WASHINGTON — The speech, delivered before a rapt Senate chamber on Tuesday, will be remembered at the Capitol, probably for a long time, for its appeal to the still-raw emotions after the mob attack on the jurors’ workplace and courtroom.
Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the lead prosecution lawyer in the second impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump, spoke of the horror of Jan. 6: what it felt like to hear “the most haunting sound I ever heard” as members of a pro-Trump mob pounded “like a battering ram” on the doors to the House chamber.
He spoke of seeing terrified colleagues. “All around me people were calling their wives and their husbands, their loved ones, to say goodbye,” Mr. Raskin said. He recounted how his daughter Tabitha and a son-in-law hid under a desk in another lawmaker’s office. “They thought they were going to die,” Mr. Raskin said.
And he told of how he apologized to Tabitha for the ugly experience she had endured only a day after the family had buried her 25-year-old brother, Tommy, dead from a suicide, on “the saddest day of our lives.” Mr. Raskin said he promised her the next visit to his office would be better.
“Dad, I don’t want to come back to the Capitol,” Tabitha replied, her father recounted, choking back tears.
Even in an era when the Capitol has become numbed to emotional appeals, this was an extraordinary speech. Although there was a parade of additional prosecution lawyers and two defense lawyers who spoke on Tuesday and who will become more familiar as the week goes on, it was Mr. Raskin, a Democrat from the Maryland suburbs, who was the emotional centerpiece of the day’s proceedings.
- A trial is being held to decide whether former President Donald J. Trump is guilty of inciting a deadly mob of his supporters when they stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, violently breaching security measures and sending lawmakers into hiding as they met to certify President Biden’s victory.
- The House voted 232 to 197 to approve a single article of impeachment, accusing Mr. Trump of “inciting violence against the government of the United States” in his quest to overturn the election results. Ten Republicans joined the Democrats in voting to impeach him.
- To convict Mr. Trump, the Senate would need a two-thirds majority to be in agreement. This means at least 17 Republican senators would have to vote with Senate Democrats to convict.
- A conviction seems unlikely. Last month, only five Republicans in the Senate sided with Democrats in beating back a Republican attempt to dismiss the charges because Mr. Trump is no longer in office. On the eve of the trial’s start, only 28 senators say they are undecided about whether to convict Mr. Trump.
- If the Senate convicts Mr. Trump, finding him guilty of “inciting violence against the government of the United States,” senators could then vote on whether to bar him from holding future office. That vote would only require a simple majority, and if it came down to party lines, Democrats would prevail with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tiebreaking vote.
- If the Senate does not convict Mr. Trump, the former president could be eligible to run for public office once again. Public opinion surveys show that he remains by far the most popular national figure in the Republican Party.
The circumstances were of course remarkable: a second impeachment trial of a president for the first time in American history, held after he had been voted out of office in a place that was itself the crime scene. Armed National Guard members remained stationed throughout the Capitol complex.
As a number of those listening wiped away tears, Mr. Raskin recounted the most searing and brutal images of the day. He spoke of rioters beating a fallen police officer with a pole, its American flag still attached, using it “to spear and pummel” him, “ruthlessly, mercilessly, tortured by a pole with a flag on it that he was defending with his very life.”
He described scenes that seemed to be from a faraway country fighting off savage insurgents, not from the heart of American democracy. “People died that day,” Mr. Raskin said. “Officers ended up with head damage and brain damage. People’s eyes were gouged. An officer had a heart attack. An officer lost three fingers that day. Two officers have taken their own lives.”
He seemed to linger on details that would resonate personally with the experience of his audience. “Members of Congress, at least on the House side, were removing their pins so they couldn’t be identified by the mob as they tried to escape,” Mr. Raskin said.
His voice grew quiet as he made his big point.
“Senators, this cannot be our future,” Mr. Raskin said. “This cannot be the future of America.”
Mr. Raskin, a former constitutional law professor, opened his presentation with a violent video montage culled from news footage, floor speeches and an array of clips posted on social media by the participants.
The presentation was arranged to show Mr. Trump as a kind of narrator for the reconstruction of events. It began with his speech to supporters at a “Stop the Steal” rally outside the White House that the president had promoted as the culminating spectacle of his long-running and false claim that he had won the election.
The video showed Mr. Trump urging his supporters to head over to the Capitol, then cut to shots from the crowd in which his supporters were heard vowing to “take the Capitol” and “get the traitors.” The scene then moved toward the end and a clip of a defiant Mr. Trump outside the White House.
“I love you,” Mr. Trump told his supporters in a short video, made ostensibly to encourage them to leave the Capitol and go home. “You’re very special.”
The final image featured a tweet sent by Mr. Trump later that evening. “Remember this day forever,” it said.
Mr. Raskin’s emotional appeal came after a lengthy legal argument in which he said that Mr. Trump and his lawyers were asking senators to create an illogical “January exception” that flew in the face of the founders’ intent. Recreating debates from the 1787 Constitutional Convention, Mr. Raskin argued that the Senate must not allow a president to become immune from conduct committed in his last month in office.
“Everyone can see immediately why this is so dangerous,” he said. “It is an invitation to the president to take his best shot at anything he may want to do on his way out the door, including using violent means to lock that door, to hang on to the Oval Office at all costs and block the peaceful transfer of power.”
Mr. Trump’s lawyers had argued that the whole trial was unconstitutional because he had already left office, negating the need for a proceeding they asserted was devised to remove him from that office.
In response, Mr. Raskin said the events of Jan. 6 were proof of why such a remedy would be necessary: to deter a departing president from resorting to violence in an effort to remain in office.
“He would have you believe there is absolutely nothing the Senate can do about it,” Mr. Raskin said, gesturing at the images from the montage. “No trial. No facts. He wants you to decide that the Senate is powerless at that point. That can’t be right.”
Mr. Raskin said the framers had intended just the opposite. They had been perfectly comfortable with impeaching former officials, he said.
They chose to give the Senate “sole power” to try “all impeachments,” he said, citing the Constitution. “All means all,” Mr. Raskin said. “There are no exceptions to the rule.”
Despite the graphic imagery Mr. Raskin used and the gruesome events he described, his tenor was without rancor or partisan blame. He spoke of how colleagues from both parties offered him condolences on Jan. 6 as he prepared the speech he would deliver as Congress met to certify the election results.
“I felt a sense of being lifted up from the agony,” Mr. Raskin said, shortly before that day took its ugly turn.