Security officials in charge on Jan. 6 tell Congress conflicting stories

The officials in charge of securing the Capitol on Jan. 6 say a tangled mess of conflicting orders and unanswered calls culminated in an hourslong delay by the Pentagon in deploying National Guard troops to quell the insurrection that threatened the presidential transfer of power.

In Tuesday testimony to two Senate committees, former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund said the Pentagon dragged its feet for hours on Jan. 6 — even after law enforcement officials pleaded for backup. Already, a mob inspired by then-President Donald Trump had planted two explosives nearby, breached the Capitol and battered police officers with clubs, mace and other weapons.

Sund and acting D.C. police chief Robert Contee described to senators a conference call that afternoon with senior security personnel during which a top Pentagon official, Lt. Gen. Walter Piatt, said he would recommend against deploying the National Guard for fear of the “optics” of armed troops in front of the Capitol. Sund and Contee said they informed Piatt that their officers, already beleaguered and beaten by the mob, were desperate for help.

“Lt. Gen. Piatt then indicated that he was going to run the request up the chain of command at the Pentagon,” recalled Sund who resigned after the riots. "Almost two hours later, we had still not received authorization from the Pentagon to activate the National Guard.”

Contee told lawmakers that he was “literally stunned” by Army officials’ nonchalant responses.

“Chief Sund was pleading for the deployment of the National Guard and in response to that, there was not an immediate ‘Yes, the National Guard is responding,’” Contee said.

In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo rioters try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington.

That pivotal meeting about protecting the Capitol is likely to spark further questions by senators who were forced to flee for their lives during the insurrection. The rare joint oversight hearing on Tuesday was lawmakers’ first chance to expose the security failures that allowed rioters to overtake the Capitol last month. But Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said that hearings would continue.

Sund used his testimony to defend his former force’s handling of Jan. 6, describing that day's collapse of the Capitol defenses as "not the result of poor planning or failure to contain a demonstration gone wrong."

"No single civilian law enforcement agency — and certainly not the USCP — is trained and equipped to repel, without significant military or other law enforcement assistance, an insurrection of thousands of armed, violent, and coordinated individuals focused on breaching a building at all costs," he told senators.

According to Contee, “available intelligence pointed to a large presence of” some extremist groups that had stirred violence at protests in the nation’s capital late last year. However, Contee said, D.C. “did not have intelligence pointing to a coordinated assault on the Capitol.”

In addition to Sund and Contee, the Senate heard from the former House and Senate sergeants-at-arms. But key details of their stories conflict.

For example, Sund claims he called then-House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving early on in the assault — at 1:09 p.m. to request more help. But Irving says he has no memory of that call and was on the House floor at that time. He told lawmakers he didn’t get a formal request from Sund until after 2 p.m.

Lawmakers pressed Sund and Irving on that discrepancy and asked them to share phone records.

Sund also told senators that the Capitol Police’s intelligence unit received a report from the FBI on the evening before the insurrection that warned of extremist groups preparing for “war.” But Sund said that report never made it up the chain to him.

Irving and Michael Stenger, the then-Senate sergeant-at-arms, said they also never saw it.

Although the story of Jan. 6 has become clearer as hundreds of rioters have faced charges, high-level decision-making by top congressional security officials has so far remained shrouded in secrecy. That lack of transparency has clouded congressional efforts to ensure the Hill learns from the insurrection chaos.

“When you ask questions and you get an answer, it usually leads to even more questions,” Peters said, adding that he personally has “a long list of questions” for the former officials.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), chair of the Rules committee, said Tuesday that Pentagon officials would be testifying on the Hill next week about their roles in the response to the insurrection.

All of the security officials said in their Tuesday testimony that the intelligence about the protests that day — billed by Trump as a “wild” effort to “stop the steal,” part of a months-long campaign to cast doubt on Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory — pointed to a degree of lawlessness but not a concerted assault on the Capitol.

Had other security officials concluded that military backup could be necessary on Jan. 6, “I would not have hesitated to ensure the National Guard’s presence or to make any other changes necessary,” said Irving.

Another area that lawmakers are likely to tackle Tuesday at the joint hearing of the Homeland Security and Rules panels is the cause of Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick’s death. Initial reports that Sicknick was struck and killed by a fire extinguisher have yet to be verified, but his death rocked the Capitol community and has become emblematic of the devastation that the rioters could have exacted had the day taken an even darker turn.

A third unknown hovering over the discussion is the roles Speaker Nancy Pelosi and then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had in orchestrating the security response. Some details have begun to spill out, suggesting both leaders were perplexed by the failure of their chambers' sergeants-at-arms to immediately seek National Guard help — as well as the failure to have Guardsmen at the ready in advance — once the riot became a clear threat to lawmakers’ safety.

Leadership staff in both parties agreed during the crisis that Capitol Police leaders “should have asked for the National Guard's physical deployment to protect the U.S. Capitol complex well in advance of January 6th," said Drew Hammill, a Pelosi aide.

Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the top Republican on the Rules Committee, said he wants to better understand the nature of the conversations between Stenger, Irving and Sund. Blunt also said he wants to examine whether the Capitol Police’s current structure “really works” — not just on a daily basis, but during emergency situations.

Later this week, the House Appropriations Committee will hear testimony from Sund’s successor, acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman, as well as Irving’s successor, acting sergeant-at-arms Timothy Blodgett.

Tuesday’s hearing comes amid a nationwide push by law enforcement officials at all levels to track down and prosecute the worst actors of the Jan. 6 insurrection.

More than 200 participants in the riots have been arrested — some for simply trespassing, others for assaulting police. Still, prosecutions are likely to intensify. Biden’s attorney general nominee Merrick Garland told lawmakers Monday that he intends to make the investigation a top priority in the early days of his tenure.

Sund may also be pressed on outstanding investigations into three dozen Capitol Police officers, part of a force of about 2,000, whose actions during the protests raised questions. Six of them remain suspended during these reviews, the Capitol Police have confirmed. Lawmakers have also asked questions about whether any of their colleagues led unauthorized tours earlier that week for people who may have participated in the Jan. 6 attacks.

The House impeached Trump last month, but he was acquitted in the Senate. Trump has signaled he intends to remain a political force within the GOP, adding another layer of volatility to the ongoing investigations.

During the trial, the House’s impeachment managers emphasized that Trump publicly did little to quell the riots after they had begun and actually may have inflamed the situation further with tweets that seemed to celebrate the rioters’ actions as they stormed the building in his name. Trump’s lawyers argued that the White House was engaged in delivering help to the Capitol early, but that it got tangled in a web of multi-agency bureaucracy. They presented no details to support that claim.

That dimension will weigh on lawmakers as they consider whether to authorize the creation of an intensive review of all of the causes and policy gaps exposed by the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Democratic leaders have called for an investigative panel, modeled on the 9/11 Commission that probed the 2001 terror attacks, to examine disparate threads that contributed to the assault, and many Republicans have signaled openness to that push. But the contours of that commission has already provoked disagreement between the parties.

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Senate acquits Trump of inciting deadly Capitol attack

The Senate voted on Saturday to acquit former President Donald Trump of inciting the deadly insurrection of Jan. 6, marking the close of an impeachment trial that laid bare the horrors of the riots and highlighted the country's halting efforts to extricate itself from the Trump era.

Most Senate Republicans sidestepped Democrats' central argument that Trump’s monthslong campaign to subvert the election results, as well as his incendiary remarks hours before a mob stormed the Capitol, demanded that he be convicted and barred from the presidency in the future. In the end, seven Republicans supported a conviction — 10 votes short of the two-thirds threshold required.

But even Senate Republicans leaders who voted to acquit Trump rebuked the former president, acknowledging that the House had proven its case and that Trump had violated his oath of office.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a striking post-acquittal speech that Trump was “morally and practically responsible” for the Jan. 6 insurrection but he is “constitutionally not eligible for conviction” because he is no longer in office.

