Trump's impeachment trial heads toward verdict as Senate resumes

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) – The Senate is poised to deliver a verdict Saturday (Feb 13) in the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump, with all signs pointing to the former president’s acquittal.

Senators from both parties said they saw no indication there would be enough Republicans voting in favour of conviction to reach the two-thirds majority threshold that would be required.

In a sign of confidence, Mr Trump’s lawyers on Friday used only about three of the 16 the hours they were allotted, arguing the impeachment charge was “preposterous” and amounted to “constitutional cancel culture” aimed at silencing both the former president and his millions of supporters.

The trial reconvenes at 10 am, wrapping up in just five days a trial over Mr Trump’s culpability for the Jan. 6 assault on the US Capitol as Congress was officially counting the Electoral College votes certifying Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election.

The Senate will be ready to consider and vote on any motions to subpoena witnesses or documents.

But Trump lawyer Bruce Castor said his side doesn’t intend to call any witnesses unless the House impeachment managers do so, and they haven’t indicated that they would. After a procedural vote, both sides will have the opportunity to deliver closing arguments.

The Senate could deliberate behind closed doors after that. Then comes the final step, a public vote on the single article of impeachment that is widely expected to end, as Mr Trump’s first trial did, in acquittal. If the former president were to be convicted, there would be a second vote on whether to bar him from ever again holding office.

Democratic House managers prosecuting Trump showed chilling, previously unseen video of violent battles and near-misses for Vice President Mike Pence and members of Congress as they portrayed Mr Trump’s incendiary speech to supporters beforehand as a last-gasp bid to stay in power.

Mr Castor argued that Mr Trump’s remarks at the Jan 6 rally near the White House amounted to ordinary political speech and, using terminology frequently invoked by Trump and his supporters.

Mr Castor said that the impeachment amounted to “cancelling 75 million Trump voters and criminalising political viewpoints.”

The defence team had little response to prosecutors’ criticism of the former president for failing to call on his supporters to leave the Capitol once the attack began and for not quickly marshalling federal resources to assist overwhelmed law enforcement officers in and around the building.

Lawyer Michael van der Veen brushed aside a question from Republican senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski on what actions Mr Trump took once the attack began, saying, “with the rush to bring this impeachment there’s been absolutely no investigation into this.”

Mr Van der Veen also suggested Mr Trump wasn’t aware Mr Pence was in peril when he sent a tweet after the Capitol was breached disparaging the vice president, though Mr Pence was in the building and some in the mob were chanting, “Hang Mike Pence.”

Prosecutors showed video of Mr Pence and his security team fleeing down stairs shortly before the rioters overran the Senate floor, where he had been presiding over the electoral vote count.

“At no point was the president informed the vice president was in danger,”Mr van der Veen said.

The defence team avoided addressing Mr Trump’s baseless claim that the election was stolen.

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Asked by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont whether he believed Mr Trump won the election, van der Veen responded “my judgement’s irrelevant in this proceeding” and “it’s irrelevant” to the charge Mr Trump incited the mob.

House managers chronicled Mr Trump’s own tweets, speeches and comments to argue that his months-long campaign to fuel anger about the Nov 3 election he wound up losing to Mr Biden – including attempts to overturn the results with “the big lie” that the vote had been stolen – inevitably culminated in the riot he did nothing to prevent or stop.

Lead House manager Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, said the trial is about “protecting our republic and articulating and defining the standards of presidential conduct.” If Trump’s conduct is deemed appropriate “we’re headed for a very different kind of country,” he added.

But a verdict that primarily reflects the nation’s polarised political divide was signalled from the beginning of the trial, when only six Republicans joined with the Senate’s 48 Democrats and two independents in a vote that the trial was constitutional.

The remaining Republicans took the position that a president can’t be tried on impeachment charges after leaving office. It would take 17 Republicans for the needed two-thirds super-majority to convict.

“I think the president’s lawyers blew the House manager case out of the water,” Senator Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, told reporters. “They legally eviscerated them.” Senator Mike Braun, an Indiana Republican, said he didn’t think many senators were undecided heading into Saturday.

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Republican Senator Rick Scott of Florida called the proceeding “a complete waste of time.” Even the Senate’s No. 2 Democratic leader said he saw little indication enough Republicans would vote to convict.

“Many of them are loyal to Donald Trump even to this day, despite what he may have said about them or their families in the past,” Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois said in an interview Thursday with Bloomberg Television.

“And more of them are afraid of Donald Trump’s political power.” Pressure to keep the trial short has come from both sides. Republican party leaders have sought to minimise the amount of time spent focusing the nation’s attention on the insurrection while the Biden administration has been anxious to move swiftly on a US$1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package it considers essential to effectively fight the pandemic and reverse its economic fallout.

The Senate on Friday concluded a fractious day of impeachment proceedings on a note of unity.

They gave an ovation to Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman, who was in the chamber, and passed a resolution awarding him the Congressional Gold Medal for heroic action during the siege. Goodman lured a mob charging up the stairs away from the Senate chamber, giving lawmakers precious extra minutes to flee the attackers.

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