Democrats argued on the second day of former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial that the Capitol breach was not caused by a single speech on Jan. 6, but rather the outcome of a months-long model of messaging that sowed doubt about the election and fueled anger among Trump voters by reinforcing the view that they had been cheated out of a win and disenfranchised due to fraud.
Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), one of the House impeachment managers, prefaced his statement on the Senate floor on Wednesday by playing several clips back-to-back of Trump addressing the crowd on Jan. 6, in which the former president said, “you have to get your people to fight” and “because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong,” and “we fight, we fight like hell, and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
After the footage was paused, Neguse addressed the assembly, alleging Trump’s remarks were part of a “months-long effort” to incite his supporters to oppose the certification of Electoral College votes for President Joe Biden.
“Senators, this clearly was not just one speech,” Neguse said. “It didn’t just happen. It was part of a carefully planned months-long effort with a very specific instruction. Show up on January 6 and get your people to fight the certification. He incited it. It was forseeable.”
Trump’s lawyers insisted in filings that the former president is not guilty on the sole charge of “incitement of insurrection,” calling his rhetoric in a speech on Jan. 6—the day a crowd breached the Capitol—a mere figure of speech.
“Trump used the word ‘fight’ a little more than a handful of times and each time in the figurative sense that has long been accepted in public discourse when urging people to stand and use their voices to be heard on matters important to them; it was not and could not be construed to encourage acts of violence,” they argued in the filing.
While Trump made several “fight” references in his Jan. 6 speech, he called on supporters to “peacefully and patriotically” make their voices heard during the joint session of Congress and later denounced the day’s violence.
But Trump’s remarks on Jan. 6 were “not rhetorical,” Neguse contended. “Some of his supporters had been primed for this over many months,” he argued.
Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), another House impeachment manager, echoed Neguse’s remarks by alleging that incitement of the Jan. 6 incident took place over several months.
“This attack did not come from one speech and it didn’t happen by accident. The evidence shows clearly that this mob was provoked over many months by Donald J. Trump,” Castro contended.
Castro alleged that in Spring 2020, Trump saw that he was falling behind in the polls “and he was scared. He began to believe that he could legitimately lose the election. And so he did something entirely unprecedented in the history of our nation. He refused to commit to a peaceful transition of power.”
The Democrat lawmaker alleged that Trump then resorted to a strategy where he began to call into question the validity of the election by making claims that widespread expansion of mail-in balloting would lead to fraud.
In support of his claim, Castro displayed several tweets by Trump, including one dating back to May 24, 2020, in which the former president criticized the massive expansion of mail-in balloting, and wrote, “It will be the greatest Rigged Election in history.” He referenced another tweet from July 30, 2020, in which the former president wrote that because of universal mail-in voting “2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA.”
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), another House impeachment manager, made similar claims, arguing that Trump’s actions were “deliberate, planned, and premeditated.”
“This was not one speech, not one tweet. It was dozens. In rapid succession,” Swalwell said.
“This was never about one speech. He built this model over many months with repeated messaging until they believed that they had been robbed of their votes and would do anything to stop the certification. He made them believe that their victory was stolen and incited them so he could use them to steal the election for himself,” Swalwell alleged.
The line of argumentation that Trump’s alleged incitement was part of a months-long strategy enabled by a messaging model that fueled frustration among his supporters appears to take aim at one of the lines of defense that Trump’s legal team has floated. The former president’s lawyers argued in filings that evidence showing that people preplanned the breach proves Trump couldn’t have incited the incident in his Jan. 6 speech.
“The Federal Bureau of Investigation has confirmed that the breach at the Capitol was planned several days in advance of the rally, and therefore had nothing to do with the President’s speech on January 6th,” they argued.
“Either the President incited the riots, like the Article claims, or the riots were pre-planned by a small group of criminals who deserve punishment to the fullest extent of the law,” they wrote.
Trump’s lawyers have also contended that the incitement of insurrection charge against Trump is not rooted in fact.
“An insurrection—unlike a riot—is an organized movement acting for the express purpose to overthrow and take possession of a government’s powers,” they wrote in filings, arguing that Trump’s speech “was not an act encouraging an organized movement to overthrow the United States government.”
Last month, the House voted 232–197, including 10 Republicans, to impeach Trump on the sole charge of inciting an insurrection.
Trump’s acquittal in the Senate, however, is near certain as 17 Republicans would have to join all Democrats in voting to convict.
According to a tally by The Epoch Times, 35 Republican senators have suggested or committed to voting to acquit Trump.
If Trump were to be convicted, the Senate could hold a subsequent vote to bar him from ever holding office again. Unlike an impeachment conviction, which requires two-thirds of the Senate to be adopted, only a simple majority would be required to ban Trump from future office.