House Democrats prosecuting Donald Trump’s impeachment said the Capitol invaders believed they were acting on “the president’s orders” to stop Joe Biden's election.
Donald Trump should be barred from ever holding office again, impeachment prosecutors have said, as they urged the Senate to convict the former president for inciting the violent January 6 attack on the US Capitol.
President Joe Biden said the case against his 74-year-old predecessor presented by the House impeachment managers at the Senate trial may change "some minds."
Despite Biden's assessment, there were no indications that House prosecutors were close to assembling the votes of 17 Republican Senators needed for conviction.
The Democratic-majority House of Representatives impeached Trump on January 13 for inciting the attack on the Capitol, but a two-thirds majority is needed for conviction in the 100-member Senate, where Democrats hold 50 seats.
The mayhem left five people dead, including one woman shot after she invaded the Capitol and one policeman killed by the crowd of Trump supporters who were seeking to stop certification of Biden's November 3 election victory.
Representative Jamie Raskin, the lead impeachment manager, presented evidence on Thursday of Trump's encouragement of violence in the past using videos of the former president's own words.
"This pro-Trump insurrection did not spring out of thin air," Raskin said. "This was not the first time Donald Trump had inflamed and incited a mob."
Raskin said it was imperative the Senate convict Trump and bar him from running for the White House again in 2024.
"Is there any political leader in this room who believes that if he's ever allowed by the Senate to get back into the Oval Office Donald Trump would stop inciting violence to get his way?" Raskin asked. "Would you bet the future of your democracy on that?
Raskin also dismissed claims by Trump's lawyers that the president did not incite the riot but was just exercising his free speech rights under the First Amendment of the Constitution.
Calling it a "smokescreen," Raskin said "nobody can incite a riot.
"First Amendment doesn't protect it," he said. "Nobody in America would be protected by the First Amendment if they did all the things that Donald Trump did."
'Not a hidden crime'
House impeachment manager Diana DeGette said Trump was directly responsible for the attempt by his supporters to block congressional certification of Biden's election victory.
"Their leader, the man who incited them, must be held accountable," DeGette said. "This was not a hidden crime. The president told them to be there.
"They thought they were following orders from their commander in chief and they would not be punished."
Biden said he did not watch any of the trial live but he had seen news coverage of Wednesday's presentation, which included video of lawmakers fleeing to safety as a mob rampaged through the halls of Congress.
"My guess is some minds may be changed," Biden told reporters in the White House.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Biden, who has been trying to stop the trial from overshadowing his push for a huge economic stimulus package and the fight against Covid-19, was not intending to predict the outcome.
Republican Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana said video footage shown by House managers on Wednesday was "powerful," but "how that influences final decisions remains to be seen."
Other Republican senators have clearly already made up their minds and do not intend to break with Trump, who retains a stronghold over the base of the Republican electorate.
"The 'Not Guilty' vote is growing after today," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said on Twitter. "I think most Republicans found the presentation by the House Managers offensive and absurd."
Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri echoed the argument of Trump's defence lawyers that it is unconstitutional to try a former president.
"You're not going to get anything but condemnation from me for what happened with those criminals at the Capitol on January 6," Hawley told Fox News. "But that doesn't make the trial any more legitimate than it is, which is totally illegitimate – no basis in the Constitution."
The House managers are to wrap up their presentation on Thursday and hand over to Trump's lawyers, who will have 16 hours over the next two days to present their defence.
House impeachment managers on Wednesday showed hours of video from security cameras, police bodycams, news footage and cell phone video shot by the rioters themselves.
In one video, Vice President Mike Pence is seen being hurried down back stairs to safety by security officers, along wi th his family.
The riot broke out after Trump held a rally to repeat his lie that Biden had only won due to vote rigging and that Pence had to find a way to stop certification of the result.
Pence, who had already stated he had no legal authority to stop certification, then became a target of the crowds' wrath with demonstrators screaming insults and declaring him a traitor.
In another segment, the mob can be seen smashing into the offices of Nancy Pelosi, Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives and another frequent Trump target.
"Nancy, where are you Nancy?" protesters call out as staff members hid in a nearby office.