WASHINGTON - Lawyers for Donald Trump on Friday wrapped up their presentation in defense of the former U.S. president in his second Senate impeachment trial, denying he helped incite a deadly mob attack on the U.S. Capitol and arguing the trial is a politically inspired and illegal “witch hunt.”
Lawyers for Trump made their case in three hours Friday, choosing not to use the full 16 hours allocated.
“The article of impeachment now before the Senate is an unjust and blatantly unconstitutional act of political vengeance,” Trump’s attorney Michael van der Veen said.
“Like every other politically motivated witch hunt the left has engaged in over the past four years, this impeachment is completely divorced from the facts, the evidence and the interests of the American people,” van der Veen added.
Trump’s attorneys told senators that the former president had every right to dispute his election loss to President Joe Biden and that Trump’s 70-minute speech just minutes before the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol did not amount to inciting the violence.
'Ordinary political rhetoric'
When Trump urged thousands of supporters on the Ellipse to “fight like hell,” the defense said it was no different from Democrats’ using similar rhetoric that could spark violence.
“This is ordinary political rhetoric that is virtually indistinguishable from the language that has been used by people across the political spectrum for hundreds of years,” van der Veen said.
Trump’s lawyers played a lengthy video montage featuring prominent Democrats, including Vice President Kamala Harris, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, using the word “fight” without any context.
Also featured in the video were many of the Democratic lawmakers who are the impeachment managers prosecuting the former president.
The attorneys previously said they would need only one day to present their client’s case before the U.S. Senate. They are mounting the former president’s defense without any testimony from Trump, who declined to participate in Friday’s session of the trial.
Following the defense’s presentation, senators began holding a question-and-answer session in which they can ask questions of both the lawyers for Trump and the Democratic lawmakers prosecuting the former president.
House Democrats' presentation
Friday’s defense follows a two-day presentation by House Democrats linking Trump’s rhetoric at a rally on January 6 to the actions of the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol shortly afterward to try to block the certification of the 2020 presidential election results.
In an unusual move Thursday, three Republican senators — Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah — who are jurors in the trial, met with Trump’s lawyers.
CNN reported that David Schoen, one of Trump’s lawyers, said the lawmakers wanted to ensure that the Trump’s defense team was “familiar with procedure” before Friday’s presentation.
Trump is reported to be disappointed with the performance of his lawyers — Schoen and Bruce Castor Jr. — who were recruited after the former president’s first legal team quit shortly before the trial began.
Impeachment prosecutors contended Thursday there is “clear and overwhelming” evidence that Trump incited insurrection by sending a mob of his supporters to the Capitol last month to confront lawmakers as they were certifying that he had lost the November election to Democrat Joe Biden.
In wrapping up his presentation, the lead impeachment manager, Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland, told the 100 members of the Senate acting as jurors they should use “common sense on what happened here.”
“It is a bedrock principle that no one can incite a riot” in the American democracy, Raskin said.
But he argued that Trump urged hundreds of his supporters to march to the Capitol on January 6 and then, when they stormed the building, smashed windows, ransacked offices and scuffled with police, “did nothing for at least two hours” to end the mayhem that left five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer.
“He betrayed us,” Raskin said of the former U.S. leader, whose four-year term ended January 20 as Biden was inaugurated as the country’s 46th president. “He incited a violent insurrection against our government. He must be convicted.”
Raskin and eight other impeachment managers, all Democrats in the House of Representatives, concluded their case after about 12 hours spread over two days of presenting arguments and evidence against Trump.
They flashed dozens of Trump’s Twitter comments on television screens in the Senate chamber from the weeks leading up to the election with his claims that the only way he could lose to Biden was if the election were rigged, then more tweets with an array of his unfounded claims after the election that he had been cheated out of another term in the White House.
The House impeachment managers also showed an array of video clips of the rioters raging through the Capitol complex, most graphically scenes of some of them shouting “Hang Mike Pence!” as they searched in vain for Trump’s vice president, who had refused to accede to his demands to block certification of Biden’s victory.
Other insurgents stormed into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, looking to kill the longtime Trump political opponent. But security officials escorted Pence to a secluded room in the Capitol and whisked Pelosi to safety away from the building, which is often seen as a symbol of American democracy.
Trump’s lawyers have broadly claimed that Trump’s speech at the rally shortly before the rampage at the Capitol in which he urged his supporters to “fight like hell” was permissible political rhetoric, sanctioned by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment protection of freedom of speech.
But Raskin told the Senate, “What is impeachable conduct if not this? If you don’t find [that Trump committed] high crimes and misdemeanors [the standard for conviction of an impeachment charge] you have set a new terrible standard for presidential conduct.”
Several impeachment managers warned that if Trump is acquitted, which is the likely outcome of the trial, he could be emboldened to create more chaos in another run for the presidency in 2024.
Congressman Ted Lieu of California said, "You know, I'm not afraid of Donald Trump running again in four years. I'm afraid he's going to run again and lose, because he can do this again."
Thursday’s session came after several lawmakers told reporters they were shaken by graphic, previously undisclosed videos of the mayhem the Democratic lawmakers showed them Wednesday, with scenes of dozens of officials scrambling to escape the mob that had stormed into the Capitol.
But there was no immediate indication that Republican supporters of Trump in the Senate were turning en masse against him. Trump remains on track to be acquitted.
A two-thirds vote is needed to convict Trump of a single impeachment charge, that he incited insurrection by urging hundreds of supporters to confront lawmakers at the Capitol to try to upend Biden’s victory. In the politically divided 100-member Senate, 17 Republicans would have to join every Democrat for a conviction.
At the moment, it appears that only a handful of Republicans might vote to convict Trump, the only president in U.S. history to be twice impeached.
The Senate voted 56-44 on Tuesday to move ahead with the trial, rejecting Trump’s claim that it was unconstitutional to try him on impeachment charges since he has already left office. The vote also seemed to signal that relatively few Republicans appear willing to convict him.
Trump left Washington hours ahead of Biden’s inauguration Jan. 20 and is living at his Atlantic coastal mansion in Florida.