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After Graphic Video Started 1st Day, Trump Trial Enters 2nd Day

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The opening day of the Senate impeachment trial was like living through January 6 all over again. And that was the point. The Democrats, leading the push for a conviction, played a graphic video, scenes of the mob storming the U.S. Capitol building.

(SOUNDBITE OF RIOT)

MARTIN: Democrat Jamie Raskin recalled how he huddled with other lawmakers after he was separated from his family, who had come with him to the House floor that day.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAMIE RASKIN: Our new chaplain got up and said a prayer for us, and we were told to put our gas masks on. And then there was a sound I will never forget - the sound of pounding on the door like a battering ram. The most haunting sound I ever heard - and I will never forget it.

MARTIN: Today, House impeachment managers will continue trying to convince enough senators to convict former President Donald Trump.

Congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell and justice correspondent Ryan Lucas have been covering it all, and they join us now. Good morning, you two.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Good morning.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So both sides started to lay out their arguments for the first time in this trial. Kelsey, what stood out to you in their argument?

SNELL: I think was interesting that Democrats were essentially making an argument they've been previewing for several weeks now. They're saying that there is no January exception to the Constitution and that Trump was subject to impeachment on that day, the day of January 6, as he was the day he first took office. You know, Democrats have said that their argument would be visceral. They said it would be based on public evidence, and that is what we saw in the video that we heard a little bit of there. It started with Trump revving up the crowd that gathered near the White House on the day of the riot. He was praising them and telling them, fight like hell. And the speech was interspersed with really violent graphic videos of the mob attacking police, and it included explicit captions and profanities. And a lot of that video was shot by the mob themselves, people who were kind of filming themselves storming the Capitol and posting it on social media.

You know, other managers did make drier arguments about scholarly interpretations of the Constitution and saying that there was a consensus that the trial itself was constitutional. The one moment that I think will stick out with many people was in Raskin's closing, where he recounted more of his own story that we heard. And he talked about how his daughter and son-in-law were in the Capitol that day. It was one day after they buried his son, who took his life days before. And Raskin described his family barricaded into an office while members of the House sent messages to loved ones, fearing that they would die. And that is the note that they ended their remarks on. That is the way that Democrats hope to reach senators who themselves witnessed that day. We also saw that, you know, that those arguments were effective enough to switch one vote. Senator Cassidy of Louisiana, switched his vote because he said the Democrats simply did more to convince him.

MARTIN: So Ryan, let's turn to former President Trump's defense team. I mean, from what I saw, they had a tough go of it.

LUCAS: It was not a particularly strong start for them, no. One of Trump's lawyers, Bruce Castor, started the day with a really kind of rambling 40-plus-minute speech. It was not a particularly coherent legal argument, to put it mildly. We didn't really hear anything from him on the main question of the day, which is whether it is constitutional for the Senate to try a former president. Castor was followed by Trump's other lead attorney, David Schoen. He was a bit sharper, I would say. He started off not so much, though, with legal arguments as political ones. Here he is slamming Democrats for holding the trial at all.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAVID SCHOEN: And to what end - for healing, for unity, for accountability? Not for any of those, for they - surely there are much better ways to achieve each. It is, again, for pure, raw, misguided partisanship that makes them believe playing to our worst instincts somehow is good.

LUCAS: Now, Schoen did address the question of whether the trial of a former president is constitutional, and he argued that the possibility of removing an official from office is a requirement of impeachment. And since Trump is no longer in office, following Schoen's reasoning, that means that the trial is unconstitutional.

MARTIN: Which, of course, the Senate ultimately did not agree with - it ruled that it is constitutional. Kelsey, what did the president's supporters think about what they saw yesterday in terms of the defense?

SNELL: I mean, even many of the people who voted that the trial itself was unconstitutional said that the showing of President Trump or former President Trump's attorneys was poor. The way the people described it was rambling. A senator called it terrible. But that really didn't change much when it came to the outcome. Republicans are just kind of looking for an argument about the process as a way to vote against conviction. They are looking for opportunities to not have to, you know, engage with what Democrats have been arguing in the more visceral evidence that they're putting out. And it would be difficult for someone to vote that the whole trial violates the Constitution and then vote to convict the president in a trial that they say is unconstitutional. We have heard from our colleague Tamara Keith. She's reporting that President Trump was watching and he was not happy with the arguments that he saw.

MARTIN: Well, let's talk about this. Ryan, the central question yesterday was about the constitutionality of all this, right? So how much of what we heard was about the legal framework, the legality and how much was purely political?

LUCAS: Well, impeachment is a political proceeding, but it's one with legal elements to it. So we really did hear both. We heard both from the impeachment managers as well as from Trump's legal team. It's important to remember, though, that these two things are are inextricably intertwined. And while House managers won the day, so to speak, on this legal question, since the trial did vote, as we said - since the Senate did vote that the trial is constitutional. Forty-four Republicans voted that it was not constitutional. And politically, many Republicans are looking for a reason not to convict, as Kelsey said. And calling this process unconstitutional gives them that reason without having to get their hands dirty on the merits of the allegations against Trump.

MARTIN: Kelsey, last word to you - what happens over the next couple of days?

SNELL: We're expecting to see more video, more of that evidence that we saw yesterday. Democrats say they intend to try to connect the dots, not just for senators, but for the people at home who are watching because this is not just a court of the Senate, but a court of millions of living rooms.

MARTIN: NPR's Kelsey Snell and NPR's Ryan Lucas. Thanks to you both. We appreciate it.

SNELL: Thanks for having us.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.