with Aaron Schaffer

Tweets and cellphone videos are central to House impeachment managers’ case against former president Donald Trump. 

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) began the trial with a graphic 13-minute video that drew on social media footage and Trump’s own tweets to establish the chronological order of the events of Jan. 6. The presentation set the stage for the House impeachment managers' case that the former commander in chief incited the violent attack on the Capitol that left multiple people including a police officer dead. 

“If that’s not an impeachable offense, then there is no such thing,” Raskin said after airing the video, which spliced together videos from social media posts and news organizations. 

House impeachment managers played a video sequence of events at the beginning of the impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump on Feb. 9. (The Washington Post)

Later Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) zeroed in on a tweet Trump sent hours after the mob stormed the Capitol, saying it demonstrated “how President Trump himself felt” even while the nation was reeling from the violence. Trump had complained that his “sacred landslide election victory” had been “stripped away” and embraced his followers as “great patriots” in the tweet that was labeled by Twitter immediately after it was posted. 

Never before has there been such a trove of social media evidence in a trial to convict a U.S. president.

It’s the second impeachment of the social media era but this time the acts didn’t occur behind closed office doors, brought forward by a whistleblower. Americans around the country watched them live on their computer screens in viral videos and 280-character tweets. 

“There’s no better way to convey the trauma, threat, the outrage, the violence, the hatred of January 6 than by presenting it as a video and splicing together the various perspectives,” said Tim Naftali, a history professor at New York University and the former director of the Nixon Presidential Library. “So many of the insurrectionists used their phones to document their own behavior.” 

“That gives you an unprecedented, unusual unique record,” he added. 

Democrats are expected to continue to use social media evidence throughout the process to bolster the case, my colleagues reported. Evidence from social media and text messages is already playing a critical role in the federal criminal cases against the rioters who specifically cited Trump as the reason they stormed the Capitol, and that could also be used to bolster the Democrats' case against Trump. 

There may not be a historical precedent for an impeachment driven by iPhone videos and tweets. But audiotapes played a pivotal role in the congressional scrutiny of President Richard Nixon that ultimately led to his resignation. The audio was not immediately released to the public, but it did affect members of the House who heard the tapes as they prepared to impeach Nixon, Naftali said. 

“There was an immediacy to the Nixon tapes that created a visceral reaction,” Naftali said. “I believe that Nixon's voice and of course the other evidence helped shape the bipartisan majority against him.” 

It's very unlikely that social media posts will have the same impact this time around in a polarized 50-50 Senate, where the odds of convicting Trump are very low. Some experts are skeptical there's any communications strategy that could change enough Republicans' minds to secure the 17 votes they would need to convict Trump. 

“I'm not sure there are meaningful wins that could be made from a good communications strategy this time," said David Karpf, an associate professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University.

Some Republicans in the chamber yesterday looked away as the Democrats' impeachment video played.    

Karpf said Democrats may have an eye toward the history books – and not their Republican colleagues – in preparing their evidence. 

“I think they're going to do a good job of at least detailing the story so that the moment in history when the Capitol was sacked by the exiting president's supporters because they didn't like the results of election doesn't get ignored or overlooked."

Last time Trump was impeached, social media was just a sideshow to the main event. 

One of the biggest differences between this impeachment and the last one is that Trump no longer has access to his online bully pulpit — as a direct result of companies' concerns that he was inciting violence after the events of Jan. 6. Rather than reacting to each twist and turn of the process in real time in 280-characters or fewer rockets, Trump himself has been largely silent. 

That's a major shift from the process in the last impeachment, when Democrats used some of the president's own tweets about the process against him as evidence of his mindsetand also raised alarm that he was targeting individual witnesses. Trump was impeached by the House in late 2019 for using the power of his office to pressure Ukraine to damage his political rival and obstructing Congress. 

Some of the guardrails that social media companies adopted to prevent the spread of inflammatory content in the wake of the election are still in place, changing the digital debate as well. During the last impeachment, both parties heavily used powerful social media ad tools to raise money off the proceedings. But Facebook has disabled those tools throughout the United States since Election Day. 

However, the echo chambers online persist, and researchers are actively monitoring for online misinformation about the proceedings. 

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A plan to sell TikTok to Oracle and Walmart is on hold indefinitely. 

President Biden plans to undertake a broad review of the Trump administration's efforts to address national security concerns about tech companies, the Wall Street Journal's John D. McKinnon and Alex Leary report. The proposed deal – which was prompted by an executive order from Trump – has stalled since last fall as TikTok's Chinese owner, ByteDance, challenged it in courts. 

ByteDance executives and U.S. national security officials have continued discussions, which have focused on data security and how to ensure the Chinese government cannot access American users' data, the Journal reports. But no imminent decision about those concerns is expected from the Biden administration as it formulates its own strategy. 

“We plan to develop a comprehensive approach to securing U.S. data that addresses the full range of threats we face,” National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said. “This includes the risk posed by Chinese apps and other software that operate in the U.S. In the coming months, we expect to review specific cases in light of a comprehensive understanding of the risks we face.”

Wyden unveils a bill to upgrade the U.S. unemployment insurance system that faltered during the pandemic.

The $500 million legislation would enhance the dated, patchwork network of state systems by allowing states to use a standardized set of unemployment websites and tools, Tony Romm reports. The bill is an attempt to address the technical glitches that slowed unemployment sites and hampered the U.S. government response to the coronavirus.

Modernizing U.S. unemployment insurance technology is one of the top priorities for Wyden, the new chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. His bill would direct the Labor Department to create a “modular” system that local officials would be able to customize. It also proposes regular testing and service, a response to glitchy state systems.

“Unemployment began in the 1930s, and not that much really has changed,” Wyden (D-Ore.) told Tony. “And certainly unemployment insurance services have not kept up with the times.”

Huawei asks federal court to overturn designation of company as a national security threat.

The Chinese tech giant wants a federal appeals court to overturn a December order by the Federal Communications Commission that called it a national security risk. The request comes amid Republican pressure on the Biden administration to take a hard line against the company. 

In a legal filing, Huawei said the order exceeded the FCC's authority, broke the law and is “arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion.” The FCC did not respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, Huawei founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei has called for a reset with the Biden administration, AFP’s Dan Martin reports. “We hope the new US administration would have an open policy for the benefit of American firms and the economic development of the United States,” he said.

Lawmakers are scrutinizing whether Apple's new privacy labels are accurate. 

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), the chairwoman of its consumer protection and commerce subcommittee, asked Apple CEO Tim Cook about the labels in a letter. It follows reports, including by our colleague Geoffrey A. Fowler, about their misleading and false claims about data collection.

“A privacy label is no protection if it is false,” they wrote. “We urge Apple to improve the validity of its App Privacy labels to ensure consumers are provided meaningful information about their apps’ data practices and that consumers are not harmed by these potentially deceptive practices.” 

Pallone and Schakowsky also asked Cook about Apple’s enforcement, notification and auditing policies.

Apple did not comment on the letter, but the company has said it conducts audits of the information app developers provide for privacy labels and will work with them to correct inaccuracies.

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Late night comedians weighed in on impeachment part two: