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House Managers Use Video To Show How Close Rioters Got To Lawmakers

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There was a heaviness in the Senate chamber yesterday as House impeachment managers recounted at times minute by minute the violence of January 6. Impeachment managers played new audio and video from the harrowing events of that day, including this clip you're about to hear, a Metropolitan Police Department officer on his radio at the moment when rioters broke through the police line.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED METROPOLITAN POLICE OFFICER: We've lost the line. All MPD pull back. All MPD pull back up to the upper deck.

MARTIN: For nearly eight hours, Democrats worked to show exactly how the mob overtook the Capitol and came within about 60 steps of the Senate chamber. Here with us now, NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson and justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Thanks for being here.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Happy to be here.

MARTIN: Carrie, this new video and audio, we hadn't seen or heard this before. It gave us really a sense of what it was like to be inside the Capitol building on that day.

JOHNSON: Really disturbing stuff, Rachel, lots of new footage from security cameras from inside the Capitol and new police audio like that officer calling in for urgent help after they lost the line. You know, these rioters had overwhelmed the police and rioters, we now know, had bear spray, batons, flagpoles, brass knuckles and tactical gear. This was hand-to-hand combat inside and outside the Capitol. One officer said it was medieval. And you could really sense from this House presentation how close the mob got to the former vice president and how much the lives of lawmakers and others at the Capitol were under threat that day. The FBI says in affidavits that some of the rioters would have done harm to former Vice President Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi if they could have found them. Pence was hiding out 100 feet away from the mob. We saw images of him being evacuated. Here's Delegate Stacey Plaskett of the Virgin Islands, one of the House impeachment managers.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STACEY PLASKETT: It's clear that Trump and some of his supporters saw this as war, a fight against anyone who was unwilling to do whatever it took to keep Donald Trump in power.

MARTIN: Mara, this argument, playing that audio and that video, I mean, it's all about trying to take senators back to that day - right? - to get them to feel what it was like again and then connect that feeling to the words and actions of President Trump. I mean, this is how Democrats are trying to convince their Republican colleagues. Is it working?

LIASSON: Well, I think they had three audiences - one, obviously, their Republican colleagues. They need 17 Republicans to vote to convict Trump. That seems unlikely, but even getting a handful of Republicans to vote with them would make it a bipartisan verdict like you had in the House on the impeachment vote. But I think they're also playing to two other audiences - one, public opinion and, the other, the history books. They're trying to create a historical record of the final days of the Trump presidency, what he did, what some of his supporters did. And I think they were effective in taking a very chaotic day and laying it out minute by minute. And as Carrie said, to do that, they had a lot of video to work with. And remember, this was an insurrection filmed for Instagram - so many cameras, cellphone cameras held aloft in those crowds that you could see. And also they had Trump's words. There were a lot of them, and they tried to make their case based on that. They're trying to make it harder for Republicans to defend Trump's behavior. And I think that one of the ways they did that was that the senators were victims and witnesses of this event. There's nothing partisan about the horror of watching a police officer being crushed in a doorway. They all had the same experience.

MARTIN: So, Carrie, all this emotion. This is intentional to kind of stir this up. But how is that playing into the legal argument House managers are making?

JOHNSON: Well, House managers are countering some arguments that Trump has been making. They say this proceeding is not partisan politics, that lives were at stake. And now Trump lawyers have also said the former president has rights under the First Amendment. But the lead house manager, Jamie Raskin, says Trump is not just some regular guy on the street corner being punished for mouthing off about his opinions. He says the former president had a duty to protect and defend the country and the Congress. Instead, he says, Trump primed people with months of lies about election fraud, sent them to the Capitol to fight like hell and then blasted his own vice president while the attack was underway and Mike Pence was in danger. The House managers say this was all foreseeable. Some of the same people involved in the intimidation in Texas of a Biden-Harris campaign bus and other incidents around the country came to the Capitol on January 6 with violence on their minds.

MARTIN: Mara, just briefly, the name of former Vice President Mike Pence came up quite a lot in the opening arguments. Why?

LIASSON: Came up quite a lot in the House managers' narrative. Pressuring Pence to overturn the election, something he had no power under the Constitution to do, was the last stop in a series of nonviolent options Trump tried to overturn the election. After that, the managers say he ran out of nonviolent options to retain power, but Pence is also the most direct and singular connection between Trump and the mob. They might have hated Nancy Pelosi for years, but the blood lust for Pence is a brand-new thing wholly created by Trump, who told them falsely that Pence could overturn the election. And if he didn't, he'd be a coward. And it turns out they heard him loud and clear. You heard the chanting in the video the house manager showed - hang Mike Pence.

MARTIN: All right. House impeachment managers could finish up their arguments today. Trump attorneys could start their arguments later today. NPR's Mara Liasson and Carrie Johnson, thank you for your time.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

LIASSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.