House Democrats are set to begin two days of arguments in Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial, trying to convince sceptical Republicans that the former president alone was responsible for inciting his mob of supporters who broke into the US Capitol on January 6.
The arguments from the nine Democratic impeachment managers for the House, which impeached Mr Trump last month, will come a day after the Senate voted to move ahead with the trial even though Republicans and the former president’s lawyers argued that it was unconstitutional because Mr Trump had already left office.
All Democrats and six Republicans disagreed, arguing that there is legal precedent for the trial and that there should be no exceptions for impeachable behaviour in a president’s last months in office.
While Democrats won Tuesday’s vote, it also signalled it is not likely they will have the votes for an eventual conviction, since they would need a minimum of 17 Republicans to vote with them.
Democrats say they know they are arguing the case uphill, but they are holding out hope that they will convert more Republicans by the final vote.
What to watch as the Democrats prosecute their case for “incitement of insurrection”:
– A ‘devastating’ case against Trump
The Democrats are trying to take advantage of senators’ own experiences, tapping into their emotions as they describe in detail — and show on video — what happened as the mob broke through police barriers, injured law enforcement officers, ransacked the Capitol and hunted for politicians.
Democratic aides working on the impeachment team said they think they have a “devastating” case against the former president, and that they will prosecute it like a criminal trial.
As they argued on Tuesday that the trial was constitutional, they strayed from their arcane arguments about historic precedent to show a video that took senators through a timeline of January 6, starting with Mr Trump’s speech to supporters in which he told them to “fight like hell” to overturn his defeat.
It juxtaposed Mr Trump’s words with what was happening inside and outside the building as supporters broke in, showing violence and jeers aimed at police and politicians. The carnage led to five deaths.
Similar video evidence is expected on Wednesday, as they begin arguments on the merits of the case.
– Trump’s team gets a redo
Mr Trump’s lawyers had a bad day on Tuesday, as the former president fumed at their performance and Republican senators leaving the trial criticised their arguments as “random”, “disorganised” and “perplexing”.
Mr Trump felt that the team, especially lead lawyer Bruce Castor, came off badly on television and looked weak compared to the Democratic prosecutors, according to a source.
They will get another chance on Friday, starting what is likely to be two days of arguments that last into the weekend.
They plan to argue that Mr Trump did not incite the violence, that rioters acted of their own accord and that the former president is protected by freedom of speech.
While the Democrats have appealed to the senators’ emotions, Mr Trump’s lawyers have tried to tap into raw partisan anger.
Lawyer David Schoen, who spoke after Mr Castor, criticised statements from Democrats that he said were also inciting violence, and told the chamber that the Democratic prosecutors were fuelled by a “hatred” of Mr Trump and fear that they will lose power.
– Republicans to watch
Six Republican senators voted with Democrats not to dismiss the trial on constitutional grounds on Tuesday. Those senators so far appear the most likely to vote to convict Mr Trump.
The six senators, most of whom have harshly criticised the former president’s behaviour, are Susan Collins of Maine, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana.
Mr Cassidy was the only one who did not side with Democrats in a similar vote two weeks ago. He said after the vote on Tuesday that he thought Democrats had a better argument and that Mr Trump’s team had done a “terrible” job. He said he would watch the additional arguments as an impartial juror and decide whether to convict.
Ohio Senator Rob Portman, who voted on Tuesday to dismiss the trial, is retiring in 2022 and has also said he has an open mind about conviction.