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WASHINGTON, Feb 11 — Democratic impeachment prosecutors yesterday branded Donald Trump “inciter-in-chief” of a deadly attack on Congress at the culmination of his doomed attempt to overturn the US election.
Trump, holed up in his luxury Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, has been gone from power for three weeks.
But the flamboyant and deeply polarising Republican once more overshadowed Washington as his Senate trial entered a second day, with party senators indicating they are unlikely to join Democrats in voting to convict — and risk the wrath of his followers.
Democratic impeachment managers — equivalent to prosecutors in a regular trial — painstakingly reconstructed the events leading up to the November 3 presidential election won by Joe Biden. They then laid out the aftermath, when Trump’s attempts to discredit and ultimately overturn the result became ever more blatant.
After weeks of warning his tens of millions of supporters that he could only lose if there were fraud, Trump ramped up his lies after Election Day, insisting that Biden’s party had cheated. Finally, he called a mass rally in Washington on January 6 and encouraged the crowd to march on Congress where lawmakers were certifying the Democrat’s win.
In the ensuing mayhem, five people died, including one woman shot after breaking into the Capitol and one policeman killed by the crowd.
In what often resembled the presentation at a criminal trial, impeachment leaders backed their timelines with video footage and copious documentary evidence — much of it in the form of Trump’s incendiary tweets falsely claiming fraud and urging supporters to “fight.”
“When the violence inexorably and inevitably came,” said lead impeachment manager Jamie Raskin, “he completely abdicated his duty.”
“Donald Trump surrendered his role as commander-in-chief and became the inciter-in-chief of a dangerous insurrection,” Raskin said.
Another impeachment manager, Ted Lieu, said the Capitol riot was the logical result of Trump’s months-long attempts to discredit and then dispute the election.
“President Donald J. Trump ran out of non-violent options to maintain power,” he said.
Trump lawyers drop ball
Unlike Trump’s first impeachment trial a year ago, which took three weeks, this one is expected to be over within days.
And after a large majority of Republicans voted Tuesday that they consider putting a former president on trial to be unconstitutional, it appears highly unlikely that Democrats can obtain the two-thirds majority in the Senate required for conviction.
Trump, meanwhile, is largely — and uncharacteristically — silent in his Florida retreat.
Forced off Twitter and other social media platforms in the wake of his unprecedented attempt to foment a conspiracy theory about his election defeat, Trump has fewer outlets where he can vent.
But it is also believed that advisors are pressing him to keep back, fearing his reappearance could turn Republican senators against him.
According to US media reports, Trump was privately furious on Tuesday at his lawyers’ performance.
One of the attorneys, Bruce Castor, delivered a rambling, often baffling speech of about 40 minutes that even Trump allies said made no sense.
The other lawyer, David Schoen, did not defend Trump’s behaviour during the post-election period but angrily denounced Democrats and the impeachment process in the kind of high-energy style the former president famously appreciates.
The impeachment trial threatens to “tear this country apart,” Schoen said.
The Trump team will get the same amount of time as the impeachment managers — up to 16 hours divided over two days — to present their defence later.
On Tuesday, just six out of 50 Republican senators voted with the 50 Democrats to confirm that the trial was constitutional and could go ahead.
One of them, Bill Cassidy, said he had previously opposed the trial but changed his mind after hearing the opening presentations.
He called Trump’s lawyers “disorganised, random. They talked about many things, but they didn’t talk about the issue at hand.”
While the end result seems certain, some doubt remains because the wily Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell has reportedly told members to vote with their conscience — not along party lines. — AFP
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