Democrats warn of 'whataboutism' ahead of Trump defense

As Donald Trump's defense team prepares to take the stage Friday in the former president's impeachment trial, Democrats are rejecting one of the central arguments likely to emerge: that Trump's speech ahead of last month's assault on the Capitol was no more dangerous than words employed by Democrats over the years.

"The blatantly false equivalence that the Trump team is going to try to draw between Trump's concerted incitement of insurrection and a handful of isolated comments from Democrats" should be rebuffed, a senior aide to the Democratic impeachment managers told reporters Friday morning.

"Whataboutism is never a particularly morally strong case," the aide added.


Trump is on trial this week on charges that he incited a mob of his followers to march on the Capitol to block the vote formalizing the presidential victory of his opponent, Joe BidenJoe BidenChinese apps could face subpoenas, bans under Biden executive order: report OVERNIGHT ENERGY:  EPA announces new clean air advisors after firing Trump appointees |  Senate confirms Biden pick for No. 2 role at Interior | Watchdog: Bureau of Land Management saw messaging failures, understaffing during pandemic Poll: Majority back blanket student loan forgiveness MORE.

In two days of emotional arguments on the Senate floor, the nine Democratic impeachment managers had highlighted tweets, speeches and rallies where Trump had falsely claimed that November's election results were fraudulent; encouraged supporters to travel to Washington on Jan. 6 to protest the outcome; and sat silent for several hours after violent rioters stormed into the Capitol, even as some of his closest GOP allies were pleading for him to defuse the 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?” Rep. Joe NeguseJoseph (Joe) NeguseHouse unveils antitrust package to rein in tech giants Overnight Health Care: House Democrats pressure Biden to expand Medicare | Intel community: Competing COVID-19 origin theories not 'more likely than the other' | WHO: Africa in 'urgent need' of 20 million second vaccine doses 70 percent of House Democrats pressure Biden to expand Medicare in American Families Plan MORE (D-Colo.), an impeachment manager, asked senators on Thursday.

David Schoen, one of Trump's defense attorneys, said Thursday that the Democrats had failed to make the case that Trump was responsible for the violent behavior of others. The president, he said, enjoys the same First Amendment protections as everyone else.

"The evidence they have under no circumstances would make out a case for incitement," Schoen told reporters in the Capitol.


Democrats have rejected that argument out of hand, saying that Trump must be held to a higher standard because he was not an ordinary citizen expressing beliefs, but a president who was bound to an oath to protect the country and the Constitution.

"If you're the president of the United States, you've chosen a side with your oath of office," Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben Raskin House Democrats to Schumer: Vote again on Jan. 6 probe Democrats claim vindication, GOP cries witch hunt as McGahn finally testifies Trump DOJ seized phone records of New York Times reporters MORE (D-Md.), the lead impeachment manager, told senators this week. "If you break it, we can impeach, convict, remove and disqualify you permanently from holding any office of honor, trust or profit in the United States."

Trump's defense team is expected Friday to air clips of Democratic lawmakers making their own combative statements. Writing in The Hill, Jonathan Turley, a constitutional lawyer who's advising Senate Republicans during the trial, offered a preview of that argument, noting that Democratic Reps. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersThe tale of the last bipartisan unicorns Tulsa marks race massacre centennial as US grapples with racial injustice Fauci may have unwittingly made himself a key witness for Trump in 'China Flu' hate-speech case MORE (Calif.) and Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyIt's past time we elect a Black woman governor House Republicans introduce resolution to censure the 'squad' Progressives rally behind Omar while accusing her critics of bias MORE (Mass.) and Vice President Harris have all encouraged aggressive protests against perceived injustices. The issue took on a special resonance during last year's national protests against police brutality, which turned violent in some rare cases.

Democrats maintain that there's no comparison between the fiery rhetoric of some lawmakers and Trump's entreaty for thousands of supporters to march on the Capitol on Jan. 6 in order to "stop the steal."

"President TrumpDonald TrumpChinese apps could face subpoenas, bans under Biden executive order: report Kim says North Korea needs to be 'prepared' for 'confrontation' with US Ex-Colorado GOP chair accused of stealing more than 0K from pro-Trump PAC MORE was not impeached because of the words he used, viewed in isolation, without context, were beyond the pale. Plenty of other politicians have used strong language," Rep. David CicillineDavid CicillineHillicon Valley: House targets tech giants with antitrust bills | Oversight chair presses JBS over payment to hackers | Trump spokesman to join tech company | YouTube suspends GOP senator House unveils antitrust package to rein in tech giants On the Money: Tech giants face rising pressure from shareholder activists | House Democrats urge IRS to reverse Trump-era rule reducing donor disclosure | Sen. Warren, Jamie Dimon spar over overdraft fees at Senate hearing MORE (D-R.I.), another manager, told the Senate this week.


"He summoned an armed, angry and dangerous crowd that wanted to keep him in power and was widely reported to be poised on a hair trigger for violence at his direction," he added. "He then made his heated statements in circumstances where it was clear, where it was foreseeable, that those statements would spark extraordinary, imminent violence."

Trump's defense was expected to feature the argument that, under the Constitution, Congress lacks the power to impeach a president who is no longer in office.

Raskin undercut that argument on Thursday, noting that the Senate had already settled that question with a vote earlier in the week, when it determined that Trump's impeachment trial was, indeed, constitutional. Six Republicans crossed the aisle to proceed with the process.

"They are going to try to rest it on free speech, or constitutional jurisdictional — probably a mix of both. But we shouldn't kid ourselves about what these guys are saying," said a second senior Democratic aide to the impeachment managers.

"They really believe that the logical conclusion of the law is that a president who has lost an election can incite mob violence, can direct his followers to ransack the Capitol to stop the peaceful transfer of power, and that there is nothing that the United States Senate can do about it," the aide added. "It just can't be that way."