The 57-43 vote marked the first time since 1868 that a majority of the Senate voted to convict a president on an impeachment charge. And the seven Republicans who broke ranks are the most to support the conviction of a president from their own party in American history.

“The facts are clear,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), a retiring senator whose vote to convict nonetheless came as a surprise. "The evidence is compelling that President Trump is guilty of inciting an insurrection against a coequal branch of government and that the charge rises to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors.”

The outcome highlights Trump’s continued grip on the Republican Party, even after he left office facing withering condemnation from within the GOP for his post-election conduct. The Republican lawmakers who supported impeachment and conviction in the House and Senate have already faced sharp backlash from constituents and local GOP organizations.

The five-day impeachment trial, Trump’s second and by far the shortest in U.S. history, underscored the gaping contradictions of a post-Trump Washington — the intense desire among Democrats to punish Trump for his role in the violence, paired with their desire to pass a Covid-19 relief bill and turn the page on the Trump era. The urgency to expose every last detail of the forces that sparked the insurrection proved incompatible with the pressure to give President Joe Biden room to enact his agenda.

When the gavel fell, Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah, and Burr joined all Democrats in voting to convict Trump on the House’s single impeachment article.

“Let the record show — before God, history and the solemn oath that we swear to the Constitution — that there was only one correct verdict in this trial: Guilty,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said following the vote.

The trial ended with several unresolved mysteries that might be addressed in the coming weeks and could shed new light on Trump’s conduct. They include an ongoing effort to discern what Trump knew as the violence unfolded, when he knew it — and what actions, if any, he took to quell it.

Those questions dominated the final hours of the trial and nearly resulted in an effort by the House impeachment managers to open the process up to new testimony from witnesses. Several Republicans said in public statements that Trump had resisted pleas from allies to call off the rioters, and that he launched a Twitter attack on Vice President Mike Pence while he was being whisked from the Senate chamber.

Senate Democrats were blindsided on Saturday morning when the House impeachment managers sought witness testimony, resulting in a majority vote to call witnesses. But after negotiations among Democrats, the managers later relented and simply allowed a public statement from Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) to be entered into the record. Herrera Beutler said in a statement late Friday evening that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) had told her that Trump denied his pleas to forcefully call off the rioters on Jan. 6, setting off immediate calls for a more thorough airing of the evidence against the former president.

The decision to skip live testimony left those details unconfirmed and poised to emerge after Trump is free of the trial.

Democrats had expressed hope that the evidence and the emotional appeals they made during the trial would move enough Republicans to convict Trump — a result they said was necessary to ward off future violence. To make their case, the House managers played graphic videos, including never-before-seen-footage, showing the horrifying and chaotic nature of the violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Trump’s defense team maintained that putting a former president on trial on impeachment charges was unconstitutional because the primary remedy, removal from office, was no longer operative. But the Senate voted at the start of the trial to uphold the chamber’s authority to have the proceedings, and a conviction would have barred Trump from holding future federal office.

The argument from Trump’s lawyers, a minority view among constitutional experts, provided an avenue for Republicans to coalesce around an acquittal without explicitly defending Trump’s conduct, which most GOP senators have criticized as reckless but not impeachable.

Other Republicans said the House had failed to prove that Trump’s actions and remarks contributed to the violence at the Capitol, and that it did not meet the legal standard for incitement.

McConnell, despite his vote to acquit Trump, lashed the former president in a statement after the trial, accusing him of being responsible for unleashing “terrorism” on the Capitol.

“They did this because they’d been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on Earth because he was angry he lost an election,” McConnell said. “Many politicians sometimes make overheated comments … but that was different. That’s different from what we saw. This was an intensifying crescendo of conspiracy theories.”

Notably, McConnell also suggested that Trump might still face criminal liability for his actions, contending that Trump “didn't get away with anything yet.”

Michael van der Veen, one of Trump’s attorneys for the impeachment trial, dismissed McConnell’s criticisms, telling reporters: “We finished the grappling in that room and we slammed it down on the mat on this case. We won. Not guilty.”

Lawmakers said the case against Trump was overwhelming; they argued that the rioters heeded his words, acted upon them, repeated them while storming the Capitol and then cited them in court when they faced prosecution.

In addition, senators who voted to punish Trump cited his failure to send help to the Capitol until hours after it became clear that Congress had been overtaken by the violent insurrection and that Pence was in danger and had been evacuated from the Senate chamber.

The House managers and Trump’s lawyers clinched an agreement to avoid witness testimony after both sides agreed to enter a public statement from Herrera Beutler that detailed her account of a phone call between Trump and McCarthy.

Herrera Beutler, who voted to impeach Trump in the House, pleaded with Pence and other Republicans to publicly tell their story — but by Saturday afternoon, as the acquittal vote neared, no others had stepped forward.

Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Republican from Washington, speaks during a House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill.

The House managers said the call was evidence that Trump violated his oath of office and showed no remorse even as he was told that violent rioters have overtaken the building.

Pence was at the Capitol on that day to preside over a joint session to certify Biden’s Electoral College victory. Trump had spent months priming his supporters to believe the election was rigged and stolen, and as his post-election attempts to flip the results repeatedly failed, his efforts became more destabilizing.

By late December, Trump was calling for his supporters to descend on the nation’s capital for a “wild” rally. Law enforcement and intelligence officials warned that elements of the rally-goers would likely be armed and present a threat of violence. But that day, Trump addressed the crowd and urged them to march on the Capitol and “fight like hell” to stop the counting of electoral votes — or else risk losing their country.

Many of the rioters themselves posted on social media and sent messages since recovered by law enforcement indicating they were awaiting Trump’s signal before acting.

But Trump’s team said he had also urged his supporters to go “peacefully.” They said Trump was initially “horrified” by the violence and took immediate steps to respond to it, but did not provide evidence to support those contentions. The defense team presented for just a few of the 16 hours they were allotted, a move that kept the trial to just a five-day affair.

As they rested their case against Trump on Saturday, the House managers made one final plea to senators.

“Our reputations and our legacy,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) the House’s lead impeachment manager, “will be inextricably defined by what we do here.”

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Trump defense claims Capitol attack wasn’t an insurrection

Donald Trump’s lead impeachment attorney on Friday denied that the violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6 amounted to an insurrection, a stunning claim that contradicts the Justice Department and the bipartisan, broadly accepted version of events.

The assertion from Bruce Castor, Trump’s lead attorney for the Senate’s impeachment trial, was among several that stunned senators and left key Republicans unsatisfied as the former president’s defense team rested its case using just three of the 16 hours it was allotted.

“Clearly, there was no insurrection,” Bruce Castor told senators as part of a presentation that included out-of-context arguments to push back against the House managers’ charge that Trump incited the violence that left five people dead.

FBI court filings against those who participated in the violence at the Capitol referred to the events as an “insurrection,” and Republican congressional leaders have echoed that characterization. Castor’s comments come even after the Trump team said the evidence of advance planning by heavily militarized elements of the rioters suggests that the violence was orchestrated ahead of time, rather than an organic reaction to Trump’s speech earlier that morning.

“President Trump’s words couldn’t have incited the violence at the Capitol,” Castor added.

In their opening arguments and responses to senators’ questions, the Trump defense team refused to disclose details about what Trump knew — or what actions he took — as the violence unfolded on Jan. 6, instead blaming the House for not undertaking an investigation.

And they said there was no evidence that Trump knew that Mike Pence was in danger when he tweeted an attack on the then-vice president — even though the Capitol siege was widely televised and Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) told POLITICO he directly informed Trump that Pence had been evacuated moments after. Trump’s lawyers called Tuberville’s account “hearsay.” Tuberville told reporters Friday evening that he stood by his original comments to POLITICO.

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), the lead impeachment manager, said the “evidence is in the sole possession of their client,” referring to Trump, who last week declined an invitation from the House to testify as part of the trial.

