Trump lawyers center defense around attacks on Democrats
Former President Trump’s legal team closed their defense in the impeachment trial after speaking for less than four hours on Friday, accusing Democrats and the news media of a double-standard.
The lawyers said Democrats had themselves used violent rhetoric about the social justice protesters, contested Trump’s Electoral College victory, and questioned the outcome of past elections.
They repeatedly aired footage of the GOP’s biggest antagonists, including 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Georgia 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.
There also were celebrity appearances, with footage of Johnny Depp and Madonna making incendiary comments about Trump.
“The article of impeachment now before the Senate is an unjust and blatantly unconstitutional act of political vengeance,” said attorney Michael Van Der Veen. “This appalling abuse of the Constitution further divides our nation when we should be trying to come together around shared priorities.”
Democrats blasted the “false equivalency” and accused the Trump team of ignoring their central allegation that the former president intentionally whipped up his supporters to storm the Capitol building on Jan. 6.
“I think it feels like they’re erecting straw men to then take them down, rather than deal with the fact that the events of the 6th happened, including Donald Trump doing nothing to protect this place,” said Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).
Trump’s defense team rested after using only about 3 hours and 15 minutes of the 16 hours allotted time, signaling their confidence that the outcome is predetermined and that GOP senators will vote to acquit.
“Members of the Senate, our country needs to get back to work,” attorney Bruce Castor said. “I know that you know that. But instead, we are here. The majority party promised to unify and deliver more COVID relief, but instead they did this. We will not take most of our time today, us of the defense, in the hopes that you will take back these hours and use them to get delivery of COVID relief to the American people.”
The former president’s attorneys only briefly addressed the specific allegations of incitement, arguing that Trump did not direct the mob to storm the Capitol and that his speech was protected under the First Amendment.
The attorneys said Trump’s remarks were covered under the sweeping protections afforded by the Constitution, and that a conviction would make all lawmakers liable for the actions of the worst actors in their party.
The defense said there is a high bar to convict someone for incitement, and that past Supreme Court cases require the speaker to directly call for violence.
Trump’s attorneys also accused the House impeachment managers of intentionally editing or manipulating their evidence to make it seem as if Trump wanted violence. They said the Democratic prosecutors ignored Trump’s remarks that his supporters should march on the Capitol “peacefully and patriotically.”
“Far from promoting insurrection…the president’s remarks explicitly encouraged those in attendance to exercise their rights peacefully and patriotically,” Van Der Veen said. “Peaceful and patriotic protest is the antithesis of a violent assault on the nation’s Capitol.”
Those arguments came after Democrats spent two days displaying Trump’s old tweets and his past speeches, in which he warned his supporters that if they did not “fight like hell” they’d lose their country.
Democrats fumed at the allegations from Trump’s lawyers that they had taken his tweets and videos out of context.
They also accused Trump attorney David Schoen of lying when he claimed that the defense was not given the dramatic new video footage of the siege beforehand. The never-before-seen videos of senators running for their lives and barely missing confrontations with the angry mob shook lawmakers when impeachment managers displayed the clips earlier this week.
“Somewhere in between repeatedly showing video of comments from Democrats cut entirely out of their context, Trump’s attorney leveled a false accusation of selective editing at the House managers, and in doing so, selectively edited the managers’ presentation to make his point,” a Democratic aide said. “Schoen’s statement is incorrect.”
The preponderance of Trump’s defense focused on the argument that Democrats share the blame in fomenting the current polarized political environment and that impeachment was a final push to remove Trump from politics once and for all.
“The goal is to eliminate a political opponent to substitute their judgement for the will of the voters,” Castor said.
“This is about cancelling 75 million Trump voters…It asks for constitutional cancel culture to take over,” he added.
Trump’s attorneys repeatedly played videos of Democrats urging their own supporters to march in the social justice protests from this past summer, or to confront Trump administration officials when they are out in public.
One long segment featured Democrats saying they would “fight” to win elections, contrasted against Trump’s calls for his supporters to “fight like hell.”
Another video showed Democrats, including lead impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), contesting Trump’s Electoral College victory from 2016, while yet another displayed a montage of Democrats questioning past election results.
The clips were meant to cast Democrats as guilty of all the things they’re accusing Trump of doing.
“It seems the House manager’s position…is that when Republican candidates for office claim the election is stolen or the winner is illegitimate, it constitutes inciting an insurrection, and the candidates should know it,” Schoen said.
“But Democratic Party candidates for public elected office are perfectly entitled to claim the election was stolen or that the winner is illegit, or to make any other outrageous claim they can…irrespective of whether there is evidence to support their claim.”
Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) called that argument a “false equivalence.”
“I mean, you have a history, in one case, of encouraging violence through, you know, overt statements, but also dog whistles …versus a history that in no cases resulted in deaths, deaths of police officers, rioting behavior. It’s just not the same thing,” Heinrich said.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) called the defense videos a “distraction” from Trump “inviting the mob to Washington.”
“They’re trying to draw a dangerous and distorted equivalence,” he said.
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) called the attacks on Democrats “childish.”
“It was pathetic and amateurish,” she said.
Updated at 4:49 p.m.