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The events of Jan. 6, when a group supporting Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol in hopes of overturning November’s election results, were only five weeks ago. But, for many, the images of rioters beating police officers, storming through Capitol hallways and pilfering congressional offices have begun to fade.
Those images — and horrifying new ones — were shown to U.S. senators this week as part of the Senate impeachment trial of Trump, who was president when the attempted insurrection — and his impeachment — took place.
Many senators shouldn’t need to see the video footage or to hear the anguished calls from police officers begging for help to remember what happened on Jan. 6. They were there. Some were hustled out of the Senate chamber as rioters closed in. Others ran through hallways seeking a safe place to hide. Many were barricaded in offices and conference rooms unsure what was happening and when it would end. They heard glass breaking. They heard the threats shouted by the rioters pouring into the building.
Sen. Susan Collins recounted Capitol Police and staff from the Senate sergeant at arms bursting into the chamber, ending discussion of election results, and hustling Vice President Mike Pence and leaders from the Senate.
“We were told to stay put in the chamber, which did not seem wise to me, because the rioters’ purpose was to disrupt the counting of the electoral vote, so they were clearly headed our way,” she wrote in a column for the BDN. “Sen. Todd Young of Indiana, who had served in the Marines, moved over near Sen. Lisa Murkowski and me. Only later did I learn that he was positioning himself to repel the rioters and defend us.”
Collins and many other members of Congress were eyewitnesses to the mayhem wrought by a president who refused to acknowledge electoral defeat and who urged his supporters to “stop the steal.”
They were also victims of the violence.
So, it is hard to understand why a large number of these senators, all of them Republicans, refuse to fully acknowledge the seriousness of the events of Jan. 6 and to consider holding the instigator responsible.
Like the president, they refuse to accept the outcome of a vote. Twice, the majority of senators have voted that the impeachment trial is constitutional. Collins was one of five, and then six, Republicans senators to vote to proceed with the trial with precedent, logic and an overwhelming number of constitutional scholars backing them up. Yet, the majority of Republicans senators continue to object — and many suggest they will vote to acquit the president — on these constitutional grounds.
For any senators who may have forgotten the experience of Jan. 6, the impeachment House managers clearly repainted the picture of the drama that unfolded that day.
That is especially true of audio of police communications that were played as part of the trial this week.
“We’re still taking rocks, bottles and pieces of flag and metal pole. The crowd is using munitions against us,” an anguished officer said in one DC Metropolitan Police Department radio communication.
“We lost the line. We’ve lost the line,” another officer radioed, panic rising in his voice.
“All MPD pull back,” he continued. “… We’re flanked. 10-33. I repeat 10-33 west front of the capitol.” 10-33 is the police code for emergency, all units stand by.
The senators who chose to watch the House managers’ presentation (and shame on those who busied themselves with other work or turned away) saw Officer Eugene Goodman turn Sen. Mitt Romney and an aide away from the approaching crowd. Officers also directed Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer away from the rioters.
Video shows Pence and his family ushered out of the Senate chamber, where he was set to preside over Congress’ certification of the election results. Minutes before, Trump had tweeted: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!” Rioters in the Capitol were calling for Pence’s death.
Some Republicans who have opposed the impeachment process against Trump, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Sen. Lindsey Graham, were frantically calling the White House and Trump advisors begging them to get the president to end the siege by speaking to the rioters. It is hard to square these calls — and the implicit acknowledgement that the president had some control over the mob — with the current willingness of some to simply “move on” or to deny that the former president had a role in instigating the riot, which left five people, including a police officer, dead.
For months, beginning even before the Nov. 3 election, Trump had spoken of a “fraudulent election.” Despite contrary court rulings and the certification of election results by election officials in every state, Trump continued the lies, including at a rally on Jan. 6 in which he encouraged his supporters to go to the Capitol and to “fight like hell.” Many did.
Trump’s defense team has been underwhelming. They have been heavily reliant on challenges to the constitutionality of the Senate proceedings and accused the House managers of selectively editing video, and then did that exact thing. “Whataboutism” was also a major tactic (despite their claim that it wasn’t) as they showed videos Friday of Democrats using the word “fight,” to suggest that violent language was prevalent on either side of the political divide. This ignores the much larger context of Trump’s remarks and behavior, and their consequences.
You didn’t have to be in the Capitol on Jan. 6 to know that the riot was a deadly serious affair with the aim of disrupting — and perhaps overturning — the results of the 2020 presidential election. It was also clear that Trump fomented this violence and failed to take meaningful action to stop it.
Based on this reality, a vote to convict Trump on the impeachment charge of inciting an insurrection is the only reasonable outcome we see.