Perhaps more importantly, key GOP senators weighing whether to convict Trump said the former president’s attorneys’ answers were not satisfactory, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who asked the lawyers for specific details about when Trump learned that the Capitol had been breached, what actions he took in response, and when.

Trump’s second impeachment trial is barreling toward a rapid close, with a final vote expected on Saturday. The House charged Trump with a single count, incitement of insurrection, last month and rested their case earlier this week.

Republican senators have praised the House managers’ presentations, but most have said the managers failed to connect the violence directly to Trump. Barring an unexpected development, Trump is almost certain to be acquitted, with just a handful of GOP senators joining Democrats to vote to convict Trump.

The trajectory of the trial is not yet certain, though. When the Senate comes into session on Saturday, the House’s nine impeachment managers will inform the chamber whether they intend to seek witness testimony, which would require a simple majority vote. But Democrats have largely indicated that they do not believe additional witnesses are needed to bolster their case against Trump.

“I think adequate evidence has been presented,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said.

Each side will then have up to two hours to give closing arguments before potential deliberations and then a final vote.

A central theme of Trump’s defense Friday was the contention that the impeachment article was created out of “hatred” and “vengeance,” and was intended as a tool of political retribution.

“Hatred should have no place in this chamber,” Trump attorney Michael van der Veen said, arguing that Democrats invented the standard of “incitement” that they are asking the Senate to apply against Trump.

Van der Veen falsely claimed that an “Antifa leader” was among those arrested at the Capitol, even though no identified antifa leaders have been arrested and only one rioter of hundreds brought up on charges has been identified as having potential ties to the left. Van der Veen also falsely said Trump’s first tweets amid the Capitol riots was to call for peace — though his actual first tweet was an attack against Pence.

David Schoen, another Trump attorney, accused House Democrats of “manipulating” their evidence against Trump and then displayed an almost 10-minute montage of Democrats and some celebrities using the word “fight,” in an attempt to draw an equivalence between Trump's repeated urging of a rally crowd to “fight like hell” to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden's election on Jan. 6.

The montage included comments from Democratic senators, who watched in shock as their prior remarks were being broadcast. Inside the chamber, some senators laughed while others shook their heads and passed notes to each other.

The display, which repeatedly insinuated that Democrats had sanctioned violence at riots that broke out over the summer in the wake of the death of George Floyd, at times seemed to engage in score-settling aimed at Trump's longtime political adversaries, dwelling on comments made by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in which she pledged to “fight” for causes she supported.

Democratic senators emerged from the chamber fuming about the Trump team's display.

“Donald Trump was told that if he didn’t stop lying about the election, people would be killed. He wouldn’t stop, and the Capitol was attacked, and seven people are dead that would be alive today," said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). "That’s what I think of those clips.”

Trump’s lawyers lodged an argument that accepts House Democrats’ case about the violence that they played on a loop for the Senate this week. But they said “no thinking person” could conclude that Trump bears culpability for unleashing it, and that his months-long campaign to delegitimize the election results and incendiary remarks the morning of the insurrection are protected by his First Amendment right to free speech.

The former president’s lawyers also reiterated their view — shared by a majority of Republican senators — that the Senate has no constitutional authority to put a former president on trial for impeachment charges. The Senate voted earlier this week, however, that the impeachment trial is constitutional.

Assuming the managers opt against making motions for witness testimony, Saturday’s session will include two hours of closing arguments for each side, followed by deliberations and then a vote on whether to convict Trump of the impeachment charge against him.

Though Trump is widely expected to be acquitted — and Republican senators repeatedly emphasized that the House’s presentation didn’t move them enough to convict — one of the most enduring mysteries of the trial is how Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will vote. He has studiously avoided tipping his hand, though he has said Trump provoked the mob.

A handful of other GOP senators are weighing conviction, but the exact number is unknown because the issue has been largely avoided at party meetings.

Burgess Everett contributed to this report.

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‘He can do this again’: Dems rest case against Trump warning of more attacks

House Democrats rested their case against Donald Trump on Thursday insisting that the Senate’s refusal to punish him for inciting a mob to attack the Capitol would pave the way for a future commander-in-chief to subvert the democratic process, weaken America's standing in the world and stoke the recruitment of domestic terrorists.

In a sweeping summary of their evidence, the House prosecutors seeking Trump’s conviction in the impeachment trial said they had proven their charge that Trump incited the Jan. 6 insurrection by provoking his supporters to violently attack the Capitol while Congress was tallying the Electoral College votes, and later showed no remorse following an attack that left five people dead. That lack of contrition, they argued, underscores the urgency of a conviction.

“We humbly, ask you to convict President Trump for the crime for which he is overwhelmingly guilty of,” said Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), one of nine impeachment managers prosecuting the case. “Because if you don’t, if we pretend this didn’t happen — or worse, if we let it go unanswered — who’s to say it won’t happen again?”

The House managers’ two days of arguments captured the intense fury still felt over the desecration of the Capitol, which senators from both parties have at least partly blamed on Trump.

Still, Trump is almost certain to be acquitted, with the vast majority of Republican senators saying the House has not met the legal standard to charge Trump with inciting the violence, and that the Senate has no constitutional authority to try a former president. A conviction in the Senate requires support from two-thirds of the chamber, or at least 17 Republicans.

“Senators, America, we need to exercise our common sense about what happened,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), the House’s lead impeachment manager. “Let's not get caught up in a lot of outlandish, lawyers’ theories here. Exercise your common sense about what just took place in our country.”

Aware of that dynamic, the managers argued Thursday that the rioters who stormed Congress did so at Trump’s direction and using his specific words, and said acquitting the former president would embolden him to do it again.

“I’m not afraid Donald Trump is going to run again,” said Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), an impeachment manager. “I’m afraid he’s going to run again and lose. Because he can do this again.”

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), who opposes conviction on constitutional grounds, said Lieu’s statement was a “powerful” one, adding that he and many of his GOP colleagues wrote it down in their notes. But most Republicans have said that voters, not members of Congress, should decide whether Trump can serve in the Oval Office again.

The trial now moves to Trump’s defense, which has forecast a single, eight-hour day of rebuttals on Friday. That could potentially signal the end of the entire trial on Saturday, after senators have an opportunity to grill both sets of lawyers for four hours.

The House managers also spent their final day launching a preemptive strike on Trump’s team, which they expect to mount a defense that asserts Trump’s incendiary comments to his supporters on Jan. 6 are protected by the First Amendment, and that Congress has no jurisdiction over a private citizen. Despite a widely panned performance earlier this week on the constitutional debate, Trump attorney David Schoen said on Fox News Thursday that the defense team will stay the course.

“President Trump wasn’t just some guy who showed up at a rally,” Neguse continued. “He was the president of the United States, and he had spent months — months — using the unique power of that office, his bully pulpit to spread that big lie that the election was stolen.”

Democrats are working to persuade more than a dozen Senate Republicans to join them in convicting Trump, a difficult task that has appeared to make little headway beyond a group of six GOP senators who expressed openness to a conviction at the outset of the trial. They made their most forceful attempt on Wednesday afternoon when they aired a series of harrowing videos of the assault while showing that Trump continued pressing his supporters despite evidence that the Capitol was under siege.

Thursday’s argument from the House prosecutors was the culmination of their effort to argue that Trump primed his supporters to prepare for violence for months, ignited them on Jan. 6 with a rally speech, and then sat on his hands while the violence escalated, ignoring pleas for help even from his closest allies. The managers also sought to show that Trump has a history of promoting and glorifying violence against his political opponents, playing video clips of Trump at his campaign rallies dating back to 2015.

“You don’t have to take my word for it that the insurrectionists acted at Donald Trump’s direction,” said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), another impeachment manager. “They said so. They were invited here. They were invited by the president of the United States.”

DeGette punctuated her remarks with videos and excerpts from FBI affidavits that included claims by the rioters that they believed Trump had given permission to storm the Capitol. Some gave television interviews explaining their presence was in response to Trump’s calls for action, and others posted footage of themselves screaming at police officers that Trump had told them to march on the Capitol.

