But despite what even some Republicans have said was a strong prosecution case, Trump retains an unshakeable grip on the party, making conviction highly unlikely.
It would take a two-thirds majority in the 100-member Senate, meaning 17 Republicans would need to join the chamber's 50 Democrats.
'Future of democracy'
The mayhem on January 6 erupted after Trump held a large rally near the White House, insisting falsely, as he had done since losing to Biden in November, that he was cheated.
Instructed by Trump to march on Congress, where lawmakers were at that moment certifying Biden's election, the crowd smashed through police lines, then went on a rampage.
The chaos left five people dead, including one woman shot after she invaded the Capitol and one policeman killed by the crowd.
Video footage played by impeachment managers showed the mob hunting down opponents of Trump, as well as senior figures, including then vice president Mike Pence, having to flee to safety.
The defense will stress that Trump did not expressly tell his supporters to commit violence, but Raskin pointed out that the Republican president had been stoking anger and encouraging extremism since Election Day – and even before.
"This pro-Trump insurrection did not spring out of thin air," Raskin said. "This was not the first time Donald Trump had inflamed and incited a mob."
Raskin said it was imperative the Senate convict Trump and bar him from running for the White House again in 2024.
"Is there any political leader in this room who believes that if he's ever allowed by the Senate to get back into the Oval Office Donald Trump would stop inciting violence to get his way?" Raskin asked.
"Would you bet the future of your democracy on that?"
Raskin also dismissed claims by Trump's lawyers that the president did not incite the riot but was just exercising his free speech rights under the First Amendment of the Constitution.
Calling this a "smokescreen," Raskin said that "nobody can incite a riot."
"First Amendment doesn't protect it," he said. "Nobody in America would be protected by the First Amendment if they did all the things that Donald Trump did."
Republicans stand by Trump
Biden said he did not watch any of the trial live but had seen news coverage of Wednesday's wrenching video footage.
"My guess is some minds may be changed," Biden told reporters in the White House.
Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Biden, who has been trying to stop the trial from overshadowing his push for a huge economic stimulus package and the fight against Covid-19, was not intending to predict the outcome.
Republican Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana said video footage shown by House managers on Wednesday was "powerful," but "how that influences final decisions remains to be seen."
Other Republican senators have clearly already made up their minds and do not intend to break with Trump, who has threatened to derail their careers.
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida insisted the Senate cannot try a former president.
"What happened on January 6 — I said it the moment it started — was unpatriotic, un-American, treasonous, a crime, unacceptable," he said.
"The fundamental question for me, and I don't know about for everybody else, is whether an impeachment trial is appropriate for someone who is no longer in office. I don't believe that it is," said Rubio.