Convict Trump or face dire democracy damage, prosecutors say

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In this image from video, a quote from news media reporting is displayed for senators as House impeachment manager Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., speaks during the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. (Senate Television via AP)

WASHINGTON – Dire harm from Donald Trump’s false and violent incitements will vex American democracy long into the future unless the Senate convicts him of impeachment and bars him from future office, House prosecutors insisted Thursday as they concluded two days of emotional arguments in his historic trial.

Making their case, they presented piles of new videos of last month's deadly Capitol attack, with invaders proudly declaring they were merely obeying “the president’s orders” to fight to overturn the election results as Congress was certifying his defeat to Democrat Joe Biden. Trump is accused of inciting the invasion, which prosecutors said was a predictable culmination of the many public and explicit instructions he gave supporters long before his White House rally that unleashed the Jan. 6 attack.

“If we pretend this didn’t happen, or worse, if we let it go unanswered, who’s to say it won’t happen again?” argued prosecutor Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo. Even out of office, Democrats warned, Trump could whip up a mob of followers for similar damage.

Trump’s defense will take the Senate floor on Friday, arguing that as terrible as the attack was, it clearly was not the president's doing. The proceedings could finish with a vote this weekend by the senators who are sitting as impeachment jurors.

The Democrats, with little hope of conviction by two-thirds of the evenly divided Senate, are also making their most graphic case to the American public, while Trump’s lawyers and the Republicans are focused on legal rather than emotional or historic questions, hoping to get it all behind as quickly as possible. Five people died in the Capitol chaos and its aftermath, a domestic attack unparalleled in U.S. history.

Trump's second impeachment trial, on a charge of incitement of insurrection, has echoes of last year’s impeachment and acquittal over the Ukraine matter, as prosecutors warn senators that Trump has shown no bounds and will pose a continuing danger to the civic order unless he is convicted. Even out of the White House, the former president holds influence over large swaths of voters.

The Democratic House members acting as prosecutors drew a direct line Thursday from Trump's repeated comments condoning and even celebrating violence — praising “both sides” after the 2017 outbreak at the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia — and urging his rally crowd last month to go to the Capitol and fight for his presidency. He spread false claims about election fraud and urged his supporters to “stop the steal” of the presidency.

Prosecutors used the rioters' own videos from that day to pin responsibility on Trump. “We were invited here,” said one. “Trump sent us,” said another. “He’ll be happy. We’re fighting for Trump.”