New court filings and affidavits from the insurrectionists themselves have asserted that they viewed Trump as authorizing and activating them.

“We plan on going to D.C. on the 6th,” because “Trump wants all able-bodied Patriots to come,” said Jessica Watkins, a leader of the militia group the Oath Keepers, told associates, according to a court filing issued Thursday morning. And a lawyer for Patrick McCaughey, who was charged with assaulting a police officer at the Capitol, called Trump a “de facto un-indicted co-conspirator” in the Capitol assault.

Republican senators appeared unconvinced after the House managers rested their case.

“I don’t think anything has occurred that would change your mind if your view is you can’t impeach a former president,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the No. 4 GOP leader. “I actually thought some of the information presented — about how many other efforts were made to plan this [attack] — hurt their case.”

The managers got another boost late Wednesday when Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) revealed he spoke to Trump on Jan. 6, just as a violent mob closed in on the Senate, and informed Trump that then-Vice President Mike Pence had just been evacuated from the chamber.

“I said ‘Mr. President, they just took the vice president out, I’ve got to go,’” the Alabama Republican told POLITICO, saying he cut the phone call short amid the chaos.

Tuberville’s recollection was a new and potentially significant addition to the timeline of Trump’s reaction to the violent mob of his supporters as it stormed the Capitol. Tuberville’s recollection of the call is the first indication that Trump was specifically aware of the danger Pence faced as the mob encroached on the Senate chamber.

Just as significantly, the call occurred at virtually the same moment Trump fired off a tweet attacking Pence for lacking “courage” to unilaterally attempt to overturn the presidential election results — a tweet that came after Pence and his family were rushed from the Senate chamber.

It has long been unclear precisely when Trump learned of the danger that Congress and his vice president faced — though it was broadcast all over live television — but Tuberville’s claim would mark a specific moment Trump was notified that Pence had to be evacuated for his own safety. House managers say the Trump-Tuberville call took place shortly after 2 p.m. Pence was evacuated from the chamber at about 2:15 p.m., and Trump sent his tweet attacking Pence at 2:24 p.m. The entire Senate was cleared by about 2:30 p.m.

There is still no indication whether the House impeachment managers intend to call witnesses to bolster their argument, a decision they do not have to finalize until after the Trump defense presents its rebuttal to their case. Senate Democrats have expressed little appetite for dragging out the trial with a slate of witness testimony, especially with Trump’s acquittal nearly certain.

“It feels like, to me, we’re done,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said bluntly after Thursday’s session, calling the House managers’ presentations “terrific.”

Burgess Everett, Marianne LeVine and Meridith McGraw contributed to this report.

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Impeachment managers unveil dramatic footage of Capitol attack

House Democrats unloaded a trove of horrific footage on the Senate floor Wednesday that showed lawmakers narrowly evading the insurrectionist mob that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 — rioters they said were incited by Donald Trump’s call for them to descend on Congress and stop the counting of electoral votes.

The clips, some previously public and others drawn from newly disclosed Capitol security footage, showed Vice President Mike Pence's evacuation from the building and Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman — already a hero for his actions to divert insurrectionists from the Senate chamber — telling Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) to turn around shortly before Goodman confronted the heavily armed pack.

“President Trump put a target on their backs and his mob broke into the Capitol to hunt them down,” said Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-V.I.), one of nine House prosecutors seeking Trump's conviction in the Senate impeachment trial on a charge of inciting the insurrection.

The video evidence, long foreshadowed by Democrats, was their most powerful attempt to prove that Trump was directly responsible for the violence that unfolded and left five dead — including a Capitol Police officer — and hundreds of other officers seriously injured. Lawmakers spent the morning detailing evidence they said showed that Trump had primed his supporters to commit violence in his name, falsely claiming that the election had been stolen and that they would lose their country if they didn't “fight like hell.”

The videos showed rioters echoing Trump’s words as they stormed the Capitol, and then adding their own calls to hunt down Pence — whom Trump portrayed as a disappointment for refusing to block the electoral vote count — and Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Among the video footage the House managers displayed was a clip of rioters storming Pelosi’s office and pounding on the door of an inner conference room where her staffers were huddled in terror. Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) also noted that a mob on the Senate side of the Capitol came within just 58 steps of the senators’ escape route. The violence, while horrific, could have been much worse, they noted.

Senators were visibly shaken when they were viewing and listening to the new materials, which were blaring at a high volume inside the chamber. Stunned senators stood up and leaned forward at certain points, with some appearing to point themselves out in security camera footage showing Capitol Police officers creating a human barricade that allowed them to escape safely.

And Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) appeared distressed when he was watching a video of an officer-involved shooting outside the House chamber. At one point, he was teary-eyed and was consoled by Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who was sitting next to him.

Other senators, Democrats and Republicans alike, looked away from the television screens when the footage became too graphic. Several lawmakers were shaking their heads while watching harrowing videos of rioters breaking into the Capitol.

Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said the House managers were “making a very effective presentation.”

The House managers closed the Wednesday arguments by emphasizing that while the violence was ongoing, Trump took no public steps to quell it. In fact, long after it was clear the Capitol was under siege, they said, Trump exacerbated the situation.

An hour into the assault, he tweeted a video of his speech calling for his supporters to "fight." Moments after Pence fled the Senate chamber, Trump tweeted that he "didn't have the courage" to try to overturn the election, a tweet that rioters immediately megaphoned across the Capitol.

Impeachment manager David Cicilline (D-R.I.) noted that Trump, while allies were begging him to call off his supporters, phoned a senator to encourage him to continue objecting to the Electoral College vote. Moments before a rioter was shot dead by police, Trump urged his supporters to "stay peaceful," which Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), another impeachment manager, said came well after the crowd had turned violent.

Later Trump tweeted a video message in which he urged the rioters to go home but added, "We love you." Later that evening, Trump tweeted that "These are the things and events that happen" when an election is stolen — a reprise of his months-long false claims. There was no evidence, Castro added, that Trump had actually taken steps to send in the National Guard.

"This was a dereliction of duty, plain and simple," Castro said.

Though senators typically refrain from speaking during the trial, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) spoke up after the House completed its arguments for the night, contending that they misconstrued comments he made when recounting an episode that occurred in the Senate chamber on Jan. 6. Raskin said the issue wasn't central to the House's case and moved to withdraw the statement.

Though the issue was largely inconsequential, it highlighted the unusual nature of the entire trial — one in which senators themselves are both jurors and witnesses cited by the House prosecutors, who were also witnesses and victims of the alleged high crime.

While acknowledging the horrifying nature of the riot footage, Trump’s Republican allies said it still does not justify blaming Trump for inciting the violence.

“They spent a great deal of time focusing on the horrific acts of violence that were played out by the criminals, but the language from the president doesn’t come close to meeting the legal standard for incitement,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said.

The footage was part of the House's opening arguments in the impeachment trial that began in earnest Wednesday. They will have another eight hours Thursday to continue their arguments if they choose to use it. Trump's team — which contends he never encouraged violence and that his claims of a stolen election were protected by the First Amendment — will present its defense beginning on Friday.

The House managers sought to push back against those arguments by using Trump’s public statements in the weeks leading up to Jan. 6, asserting that Trump provoked his followers, many of whom were widely understood to have violent intentions.

“He told them to fight like hell, and they brought us hell that day,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), the lead House impeachment manager.

“This case is not about blaming an innocent bystander. This is about holding accountable the personal singularly responsible for this attack,” Raskin added, referring to Trump as the “inciter-in-chief.”

The arguments kicked off a two-day presentation by Democrats seeking to persuade at least 17 Senate Republicans to join in convicting Trump, a tall task that appears unlikely to succeed in the trial’s early stages.

Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), another impeachment manager, initiated the arguments by laying out a post-election chronology of Trump's comments and actions seeking to undermine confidence in the 2020 election results. He played a series of clips of Trump vowing to “never surrender” in his fight to flip the election outcome.

“People listened. Armed supporters surrounded election officials’ homes. The secretary of state for Georgia got death threats. Officials warned the president that his rhetoric was dangerous and it was going to result in deadly violence,” Neguse said. “He didn’t stop it. He didn’t condemn the violence. He incited it further.”

Later, the managers addressed Trump’s false claims of voter fraud head-on, debunking some of the central allegations that fueled the riots and outlining Trump’s weeks-long effort to promote a campaign dubbed “stop the steal.” Inside the Senate chamber, several Democratic senators as well as GOP Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska could be seen shaking their heads as clips played of Trump calling the election “stolen” and “fraudulent.”

The managers’ use of video footage underscores a central theme of their trial strategy — to make senators re-live the horrors of Jan. 6 and the raw emotions that come with it.

Rioters try to break through a police barrier Jan. 6 at the Capitol in Washington.

The Democrats are taking heart from the unexpected decision of Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) to support their case that the trial is constitutional. Cassidy, who praised the House managers’ presentations on Tuesday, was the only senator whose vote was not forecast in advance.

On Tuesday, the trial’s first official day, the managers played a lengthy montage on the Senate floor that intertwined Trump’s words and tweets with the violent actions of the rioters. Even some of the Republicans who voted to declare the trial unconstitutional said they were moved by the videos — an acknowledgment that the trial’s jury pool witnessed and was a victim of the insurrection.

The Senate ultimately voted to uphold its constitutional authority to put a former president on trial, with six Republicans joining all 50 Democrats in the vote. The managers plan to urge Republicans in particular to divorce their concerns about the constitutionality of the trial from the merits of the House’s case against Trump. With the procedural question already settled, House Democrats are hoping that more than six Republicans will agree with them on the substance of their arguments.

The impeachment managers got some timely help Wednesday from Atlanta-area prosecutors who, according to a New York Times report, have decided to launch a criminal investigation of Trump's effort in December to pressure Georgia's secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, to "find" enough votes to help him win the state's presidential election.

That episode, captured in an audio recording that was released by the Washington Post last month, figured in the House's case against Trump— part of what they said was a prolonged effort by Trump to wrest the election from Biden and claim a second term.

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Dems marshal terror and outrage in personal appeal for Trump’s conviction

The insurrectionists who ransacked the Capitol didn’t just terrorize lawmakers — they sent trusted aides, family members and beloved Capitol employees fleeing for their lives, frantically typing what might have been their final texts to loved ones while the mob battered down doors and brutalized police.

That’s the story House Democrats prosecuting former President Donald Trump want senators to remember when deciding whether to convict him for inciting the Jan. 6 riots. It’s a personal one. Every lawmaker was a victim. Some removed their congressional pins to avoid being spotted. Others fumbled with gas masks while listening to the House chaplain deliver a prayer. Others still helped barricade doors and comfort colleagues when an officer’s shot killed rioter Ashli Babbitt nearby.

It was an extraordinary subplot to Trump’s impeachment trial — the first for a former president — an acknowledgment that the lawmakers sitting in judgment of Trump were also the victims of the alleged crime and the most emotionally invested in the outcome. It was a trauma they shared together.

“Like every one of you, I was evacuated as this violent mob stormed the Capitol’s gates,” said Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), one of the House’s nine prosecutors in the Senate trial that began Tuesday. “What you experienced that day, what we experienced that day, what our country experienced that day, is the framer’s worst nightmare come to life.”

The goal was clear: help rekindle the dread, the fear that enveloped all of them for several hours last month, when fury at Trump for fomenting false claims about the stolen election, and his excusing of the rioters’ behavior, was at its peak.

So far, though, Republicans appeared unmoved.

Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) said the presentation was intended to "knock you off your feet," but added that GOP senators were looking for new information. “It was kind of a compilation of what we all [saw] on a tragic day,” Braun said.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) acknowledged that the impeachment was singular because “everybody here was also a witness and potentially a victim of what happened on that day.” But he said members had already processed that reality.

“I think we’ve had a lot of time to think over the last [four] weeks about what happened, why it happened, why it shouldn’t have happened, and more importantly, what role the president played in that regard or what role anybody played in that regard,” he said.

The GOP senators’ comments underscored that the Senate is unlikely to reach the two-thirds vote necessary to convict Trump. But Democrats view the emotional appeal as their best possible effort at persuasion.

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), the House’s lead prosecutor, told senators he was just a day removed from burying his 25-year-old son, and — still awash in grief — had brought his daughter to the Capitol, guaranteeing it would be safe despite Trump’s calls for supporters to descend on Washington. When it wasn’t, he feared his family was in danger yet again, and he said he was gutted when his daughter told him she didn’t want to return to the Capitol again.

“Of all the terrible, brutal things I heard and I saw that day and since then, that one hit me the hardest,” Raskin said. “That and watching someone use an American flagpole, the flag still on it to spear and pummel one of our police officers, ruthlessly, mercilessly, tortured by a pole with a flag on it that he was defending with his very life.”

Rep. David Cicilline put it more plainly: “They could have killed all of us.”

It was an argument that landed with enormous force in the Senate, especially after Democrats primed the members with a haunting montage of violence committed by those who breached the Capitol.

Republicans and Democrats alike said the House managers hit the mark in their arguments — even if Republicans arrived predetermined to acquit Trump on a technical constitutional argument advanced by Trump’s lawyers.

Trump’s team, led by Bruce Castor and David Schoen, appeared caught off-guard by how well the House team connected with senators. Castor acknowledged that they reshuffled their presentation — which they expected to be more technical — to rebut the House’s sweeping claims. But the result was a muddled argument that had senators murmuring and passing notes to each other and led one of Trump’s 2020 impeachment lawyers, Alan Dershowitz, to rip the defense as a disaster on cable TV.

Castor and Schoen spent their two hours attempting to siphon any emotion out of the day. Castor described the House’s rush to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6 insurrection as a natural human urge to blame someone for a terrible tragedy. Schoen went further, calling it a response to the “insatiable lust for impeachment in the House for the past four years.”

He mounted an argument geared toward a Republican audience, claiming the “snap impeachment” was simply an outgrowth of Democrats’ “bloodlust” to punish Trump since he took office. Schoen played his own montage — set to a spooky soundtrack — of rank-and-file Democrats calling Trump’s ouster from 2017 through 2019. And he then turned to a more technical argument against the constitutionality of the trial, winning the support ultimately of 44 out of 50 GOP senators.

But Democrats made clear that they’re not going to shy away from forcing their Senate colleagues to relive the episode that continues to haunt many of them.

“This is personal for them,” a top aide to the House managers said. “They experienced the attack. Their staff experienced the attack … They know you as reporters that day got attacked. They saw what happened to the officers.”

“The managers are trying this case to move the hearts, minds and consciousness of all hundred jurors.

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Senate votes Trump trial is constitutional after emotional first day

The Senate voted on Tuesday to uphold the Senate’s authority to put Donald Trump on trial for the House's charge that he incited the Jan. 6 insurrection, sidelining the former president's primary defense against the House’s impeachment article.

The vote came after a dramatic first day of the trial, which featured a montage of harrowing scenes of violence wrought by Trump’s supporters while Congress was certifying President Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory. But the final tally reaffirmed the likelihood of Trump’s acquittal, with few Republican senators moved by the House’s arguments and just six voting to declare the proceedings constitutional.

It was another reminder that despite the raw emotions lawmakers felt on Jan. 6 and the succeeding days, the House managers face a steep uphill climb to convict Trump on their charge that he incited the riots — a verdict that would require 67 votes of support in an evenly divided Senate.

Still, the vote permits the impeachment trial to move ahead Wednesday, when the House will present its opening arguments. And Democrats secured the support of an additional Republican who previously voted that the trial was unconstitutional, Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. With the 56-44 vote, the senators supported their own ability to try a former president, a case that has won support from legal scholars of all ideologies but that Trump's team said was unconstitutional.

