In a damning summary of the case against Donald Trump to be made at his impeachment trial next week, prosecutors from the House of Representatives on Tuesday submitted an 80-page memorandum documenting how the then president called supporters to Washington and set them loose on the US Capitol.
Describing scenes of violence inside the Capitol in previously undisclosed detail, the prosecutors accused Trump of creating a “powder keg” of discontent among supporters who on 6 January became an “armed, angry, and dangerous” mob.
Lawyers for Trump issued a thinly argued 14-page document that said his speech did not amount to a call to storm the Capitol, and argued his trial was unconstitutional because he has left office.
The defense did not argue that the election had been stolen – as Trump continues to do despite such baseless claims having been disproven and thrown out of court. That placed the defense in line with Senate Republicans, 45 of whom voted against even holding the trial.
In their memo, the House impeachment managers said Trump’s supporters had arrived in Washington “prepared to do whatever it took to keep him in power. All they needed to hear was that their president needed them to ‘fight like hell’. All they needed was for President Trump to strike a match.”
They placed the blame for the violence that followed – five died, hundreds were injured, members of Congress and staff were terrorized and the building was left with “bullet marks in the walls, looted art, smeared feces in hallways” – squarely at Trump’s door.
“President Trump’s responsibility for the events of 6 January is unmistakable,” the prosecutors charged.
The document cleared the way for a dramatic showdown next week, prosecutors indicating they will use new footage and witness accounts, thought to include police officer testimony, to make their case in the eyes of the public – and to extract the maximum political price from Republicans set to refuse to convict Trump no matter what the evidence against him.
Trump is charged with incitement of insurrection. If convicted, Trump could be barred from political office. But it seems unlikely Democrats will find the 17 votes they need.
Trump’s lawyers said: “It is denied that President Trump incited the crowd to engage in destructive behavior.
“It is denied that the phrase ‘if you don’t fight like hell you’re not going to have a country anymore’ had anything to do with the action at the Capitol, as it was clearly about the need to fight for election security in general, as evidenced by the recording of the speech.”
The Trump strategy was the result of a late personnel shift. After five lawyers resigne at the weekend, the former president announced two new lawyers, frequent Fox News contributor David Schoen and former county prosecutor Bruce Castor, as replacements.
Schoen told Fox News “President Trump has condemned violence at all times” and “this has nothing to do with President Trump”. That assertion appeared to wither next to dozens of pages of footnoted Trump quotations going back six months that peppered the document submitted by the House managers. The document culminated with a description of Trump’s speech to supporters before he sent them to the Capitol.
“Surveying the tense crowd before him, President Trump whipped it into a frenzy, exhorting followers to ‘fight like hell [or] you’re not going to have a country anymore’,” the memo said. “Then he aimed them straight at the Capitol, declaring: ‘You’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.’”
“He summoned a mob to Washington, exhorted them into a frenzy, and aimed them like a loaded cannon down Pennsylvania Avenue,” the prosecutors charged.
The nature of Trump’s defense had been in question for weeks, amid reports he was insisting lawyers build their case around the central lie the election was stolen. A team led by South Carolina lawyer Butch Bowers resisted the strategy but the relationship fell apart over fees, according to multiple reports. The memo filed on Tuesday said Trump could not be tried because he had already left office.
“The 45th president believes and therefore avers that as a private citizen, the Senate has no jurisdiction over his ability to hold office,” it said.
The argument was anticipated and forcefully rebutted by the House prosecutors, who wrote, “That argument is wrong. It is also dangerous.”
“…There is no ‘January Exception’ to impeachment or any other provision of the constitution. A president must answer comprehensively for his conduct in office from his first day in office through his last.”
The article of impeachment was approved in a bipartisan House vote. Many constitutional scholars agree there is debate to be had over whether Trump’s speeches amount to “incitement” as charged.
“The rights of speech and political participation mean little if the president can provoke lawless action if he loses at the polls,” the House managers wrote. “President Trump’s incitement of deadly violence to interfere with the peaceful transfer of power, and to overturn the results of the election, was therefore a direct assault on core first amendment principles.”
The document underscored how narrowly the lawmakers trapped in the Capitol on 6 January and the country escaped more calamitous violence.
“Rioters chanted, ‘Hang Mike Pence!’” the memo said, noting that the vice-president had informed Trump he would fill his ceremonial role of counting the electoral vote in favor of Joe Biden. “Another shouted, ‘Mike Pence, we’re coming for you … fucking traitor!’ Others shouted, ‘Tell [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi we’re coming for that bitch’.”
“To protect our democracy and national security – and to deter any future president who would consider provoking violence in pursuit of power – the Senate should convict President Trump and disqualify him from future federal officeholding,” the memo concluded.
“Only after President Trump is held to account for his actions can the nation move forward with unity of purpose and commitment to the constitution.”