Senate impeachment trial: Trump’s lawyers look to equate Trump’s speech with Democrats

Trump’s attorneys opened their presentation at the Senate impeachment trial arguing that Trump’s language on January 6 telling his supporters to “fight like hell” was merely “ordinary political rhetoric,” and that the House impeachment managers ignored Trump’s comments in his speech for protesters to remain peaceful.

Trump lawyer Michael van der Veen played clips of congressional Democrats objecting to the certification of the 2016 election and various politicians, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, using fiery rhetoric. Van der Veen suggested that groups of “extremists of various different stripes and political persuasions,” including Antifa, pre-planned the attack at the Capitol, meaning Trump could not have incited it.

“Nothing in the text could ever be construed as encouraging, condoning or enticing unlawful activity of any kind,” van der Veen said. “Far from promoting insurrection against the United States, the President’s remarks explicitly encouraged those in attendance to exercise their rights peacefully and patriotically.”

Trump’s lawyers also went after House Democrats, accusing them of carrying out political retribution by impeaching the former president a second time after going after him throughout his time in office. They accused the managers of selectively editing footage of Trump’s speeches.

“The hatred that the House managers and others on the left have for President Trump has driven them to skip the basic elements of due process and fairness,” Trump attorney David Schoen said.

The arguments from Trump’s lawyers included factually dubious and outright false claims about the circumstances of the riots. Antifa was not responsible for the riots at the Capitol — the dozens of charging documents have shown many well-known leaders of far-right groups led the attackers. Though it is hard to pinpoint the political ideology of some participants in the riot, video evidence and court documents conclusively show that the riot was perpetrated by Trump supporters.

A top FBI official told reporters in early January that they had seen “no indication” that Antifa members had disguised themselves as Trump supporters.

Even House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, said on the House floor last month during the impeachment debate there was “absolutely no evidence” Antifa caused the riots.

The defense team’s focus on the January 6 speech Trump gave also ignored the argument House Democrats made earlier in the week that Trump’s incitement dated back months, and was more than just his speech.

The presentation from Trump’s lawyers is sure to be shorter than the Democrats’ two-day argument. Schoen told reporters Thursday that Trump’s team expected to present for roughly three to four hours on Friday, out of the 16 hours the team has available. The former President’s lawyers are expected to wrap up on Friday and not use a second day to present their case.
The goal of Trump’s team Friday is simple: Do no harm. Unlike the Democratic managers, who hoped to win over Republican senators with their presentation, Trump’s lawyers expect to already have the votes they need for acquittal, as most Republican senators are saying they will vote to acquit Trump because they believe the trial is unconstitutional.
At the same time, the Trump defense presentation Friday could play a key role in just how many Republican senators vote that Trump is guilty, after six voted that the trial itself was constitutional on Tuesday.

After the Trump team wraps up, the Senate could move onto senators’ written questions to the legal teams as soon as Friday. Senators are predicting that the trial could conclude as early as Saturday if they move into closing arguments without any witnesses, though senior aides on the House impeachment team still would not say Friday morning whether they intend to call witnesses.

The aides said the managers are prepared to move into the question-and-answer session as soon as Friday, though that would depend on how long Trump’s lawyers take.

In another sign that things are moving quickly — and that senators may get their chance to question each side Friday evening — GOP and Democratic senators have been asked to submit their proposed questions to their respective leaders. The idea among the leaders is to avoid duplication. Some senators are working together on questions.

5 takeaways from Day 3 of Donald Trump's impeachment trial

While leadership is coordinating ahead of the Q&A session, senators can ask also questions on the floor without prior leadership approval and can do so on the fly.

Democratic senators discussed Friday limiting the number of questions they plan to ask the impeachment managers and Trump attorneys. It’s unclear how many questions they might ask — one Democratic Senate source said perhaps just five on their side — but the belief is there’s no need to further clarify what they believe is a slam-dunk case from House Democrats.

This also is another indication that the question period — which is expected to happen as soon as Friday evening — is not expected to go the full four hours as allotted under the Senate trial rules.

Following Tuesday’s rambling argument from Trump attorney Bruce Castor — which was panned by Republican senators and angered Trump — Schoen is expected to take the lead for arguments Friday. All four Trump attorneys — Schoen, Castor, van der Veen and William Brennan — are expected to speak.
Several key GOP senators, including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, who are serving as jurors in the impeachment trial met with Trump’s attorneys after the impeachment managers’ presentation concluded Thursday afternoon.

“We were discussing their legal strategy and sharing our thoughts,” Cruz said after the meeting. “I think the end result of this impeachment trial is crystal clear to everybody. … Every person in the Senate chamber understands that there are not the votes to convict, nor should there be.”

This story and headline have been updated with additional developments Friday.

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