Senators from both parties acknowledged that they were moved emotionally by the House managers’ video montage. Though the footage has been well-worn since that day, the House’s prosecutors spliced together the most violent and chaotic images, intertwining them with Trump’s own remarks encouraging supporters to march on the Capitol. The shocking footage — which included the shooting death of rioter Ashli Babbitt and the assault of numerous police officers — forced senators to relive the moments when many of them fled the violence, fearing for their own safety.

The footage seesawed between the quiet congressional proceedings that began earlier on Jan. 6, when the chambers met to certify Biden’s victory, and the encroaching mob. It showed them breaching the Capitol and eventually chasing Vice President Mike Pence and terrified lawmakers out of the House and Senate chambers. In between these scenes, the managers featured Trump’s own comments to the crowd and his tweets apparently excusing their conduct.

Security forces draw their guns as rioters try to break into the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The House’s presentation of the footage, paired with the bipartisan vote to uphold the Senate’s authority to hold the trial, was the opening salvo in Democrats’ argument that Trump is attempting to “shift blame onto his supporters” for igniting the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol and is relying on disputed legal theories to avoid accountability for his monthslong attempt to subvert the 2020 election results.

Senators were gripped by the footage showing violent rioters seemingly taking cues from Trump’s rhetoric and storming into the Capitol. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) put his hands over his eyes when footage played of a shooting outside the main House door. Several senators rubbed their eyes and shook their heads during a video showing a D.C. police officer being crushed between a set of doors. And Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) shook his head when Trump told the rioters, “we love you.”

The Democratic impeachment managers maintained that the Senate has full constitutional authority to put a former president on trial.

“Because President Trump’s guilt is obvious, he seeks to evade responsibility for inciting the January 6 insurrection by arguing that the Senate lacks jurisdiction to convict officials after they leave office,” the House managers wrote in a 33-page rebuttal to Trump’s pretrial brief.

Tuesday’s filing came in response to an argument put forth by Trump’s defense team that, among other defenses, pinned the blame on the rioters themselves, rather than on the then-president’s rhetoric. They accused House Democrats of perpetrating “political theater” and said Trump’s First Amendment right to free speech was being inappropriately scrutinized.

On the Senate floor, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), the lead House impeachment manager, said Trump’s attorneys were aiming to “stop the Senate from hearing the facts,” by arguing that the trial itself is unconstitutional. He said Trump wants to make the Senate “powerless” against a president who commits impeachable offenses during his final days in office.

“It would literally mean that a president could betray their country, leave office and avoid impeachment and disqualification entirely,” said Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), an impeachment manager.

The managers spent their opening arguments attempting to remind senators of their own personal experiences during the Jan. 6 insurrection — recounting the terror they and their loved ones endured while taking cover, of the uncertainty about whether they would make it out alive once the Capitol was breached.

"Like every one of you, I was evacuated as this violent mob stormed the Capitol’s gates. What you experienced that day, what we experienced that day, what our country experienced that day, is the framer’s worst nightmare come to life,” Neguse said.

"They could have killed all of us,” added Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), another impeachment manager.

FILE - In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo violent insurrectionists loyal to President Donald Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington. A month ago, the U.S. Capitol was besieged by Trump supporters angry about the former president's loss. While lawmakers inside voted to affirm President Joe Biden's win, they marched to the building and broke inside. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

Raskin recounted to the Senate his own terror that day, a day after he buried his 25-year-old son Tommy, when his daughter and son-in-law hid from rioters in a Capitol office, sending texts they thought might be their last.

"People were calling their wives and their husbands and their loved ones to say goodbye," Raskin recalled, describing the mass chaos inside the House chamber.

Trump's legal team presented a meandering argument to dismiss the House's impeachment charge against him for inciting the deadly insurrection at the Capitol. Trump's attorneys abruptly reordered their argument after acknowledging the strength of the case presented by House Democrats earlier in the day, and they opened with an unscripted monologue from attorney Bruce Castor that resulted in head-scratching and note-passing among senators, who didn't know what to make of it.

Attorney David Schoen followed up by delivering a more focused rejection of the House's impeachment format, contending that the Constitution forbids trying a former president, while arguing that the effort to convict Trump was simply an outgrowth of the House's yearslong drive to punish him.

The House, Schoen said, is "focusing on this as though it were some sort of bloodsport." He called it "pure, raw, misguided partisanship."

Rioters supporting President Donald Trump gather near the east front door of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

When opening arguments begin on Wednesday, the managers will deliver their case as a “violent crime prosecution,” constructing a “succinct” narrative of the Jan. 6 insurrection that begins weeks earlier as the former president mounted a campaign to delegitimize his 2020 election defeat, top aides said earlier Tuesday.

The aides, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe mechanics of the Senate’s trial, emphasized that they intend to present a visually gripping version of events that draws on the personal experiences that will resonate with many of the lawmakers who fled the violent insurrectionists.

“It’ll be more like a violent crime criminal prosecution, because that is what it is,” one of the advisers said. “It will tell the story, the full story of … how the president incited it. Jan. 6 was the culmination of that incitement with his conduct leading up to it giving meaning and context to his words.”

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‘We’re not going to stop’: Lawmakers press ahead with Trump-era investigations

Donald Trump will be a private citizen in January. But Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill are poised to carry on the investigations and legal battles that helped define his presidency.

In the House, Democrats are still in court fighting to obtain Trump’s financial records and testimony from his first White House counsel Don McGahn, a key figure in the obstruction of justice case against Trump.

In the Senate, where GOP control hinges on two Jan. 5 runoffs in Georgia, Republican lawmakers are plotting ways to expand and intensify their investigations targeting the former Obama administration and President-elect Joe Biden and his son Hunter, with Senate Republicans saying they will use the lame duck period to ramp up their probes.

“We’re not going to stop,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said as he concluded a hearing this week on the FBI’s handling of its investigation of the 2016 Trump campaign’s ties to Russia — a probe the president has railed against for four years. “Because this is fundamental to democracy that the law enforcement community acts based on evidence, not based on bias.”

Although Trump will soon exit the White House, the legal warfare between his outgoing administration and both chambers of Congress is likely to continue reshaping the balance of power between lawmakers and the Executive Branch for generations. As court cases arising from his defiance of House subpoenas progress — and as Senate Republicans accelerate investigations into Biden — little-tested notions about Congress’ ability to investigate presidents are playing out in real-time, with a crowded calendar of appeals court and Supreme Court decisions already slated for early next year.

Biden will wield significant influence on the course of these probes. His Department of Justice will decide whether to continue defending against the House’s subpoenas, for example. But he faces a tricky calculus: rolling back Trump’s defiance of congressional authority without ceding too much ground to the Republicans hoping to draw blood.

Some House aides suggested Speaker Nancy Pelosi would ultimately decide which probes to continue or phase out, in consultation with Biden’s transition and administration. One of the tensions facing Democrats is the fact that Biden ran as a unity candidate, promising to turn the page on Trump-era scandal and bring the country together. Investigations of his predecessor, whether by Democrats in Congress or by DOJ, could cut against that healing message. However, Trump is still a powerful motivating force for Democrats and — much as Trump made Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton a foil for his entire term — Democrats are unlikely to sheathe their swords for Trump, particularly as voices in his orbit whisper about the prospect of a 2024 bid.

Pelosi and Biden’s decisions will also have no bearing on the criminal exposure Trump and his company may face from investigations underway by Manhattan and New York state prosecutors, who are looking into whether the Trump Organization committed bank or tax fraud, as well as whether Trump inflated the value of his assets to obtain loans. Whether or not Congress and the Biden Justice Department pursue Trump-focused inquiries, Trump is still facing a post-presidency thicket of litigation.

In any case, they say, Biden’s selections for attorney general and White House counsel will be the clearest indication of his posture toward congressional oversight.

