WASHINGTON • Impeachment prosecutors at Mr Donald Trump’s Senate trial have aired terrifying, never-before-seen footage of senior US politicians fleeing for their lives during last month’s assault on Congress, a riot they argued was deliberately incited by the former president and saw his supporters searching for then Vice-President Mike Pence and Speaker Nancy Pelosi to harm or even kill them.
With painstaking, graphic presentations, Democratic impeachment managers walked senators – many of them clearly shaken – through hours of video, some of which came from security cameras and police body cams and was being aired for the first time.
The aim was to remind senators, and watching Americans, just how bad Jan 6 was after Mr Trump told a rally near the White House that his failure to win re-election was due to vote-rigging. The ensuing mayhem left five people dead, including one woman shot after she invaded the Capitol and one policeman killed by the crowd.
Video clips played on the Senate floor showed Mr Pence – who was in the Capitol to preside over the certification of Mr Joe Biden’s defeat of Mr Trump – being hurried down back stairs to safety, along with his family, by security officers.
“Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!” the crowd could be heard chanting.
Outside the Capitol, where a gallows had been set up, others called out: “Bring out Pence!”
Top Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer is seen narrowly dodging a rampaging throng of pro-Trump rioters. And Senator Mitt Romney, a Republican who often opposed Mr Trump and was turned into a hate figure by the former president, is seen being steered away by an officer at the last moment as an angry crowd approaches.
In another segment, the mob could be seen smashing into the offices of Ms Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives and another frequent target of Mr Trump’s most violent rhetoric.
“Nancy, where are you, Nancy?” protesters called out as they searched, unaware that eight of her staff were barricaded behind a door in the same corridor. The man famously photographed sitting at her desk was shown carrying a 950,000-volt stun gun.
Ms Pelosi herself had already been urgently evacuated. “We know from the rioters themselves that if they had found Speaker Pelosi, they would have killed her,” said impeachment manager Stacey Plaskett, a House delegate from the US Virgin Islands.
The prosecutors also played frantic police radio calls warning that “we’ve lost the line” and body camera footage showing an officer pummelled with poles and fists on the West Front of the Capitol.
The new footage came as the House managers formally opened their case that Mr Trump incited an insurrection, arguing that his provocation began months before the day of the riot as he propagated a “Big Lie” to persuade supporters that his re-election was stolen.
“Donald Trump surrendered his role as commander-in-chief and became the inciter-in-chief of a dangerous insurrection,” Representative Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat and the lead manager, told the senators.
“He told them to fight like hell, and they brought us hell that day.”
Representative Joe Neguse, a Colorado Democrat and another manager, played clips of Mr Trump asserting even before the election that “the only way we can lose” is if the other side cheated, priming his base to reject any result other than a victory for him and then egging them on with repeated phrases like “stop the steal” and “fight like hell”.
“The evidence that has been presented thus far is pretty damning,” Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski said.
“Of course it’s powerful,” Senator Bill Cassidy, who with Ms Murkowski was among six Republicans supporting the trial’s constitutionality, said of the chilling footage. But “how that influences final decisions remains to be seen”.
It is highly unlikely that enough Republicans will join the Democrats to secure conviction in the impeachment trial. This requires a two-thirds majority, meaning 17 Republicans would need to go along with the 50 Democrats.
Mr Trump’s lawyers have maintained that the former president’s language was protected free speech and hardly incitement of violence or insurrection.
Several Republican senators said the security footage was emotional, but many added that it did not change their minds.
“He bears some responsibility for what happened that day, but… that doesn’t mean that impeachment is the right way to address it,” said Senator Marco Rubio, who added that he thought the best approach was federal prosecution.
Holed up in his luxury Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, Mr Trump has been gone from power for three weeks. But the trial has put the flamboyant and deeply polarising Republican once more at the centre of the national conversation, and underlined his still-powerful hold over the base of the Republican electorate.
According to US media reports, Mr Trump was privately furious on the trial’s opening day on Tuesday at his own lawyers’ lacklustre performance. But it is also believed that advisers are pressing him to keep back, fearing his reappearance could turn Republican senators against him.
Mr Trump’s lawyers were due to get another chance yesterday, with 16 hours allotted to each side.
Unlike Mr Trump’s first impeachment trial a year ago, which took three weeks, this one is expected to be over within days.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES, REUTERS