On Wednesday afternoon, the House managers of Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial showed the senators—and the public—some things they hadn’t seen before.
Throughout this second impeachment, the main issue hanging over the proceedings has been that everyone already knows what Trump did to convene and incite the rioters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, but that the majority of Republicans are set against doing anything to hold him accountable for it. The impeachment managers opened their case against Trump in earnest at noon, with a methodical and tightly woven retelling of what everyone should have already known: Through previously available footage, presidential tweets, and public reports, they showed how Trump had spent two months propagating the big lie that the election was stolen and urging his followers to go the Capitol and do something about it, right up to the hour of the attack.
But then the managers reached the heart of their presentation, in which they added never-before-seen footage to the account of the Trump mob’s invasion. The videos were intense, saddening, and jarring, and they demonstrated just how close the violent mob had truly come to head-on confrontations with leaders of our federal government whom they repeatedly described as “traitors” and whom some had stated they wanted to kill.
In essence, after weeks of Republican efforts to downplay the assault and to urge America to move on, it showed how raw the Jan. 6 attack was, and how much worse it was than previously known.
In building the horrifying case, Stacey Plaskett, an impeachment manager and delegate from the U.S. Virgin Islands, started by producing audio from police dispatches of Capitol Police being overwhelmed and describing being violently assaulted with metal poles, other projectiles, and gas.
Plaskett then showed an initial force of the Trump-inspired mob breaking through the windows of the Capitol, including one member in tactical gear carrying a baseball bat and another carrying the Confederate flag.
Plaskett then showed security footage of Sen. Mitt Romney—who became one of the president’s biggest nemeses after being the lone Republican to vote to convict Trump during his first impeachment trial—wandering directly toward the mob before Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman turned him and sent him running the other way to safety.
Goodman was previously celebrated as a hero for footage captured by Huffington Post reporter Igor Bobic, which showed how he held back the Trump mob from reaching the congressional chambers as members of Congress and Vice President Mike Pence made a last-second evacuation. What we did not know was how he may have specifically saved Romney’s life. Further footage, from the perspective of the rioters and from a security camera, showed more of how Goodman held the mob at bay.
Plaskett and her fellow House manager, Rep. Eric Swalwell, juxtaposed these images with footage of narrow escapes made by top officials, including Pence and then-Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Swalwell then presented further footage of the ongoing exterior attack, which lasted for hours. That included never-before-seen body camera footage of Capitol Police officers being bludgeoned and speared by the mob.
Before the trial broke for dinner, it ended on the now-familiar footage of Police officer Daniel Hodges screaming and bleeding from the mouth as the rioters crushed him in a doorway. Whatever comes next, the case is already horrifying. It’s just not horrifying enough to overcome the declaration of most Republican senators that they are immovable no matter what evidence is presented.
As CNN’s Manu Raju reported, Sen. Mike Braun insisted that the process was “flawed” when asked about conviction and Sen. Ron Johnson blamed the rioters instead of Trump, even after the presentation.
And as the House managers made their case, Sen. Josh Hawley—whose decision to challenge the Electoral College certification gave the rioters hope that they could overturn the election—reportedly lounged in the back of the Senate gallery reading documents unrelated to the impeachment trial.
While many of his colleagues appeared unable to so easily turn away from the gruesome presentation, when it comes time to vote on Trump’s guilt or innocence, it still appears they will readily look the other way.