Regardless of how House Democrats proceed, Republicans in the Senate — who are favored to retain control of the chamber after the Georgia runoffs — have signaled they intend to continue the Trump-era investigations that drew criticisms from Democrats as baseless efforts to placate the president as he ran for reelection.

Even before Biden takes office in January, Senate Republicans say they will step up their investigations — possibly boosted by a new round of declassifications from the Trump-aligned intelligence chief, John Ratcliffe, who released several secret documents about the 2016-era Russia probe to Senate Republicans during the run-up to the Nov. 3 election.

In fact, the GOP committee chairmen running these investigations, like Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), have an incentive to escalate them before Jan. 3, when those lawmakers will be forced to give up their gavels in accordance with party rules that limit their terms as chairman.

“We’re going to find somebody accountable for something when it comes to Crossfire Hurricane,” Graham vowed at the hearing this week, referring to the official name for the investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.

“My goal is to not let them get away with it,” Graham said after the hearing.

Graham is set to turn his gavel over to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who is certain to continue that probe in the new Congress. Just this week, Grassley sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr requesting information about Biden’s son Hunter’s foreign business dealings, though there’s no evidence the former vice president has done anything improper. The Iowa Republican has been deeply involved in the Trump-backed inquiries targeting the president’s political opponents.

But Johnson, another key Republican, will give up his chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, where he has been investigating the origins of the Russia probe in addition to spurious claims about Hunter Biden.

“We’ll continue to investigate the corruption that led to the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, and we’ll get into all of these things,” Johnson said, though he hinted that his successor as chairman, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), might not be interested in keeping them up. Indeed, Portman has never been enthusiastic about those investigations.

When asked if he thinks his investigations will continue when Portman takes over as chairman, Johnson said the probes would be housed under the panel’s permanent subcommittee on investigations, which he is likely to chair come January.

A subcommittee perch is not nearly as powerful of a position, so Johnson will find it difficult to issue subpoenas and take over investigative steps.

But Democrats worry that even with the diminished role, Johnson could try to undermine the Biden administration and the presidential transition period. “We don’t want it to become a Benghazi thing,” a Democratic aide said, referring to the years-long GOP-led investigation into the 2012 terror attack in Libya.

The House’s battle will largely be won or lost in court.

The Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), has been fighting since August 2019 to enforce a subpoena for testimony from McGahn, the star witness in former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. And Nadler has made clear he intends to pursue that testimony even without Trump in office. That means potentially months of legal battles in 2021.

“The chairman still has every intention of interviewing Don McGahn and other administration officials who have ignored our subpoenas, and continues to believe it’s important to do it,” said a Judiciary Committee aide, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the chairman’s thinking, “not only for the institutional consideration, but also because we are going to begin — whether they like it or not — the very difficult process of rebuilding the institutions these guys have degraded over the past four years,

The case is slated to come before the full U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 23, with briefs due throughout the transition.

The Judiciary Committee is also fighting in court to obtain the grand jury evidence collected by Mueller’s team, a case that has wound its way to the Supreme Court. The justices are due to hear arguments on the matter — which will determine if the House’s impeachment power entitles it to access typically secret grand jury material — on Dec. 2.

The House Oversight Committee, meanwhile, has been fighting since early 2019 to access Trump’s financial records from his accounting firm, Mazars USA. The Supreme Court has already adjudicated the case, determining that lower courts — who ruled in favor of the House — hadn’t conducted enough scrutiny of Democrats’ demands. So the case is working its way back through the courts again, this time as the House argues its efforts to obtain Trump’s finances easily satisfies the heightened scrutiny the Supreme Court has demanded.

Even without Trump in office, the case may determine how much power Congress has to investigate a sitting president’s personal dealings.

There may be areas of mutual agreement for House Democrats — frustrated by years of Trump stonewalling — and Republicans, who filed their own raft of bills to strengthen Congress’ hand during the Obama administration. One of the leaders of those GOP efforts, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is returning to Congress in January two years after retiring.

The Judiciary aide noted that Issa has previously proposed legislation that would expedite court cases involving congressional subpoenas, a policy shift that Democrats have recently embraced as well, after seeing Trump run out the clock on several of their investigations.

“That’s a place where there really could be a confluence of interests here,” the aide said.

Just three days after Biden clinched the presidency, the Senate Judiciary Committee convened a hearing to revisit the origins of the FBI’s investigation of Trump’s 2016 campaign and its links to Russia — a probe that later morphed into the Mueller investigation. Trump has leveled unsubstantiated claims that Biden played a central role in orchestrating the investigation, though Senate Republicans, as well as a U.S. attorney tasked to review the matter by Attorney General William Barr, have not turned up any evidence to support his claims.

Nevertheless, Graham convened the hearing to obtain testimony from former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, who played a key role in determining whether to investigate Trump and signing off on surveillance warrants against former campaign adviser Carter Page.

After the hearing, Graham made clear that Biden’s election won’t deter him from conducting his investigation.

“To be continued,” he said.

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Why Republicans weaponized impeachment at the convention and Democrats ignored it

Eight months after Democrats mounted a historic effort to remove Donald Trump from office, not a single speaker uttered the word “impeachment” during their four-day convention.

Trump and his allies filled that vacuum.

Though the four-month impeachment battle was far from a centerpiece of the GOP convention, some of the president’s allies strategically wove it into their anti-Joe Biden message, monopolizing the impeachment discussion and offering a strategic — often sharply distorted — counter-narrative punctuated by Trump himself during his keynote speech Thursday night.

“They spied on my campaign and they got caught,” Trump said, issuing his favored rejoinder to the investigations that have shadowed his entire term in office. “Let’s see what happens.”

Trump’s ad lib, not a part of his prepared remarks, was a reference to his unsubstantiated claim that former President Barack Obama orchestrated an effort to monitor his campaign and disrupt his transition to the White House. But that false narrative has become a rallying cry for his supporters as he seeks to retaliate against his political foes, including Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee.

For Democrats to completely omit impeachment from their convention was once unthinkable. Democrats had mounted a case that Trump had abused his power to blackmail Ukraine into investigating his political adversaries, including Biden. And they made an existential argument that without removing him from office, Trump’s behavior would get worse and democracy itself would be at risk.

Yet their decision underscores the party’s lingering unease about how voters may view the effort — and the reality that the country has sunk into a series of all-consuming crises since Trump’s Feb. 5 acquittal by the Senate. The coronavirus pandemic, a subsequent economic collapse and a wrenching national debate over police brutality and systemic racism paired with protests across the country combined to sideline the issue almost entirely.

Its absence at the Democratic convention was stark: Not only was the word “impeachment” entirely left out over the course of the four night event, so was any mention of Trump’s conduct toward Ukraine. A key impeachment witnesses, former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, appeared in a DNC video to vouch for Biden, but did not mention the impeachment charges against the president. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia — which Democrats once thought could topple Trump for obstruction of justice — also went unmentioned, even as it was a defining moment of Trump’s nearly four years in office.

Republicans, in contrast, mentioned impeachment five times, describing it as “illegal” and a “sham.” And a member of Trump’s impeachment defense team, former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, reprised her anti-Biden case during a Tuesday address as others used it as a cudgel against Democratic leaders.

“Democrat leaders told me that I had to vote for impeachment or my life would be made difficult … and I wouldn't be allowed to run again,” said New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who left the Democratic Party and joined the GOP amid the impeachment push.

Democrats contend that Biden’s decision to keep impeachment out of his convention was logical. He wants to win over disaffected Republicans and project a unifying message, and impeachment stirs instant partisan passions. Moreover, the U.S. has weathered calamities since the end of the impeachment saga that more directly affect Americans’ everyday lives, most notably the coronavirus pandemic, which is claiming 1,000 American lives every day.

