Trump’s Lawyers Deny He Incited Capitol Mob, Saying It’s Democrats Who Spur Violence
Former President Donald J. Trump’s legal team mounted a combative defense on Friday focused more on assailing Democrats for “hypocrisy” and “hatred” than justifying Mr. Trump’s own monthslong effort to overturn a democratic election that culminated in last month’s deadly assault on the Capitol.
After days of powerful video footage showing a mob of Trump supporters beating police officers, chasing lawmakers and threatening to kill the vice president and House speaker, Mr. Trump’s lawyers denied that he had incited what they called a “small group” that turned violent. Instead, they tried to turn the tables by calling out Democrats for their own language, which they deemed just as incendiary as Mr. Trump’s.
In so doing, the former president’s lawyers went after not just the House Democrats serving as managers, or prosecutors, in the Senate impeachment trial, but half of the jurors sitting in front of them in the chamber. A rat-a-tat-tat montage of video clips played by the Trump team showed nearly every Democratic senator as well as President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris using the word “fight” or the phrase “fight like hell” just as Mr. Trump did at a rally of supporters on Jan. 6 just before the siege of the Capitol.
“Suddenly, the word ‘fight’ is off limits?” said Michael T. van der Veen, one of the lawyers hurriedly hired in recent days to defend Mr. Trump. “Spare us the hypocrisy and false indignation. It’s a term that’s used over and over and over again by politicians on both sides of the aisle. And, of course, the Democrat House managers know that the word ‘fight’ has been used figuratively in political speech forever.”
To emphasize the point, the Trump team played some of the same clips four or five times in less than three hours as some of the Democratic senators shook their heads and at least one of their Republican colleagues laughed appreciatively. The lawyers argued that the trial was “shameful” and “a deliberate attempt by the Democrat Party to smear, censor and cancel” an opponent and then rested their case without using even a quarter of the 16 hours allotted to the former president’s defense.
In the process, they tried to effectively narrow the prosecution’s “incitement of insurrection” case as if it centered only on their client’s use of that one phrase in that one speech instead of the relentless campaign that Mr. Trump waged since last summer to discredit an election he would eventually lose and galvanize his supporters to help him cling to power.
“They really didn’t address the facts of the case at all,” said Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland and the lead impeachment manager. “There were a couple propaganda reels about Democratic politicians that would be excluded in any court in the land. They talk about the rules of evidence — all of that was totally irrelevant to the case before us.”
After the Trump team’s abbreviated defense, the senators posed their own questions, generally using their queries to score political points. The questions, a total of 28 submitted in writing and read by a clerk, suggested that most Republicans remained likely to vote to acquit Mr. Trump when the Senate reconvenes for final arguments at 10 a.m. Saturday, blocking the two-thirds supermajority required by the Constitution for conviction.
Some of the few Republicans thought to be open to conviction, including Senators Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, grilled the lawyers about what Mr. Trump knew and when he knew it during the attack. The managers have argued that it was not just the president’s words and actions in advance of the attack that betrayed his oath, but his failure to act more assertively to stop his supporters after it started.
The Trump Impeachment ›
What You Need to Know
- A trial is being held to decide whether former President Donald J. Trump is guilty of inciting a deadly mob of his supporters when they stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, violently breaching security measures and sending lawmakers into hiding as they met to certify President Biden’s victory.
- The House voted 232 to 197 to approve a single article of impeachment, accusing Mr. Trump of “inciting violence against the government of the United States” in his quest to overturn the election results. Ten Republicans joined the Democrats in voting to impeach him.
- To convict Mr. Trump, the Senate would need a two-thirds majority to be in agreement. This means at least 17 Republican senators would have to vote with Senate Democrats to convict.
- A conviction seems unlikely. Last month, only five Republicans in the Senate sided with Democrats in beating back a Republican attempt to dismiss the charges because Mr. Trump is no longer in office. Only 27 senators say they are undecided about whether to convict Mr. Trump.
- If the Senate convicts Mr. Trump, finding him guilty of “inciting violence against the government of the United States,” senators could then vote on whether to bar him from holding future office. That vote would only require a simple majority, and if it came down to party lines, Democrats would prevail with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tiebreaking vote.
- If the Senate does not convict Mr. Trump, the former president could be eligible to run for public office once again. Public opinion surveys show that he remains by far the most popular national figure in the Republican Party.
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