Videos Offer a ‘Smoking Gun’ on Impeachment. Will It Matter?

The House managers who are pressing the case against former President Donald Trump in the Senate’s impeachment trial know they’ve got their work cut out for them. Even after watching a graphic 13-minute video that depicted the Capitol siege in unflinching detail, 44 of the Senate’s 50 Republican senators voted yesterday (unsuccessfully) to throw out the trial. To achieve a conviction, the managers will need to persuade at least 11 of those 44 to turn against the president.

Today, the House managers continued to put video footage at the center of their presentation, this time including some newly publicized clips taken from Capitol security cameras. In one particularly startling video, a Capitol Police officer, Eugene Goodman, is seen running from the mob and warning Senator Mitt Romney to find shelter.

But more than anything, the impeachment managers are using footage of Trump himself, and his supporters, to allow the defendant to make the case for them. Essentially, they are trying to beat Trump — who has always been a media star more than a politician — at his own game.

It was his use of Twitter, of authoritarian-tinged video content at his rallies, and of public slogans that helped draw the crowd to the Capitol on Jan. 6. Drawing on that, the impeachment managers this afternoon were trying to make the case that Trump’s use of the bully pulpit is what caused the destruction and death that day.

“Trump is a master of the media; he knows how to manipulate visual media,” said Nicole Dahmen, a scholar of visual communication at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. But now, she said, with Trump kicked off Twitter and out of the spotlight, he has been stripped of his ability to reframe the footage that clearly shows a violent insurrection at the Capitol.

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What You Need to Know

    • 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. Only 27 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.

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