“We’re talking life and death now, as opposed to trying to cheat and steal an election,” said Daniel Goldman, who served as chief counsel for the House’s impeachment inquiry. “It would be a strong, winning message, but it pales in comparison to his complete ineptitude in dealing with Covid, which has resulted in 180,000 Americans dying.”

Trump’s response to the pandemic, Goldman added, “has put lives and livelihoods at risk here in this country, and that is both a stronger message and a more important message than his efforts to extort a foreign country in order to help him cheat to win an election.”

Democrats agonized for weeks over whether to even move forward with an impeachment inquiry targeting the president, fearful of the potential for blowback at the polls. Eventually, after the party's moderate and vulnerable lawmakers relented, Democrats used an immense amount of political capital on the impeachment effort, backed by polling data showing that public support had finally shifted in favor. The impeachment of a president is a historic event; only three presidents have been impeached including Trump, and a fourth, Richard Nixon, resigned before the House could impeach him.

“It seems so long ago already. It seems like history,” added House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), one of the Democrats who led the prosecution of Trump’s impeachment trial. “One of the things with the Trump administration ... there’s outrage upon outrage upon outrage.”

Nadler said despite the absence of explicit impeachment references, the impact of the investigation and trial are an important part of the election backdrop — reinforced every time new developments emerge, like the Senate Intelligence Committee’s finding that Trump campaign leaders worked closely with a Russian agent.

“It’s having its impact,” he said.

But even as the convention placed a heavy emphasis on the pandemic and Trump’s response to it, a major theme of the week centered on Trump’s handling of foreign-policy and national-security issues, with Democrats arguing that the president has made the U.S. less safe.

Central to the House’s impeachment case was the argument that Trump abused his power by soliciting foreign interference in the 2020 presidential election when he pressured Ukraine’s newly elected president to launch investigations targeting Biden and his son Hunter. That Biden was the target of the effort made it even more remarkable that Democrats chose to avoid the topic altogether.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who served as the lead impeachment manager during the Senate trial, noted that many of the speakers at the Democratic convention sought to make the case that Trump has undermined U.S. national security and alienated longtime allies — even though they didn’t explicitly mention the allegations central to Democrats’ impeachment case.

It was part of an explicit effort by the Biden campaign, Schiff said, to appeal to disaffected Republicans — a tacit acknowledgment of how polarizing the impeachment issue remains in American politics.

“I think they chose to make the case at the same time of how broad the tent is and bring in a number of former elected Republican officials,” Schiff said in an interview this week. “And so I think the thrust of the Democratic convention was really to show what a big tent the party has, how the vice president is such a profound contrast on the issue of character, decency.”

Yet Democrats said throughout the trial that even though they knew they were going to lose the Senate vote, they had secured a political victory because polls had moved sharply in their favor. About 70 percent of Americans viewed Trump’s actions toward Ukraine as wrong, a bipartisan majority that they said justified the national pain of an impeachment. But after the trial ended on a nearly party-line vote to acquit Trump, with Utah Sen. Mitt Romney being the only Republican to vote to convict, Democrats pulled back from their investigative posture and focused on the pandemic and racial-justice issues.

And when Biden surged in the Democratic primary in March, impeachment all but dropped from the lexicon.

Without an affirmative Democratic effort to define their impeachment case against Trump — that he abused his power to blackmail Ukraine into investigating Democrats — Republicans recognized their monopoly on the issue and weaponized their own impeachment arguments against Biden. They also leveled some of Trump’s favored, factually challenged rejoinders to the Russia and Ukraine investigations.

Bondi, the former Florida attorney general, delivered a sequel to her impeachment defense, leveling discredited charges about Biden’s diplomatic efforts in Ukraine. Biden helped engineer the ouster of a prosecutor viewed by the international community as corrupt — but Bondi reissued debunked claims that Biden sought to remove the prosecutor to shield his son Hunter, a member of the board of a Ukrainian energy company at the time, from a corruption investigation.

Former Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell falsely said that Biden asked to unmask “hidden information” about Trump’s incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn “three weeks before the inauguration.” But the documents that Grenell himself released undercut that claim. They show that Biden — or someone in his orbit — asked to review intelligence that turned out to include Flynn’s name on Jan. 12, eight days before inauguration, and that the request included legitimate justification.

Republicans and even Trump, to be sure, soft-pedaled many of their more salacious allegations about Democrats. No one echoed Trump’s favored “witch hunt” attack. And Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, eschewed the issue altogether, despite his years-long effort to pressure Ukrainian leaders to investigate Biden, a push that accelerated Trump’s impeachment.

In a Thursday radio interview, Giuliani indicated he hadn’t given up on the matter, though.

“That'll be for another day,” he said.

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House panel initiating contempt proceedings against Pompeo

The House Foreign Affairs Committee is launching contempt proceedings against Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for what it says is his repeated refusal to cooperate with the committee's investigations.

Chair Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) cited Pompeo's refusal to turn over documents in the House impeachment inquiry last fall as well as another subpoena seeking documents the State Department has already voluntarily turned over to a Republican-led Senate panel targeting Joe Biden. Democrats view that probe by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee as a smear campaign against the Democratic presidential nominee that relies on Russian propaganda.

“I want no part of it. Under no circumstances will I amplify [Vladimir] Putin’s debunked conspiracy theories or lend them credence,” Engel said in a statement. “And I won’t stand by and see the Committee or the House treated with such disdain by anyone.”

In a letter to the committee that Engel released alongside his announcement, State Department legislative affairs chief Ryan Kaldahl said the department would readily comply with Democrats’ demands for documents if they mirrored the Senate GOP’s investigation of Biden.

“If you can confirm by letter that the Committee is, in fact, substantively investigating identical or very similar corruption issues involving Ukraine and corrupt influence related to U.S. foreign policy, the Department is ready to commence production of documents responsive to such a request,” Kaldahl wrote.

The department also rejected the contention that it’s obstructing Democratic investigations or politicizing the department's response.

But Engel said the State Department was effectively asking the House committee to parrot the GOP investigation, amounting to the amplification of a false narrative.

The move by Engel may be mostly symbolic; it's unclear whether the resolution will charge Pompeo with civil contempt or criminal contempt, but legal enforcement of a criminal contempt order against a Cabinet secretary is unlikely. The House has previously voted to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in criminal contempt for their refusal to comply with subpoenas related to the 2020 census. The House Judiciary Committee also held Barr in contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena for special counsel Robert Mueller's underlying documents.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chair Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Senate Finance Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) are spearheading two separate investigations that Democrats have panned as an abuse of the Senate’s oversight authority. One centers on Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company while his father was vice president; the other is a review of the 2016-era Russia investigation and the presidential transition period in 2016 and 2017.

Earlier this year, Engel issued a subpoena to Pompeo seeking copies of the documents that the State Department was turning over to the Senate Republican investigators.

In justifying his move to seek contempt proceedings, Engel referenced a POLITICO story revealing that a Pompeo aide instructed senior State Department officials last week to begin compiling documents for the Senate GOP-led investigation into the origins of the Russia probe, showing that the department was prioritizing what Democrats have labeled a politically motivated probe intended to denigrate Biden.

The State Department memo was highly unusual, Democratic aides said, in part because it sets an arbitrary date range that Johnson and Grassley never specified. The aides noted that the State Department appeared highly deferential to the request, though the senators initially demanded the documents earlier this year.

Kaldahl, the State Department’s legislative affairs chief, defended the memo as “a required step in the process of authorizing searches and collections in response to congressional requests for documents.”

In his letter to the committee, Kaldahl included a 40-page compendium of responses to previous House oversight requests. And he rejected the notion that Pompeo had politicized the department’s response to inquiries from Democrats or Republicans.

A State Department spokesperson said the department has offered to turn over the requested documents to Engel if the New York Democrat explains “what foreign policy issue he is investigating that requires these documents.”

“Once this letter is received, the Department will produce the documents,” the spokesperson added. “This press release is political theatrics and is an unfortunate waste of taxpayer resources.”

Nahal Toosi contributed to this report.

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