During arguments, impeachment managers showed a flurry of excerpts from former president Trump's speeches in which he told supporters the only way he could lose is if the election results were rigged.
House Democrats prosecuting Donald Trump's impeachment trial have been methodically tracing his months long effort to undermine his supporters' faith in the election results.
During arguments on Wednesday, impeachment managers showed a flurry of excerpts from Trump speeches in which the then-president told supporters the only way he could lose is if the election results were rigged.
They say they will show he is responsible for last month's deadly riot at the US Capitol.
"This attack did not come from one speech and it didn't happen by accident," House Impeachment Manager Joaquin Castro argued. "The evidence shows clearly this mob was provoked over many months by Donald J Trump."
Incitement of violence
Opening arguments begin in Trump’s second impeachment trial, with prosecutors saying they'll prove he was no “innocent bystander” but the “inciter in chief” of the deadly attack at the Capitol aimed at overturning his election loss to Joe Biden.
Prosecutors argued efforts to challenge the results continued after the election, with Trump telling his supporters the election had been stolen and that they shouldn't accept the results.
Impeachment managers also pushed back at defence team arguments that Trump's words were protected by the First Amendment.
They said the case was not about protected political speech but rather about Trump's incitement of violence.
Calls for legal shakeup
Trump’s attorneys sought to halt the trial on constitutional grounds, but lost that bid on Tuesday.
Their arguments were meandering at times, leaving Trump fuming over his lawyers’ performance and allies questioning the defence strategy.
Some called for yet another shakeup to his legal team.
Capitol security footage
Senators, many of whom fled for safety the day of the attack, watched Tuesday's graphic videos of the Trump supporters who battled past police to storm the halls, Trump flags waving.
More video is expected on Wednesday, including some that hasn't been seen before.
Trump is the first president to face an impeachment trial after leaving office and the first to be twice impeached.
The riot followed a rally during which Trump urged his supporters to “fight like hell,” words his lawyers say were simply a figure of speech.
He is charged with “incitement of insurrection.”
“That’s a high crime and misdemeanour,” Represenative Jamie Raskin, D-Md., declared in opening remarks. “If that’s not an impeachable offence, then there’s no such thing.”
False election fraud claims
On Wednesday and into Thursday, the managers plan to tell a “succinct” story, according to the aides, who were granted anonymity to discuss the upcoming arguments.
They will start with Trump's false claims that there was massive election fraud and build to the January 6 riots as a “culmination” of his efforts to overturn his defeat.
The Democrats will argue that Trump inflamed and encouraged groups that had violent backgrounds, the aides say, and they will show how much worse it could have been.
The aides said they will use the new Capitol security footage to make that case, but did not describe it.
Security remains extremely tight at the Capitol, fenced off with razor wire and patrolled by National Guard troops.
Biden not watching
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden would not be watching the trial.
“Joe Biden is the president, he’s not a pundit, he’s not going to opine on back and forth arguments,” she said.
The House impeachment managers described police officers maimed in the chaos and rioters parading in the very chamber where the trial was being held.
Trump’s team countered that the Constitution doesn’t allow impeachment at this late date.
That’s a legal issue that could resonate with Senate Republicans eager to acquit Trump without being seen as condoning his behaviour.
Lead defence lawyer Bruce Castor said he shifted his planned approach after hearing the prosecutors’ emotional opening and instead spoke conversationally to the senators, saying Trump’s team would denounce the “repugnant” attack and “in the strongest possible way denounce the rioters.”
He appealed to the senators as “patriots first,” and encouraged them to be “cool headed” as they assessed the arguments.
Trump attorney David Schoen turned the trial toward starkly partisan tones, arguing the Democrats were fuelled by a “base hatred” of the former president.
Free speech argument
Trump's lawyers argued that the former president's rhetoric is protected by the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech and that the individuals who breached the Capitol, not Trump, were responsible for their own criminal behaviour.
The lawyers sought to portray the trial as a sham aimed at ending Trump's political career while ignoring basic principles of fairness and due process.
"We are really here because the majority in the House of Representatives does not want to face Donald Trump as a political rival in the future," Castor, one of Trump's lawyers, told senators.
Republicans made it clear that they were unhappy with Trump’s defence, many of them saying they didn’t understand where it was going — particularly Castor’s opening.
Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy, who voted with Democrats to move forward with the trial, said that Trump’s team did a “terrible job.” Maine Senator Susan Collins, who also voted with Democrats, said she was “perplexed.” Senator Lisa Murkowki of Alaska said it was a “missed opportunity” for the defence.
Six Republicans joined with Democrats to vote to proceed with the trial, but the 56-44 vote was far from the two-thirds threshold of 67 votes that would be needed for conviction.
At one pivotal point, Raskin told his personal story of bringing his family to the Capitol that day to witness the certification of the electoral college vote, only to have his daughter and son-in-law hiding in an office, fearing for their lives.
“Senators, this cannot be our future,” Raskin said through tears. “This cannot be the future of America.”
The House prosecutors had argued there is no “January exception” for a president to avoid impeachment on his way out the door.
Representative Joe Neguse, D-Colo, referred to the corruption case of William Belknap, a war secretary in the Grant administration, who was impeached, tried and ultimately acquitted by the Senate after leaving office.
If Congress stands by, “it would invite future presidents to use their power without any fear of accountability," he said.
It appears unlikely that the House prosecutors will call witnesses, and Trump has declined a request to testify. The trial is expected to continue into the weekend.
Trump's second impeachment trial is expected to diverge from the lengthy, complicated affair of a year ago.
In that case, Trump was charged with having privately pressured Ukraine to dig up dirt on Biden, then a Democratic rival for the presidency.
This time, Trump's “stop the steal” rally rhetoric and the storming of the Capitol played out for the world to see.
The Democratic-led House impeached the president swiftly, one week after the attack.