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House Managers Continue Their Case In Trump Impeachment Trial

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

House impeachment managers showed new images and sounds of what happened inside the U.S. Capitol on January 6. They played chilling security footage and police audio during day two of former President Trump's impeachment trial. Impeachment manager and House delegate Stacey Plaskett began her detailed timeline of events with this audio from the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED METROPOLITAN POLICE OFFICER: Multiple Capitol injuries. Multiple Capitol injuries.

PFEIFFER: He's saying multiple Capitol injuries. In part of the footage, Secret Service is seen rushing then-Vice President Mike Pence and his family out of the Senate chamber to safety. Plaskett stressed just how close the mob got to lawmakers.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STACEY PLASKETT: As the rioters reached the top of the stairs, they were within 100 feet of where the vice president was sheltering with his family, and they were just a feet away from one of the doors to this chamber.

PFEIFFER: Some of the lawmakers relived the harrowing moments after the building had been breached. Here's Congresswoman and impeachment manager Madeleine Dean.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MADELEINE DEAN: There was a terrifying banging on the chamber doors. I will never forget that sound.

PFEIFFER: Democratic Senator Jon Tester from Montana is a juror in this impeachment trial. He listened to this case for hours yesterday, and he will do so again today, and he joins us now. Good morning, Senator.

JON TESTER: Good morning.

PFEIFFER: What has it been like so far to sit through this?

TESTER: Well, I mean, the prosecution has laid down a very compelling case. And the fact is, is that as we were in the middle of this, because the jurors were - witnessed what happened here, I don't think any of us fully realized everything that was going on. In fact, I know we didn't. And it was much more - it was very serious, but this was much more serious than I even thought it was at the time.

PFEIFFER: You were in the building that day?

TESTER: Actually, I was in my office. I was just getting ready to head over there when things - when the Capitol was breached.

PFEIFFER: So when you saw and heard this yesterday, did it make it hit home to you in a different and more powerful way?

TESTER: It certainly did. I mean, I knew people were at risk, but yesterday had just elevated it to a point where we were very, very lucky to get out of there without folks getting hurt.

PFEIFFER: Well, at one point in the footage, an officer is seen directing Senator Mitt Romney to turn around to get to safety. Did you realize until yesterday how close of a call it was on January 6 for many of your colleagues?

TESTER: I did not. I mean, look, there's no doubt about the fact that, you know, the Capitol had been breached. That's a very serious thing, hadn't happened in a couple hundred years. There was no doubt that these folks could do a lot of damage and do a lot of harm to people. But I really wasn't aware it was that close for many of my colleagues.

PFEIFFER: You have said that former President Trump should be held accountable for what happened, but you've also said you're undecided on whether you will vote to convict. Are you leaning one way or the other?

TESTER: Well, look, the prosecution laid down a compelling case. There's no doubt about that. And we're going to hear more today. How the defense reacts to what was put out there, because they utilized the president's own voice, own statements as evidence, I think it's going to be hard to, you know, turn that all around for the defense. But, you know, it could be done, and we'll see what they have to say.

PFEIFFER: Could you say at this point whether you feel like you would cast a vote for conviction?

TESTER: Well, yeah, but I haven't heard the defense yet. I mean, you know, I haven't heard what their response to the allegations are. I haven't heard the reasons why they think the president is not guilty of incitement of insurrection. Until I hear the defense, you know, it wouldn't be fair for me to say I'm going to - I've only heard half the story.

PFEIFFER: Right. And, of course, the right thing to do in these cases is hear both sides. That's obvious.

TESTER: That's correct.

PFEIFFER: I want to read to you something you said the day after the Capitol riot. You were very - you denounced strongly - you called it a coup by domestic terrorists. You said that Trump's language absolutely enabled it to happen. And you said that what he did is unacceptable. But I think just yesterday, or the day before, you gave an interview to the local paper in Missoula and you sounded, to my ear, like you had softened your language a little bit. You said we'll find out what the acts he did are during the trial. If those acts were significant enough for incitement of violence, I will vote to convict him. If they weren't significant enough to prove incitement for violence, then I'll vote to acquit. Were you tempering your language perhaps because of what you're hearing from constituents? Or are you simply trying to say, I'm going to be a blank slate until I hear both sides?

TESTER: No, I think my constituents were very upset by what happened on January 6. There's no doubt about that. I - what I was saying is exactly how I feel. That is now we're in the middle of an impeachment trial or beginning an impeachment trial. Then, I'm one of the jurors. It's important that I listen to both sides. And that's what I was trying to express.

PFEIFFER: Senators, some of them who are serving as the jury, including Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, helped spread former President Trump's false claims of election fraud. They voted to reject the Electoral College results. That has some people asking how they can be impartial jurors. Do you feel that they can be impartial?

TESTER: I don't know. That's a better question for them. I do know that there needs to be a level of accountability for the senators that enabled the president to do this and spread the big lie. But we'll see whether the Senate does anything about that or not. But the bottom line is, is that that's a better question for them because I don't know what's in their heart.

PFEIFFER: And I hope that we get a chance to ask them. I would love to put that question to them. But they are also jurors alongside you. I'm wondering how you feel about knowing that they're your fellow jurors, given their role.

TESTER: Well, I mean, it's the way the Constitution has dictated how an impeachment works, and they're jurors until they're disqualified. I don't necessarily think they should be disqualified from being jurors because we need 67 people to convict, if that's what the Senate decides. And so, I mean, there's 67 folks in there that are not in the same position as Cruz or Hawley are in.

PFEIFFER: The numbers make it look like Trump is likely to be acquitted, so there is a belief, a fear, a concern that Democrats are wasting their time here, that they are detracting from what Biden could be accomplishing and maybe they're giving Trump attention the Democrats wish he wouldn't get. Do you view it that way, that maybe this is perhaps not great for the Democrats and possibly even good for Republicans?

TESTER: No, I'm not looking at it from a political standpoint at all. I think that this is about accountability and this is about making sure that if the president is found guilty of insurrection, that is very, very serious charges. And I think it's important that we hold folks accountable in order to get to a point where we can come back together as a nation.

PFEIFFER: If Trump is not convicted, if he is acquitted, how do you think he should be accountable, held accountable, if not in that way?

TESTER: Well, that is a real problem. If if, in fact, the defense doesn't lay down a good case and if he is acquitted, I think, Katy, bar the door as far as Donald Trump goes and his actions in this nation.

PFEIFFER: I missed what you said - Katy, bar the door?

TESTER: Yeah, that's exactly right. He's going to be able to do anything he wants.

PFEIFFER: That's Democratic Senator Jon Tester of Montana. Thank you for talking about this.

TESTER: Appreciate it, Sacha, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.