WASHINGTON — The legal team defending former President Donald Trump had their turn in the Senate impeachment trial on Friday, arguing that the Hous
WASHINGTON — The legal team defending former President Donald Trump had their turn in the Senate impeachment trial on Friday, arguing that the House impeachment prosecutors were hypocritical in their case against Trump and that his speech is protected by the First Amendment.
The defense team used fewer than three of the eight hours allowed for the day and decided to forego their second day of arguments. The trial then went into a question-and-answer session.
The defense pushed back on the arguments made the previous two days by the House managers, who tried to convince senators that the former president incited the deadly mob that stormed the Capitol building on Jan. 6.
Impeachment live updates:Senate looks to final arguments in after Q&A session wraps
Here are the takeaways from Trump’s legal team’s first day of arguments and the question-and-answer session:
Trump attorney uses Democrats’ words to defend Trump
Lawyer Michael van der Veen played a montage of clips of Democrats from four years ago who objected to the electoral count of certain states such as Florida, Wisconsin and North Carolina, that affirmed Trump’s 2016 victory.
But while Democrats challenged the election results, Trump baselessly claimed the election was stolen from him by falsely claiming voter fraud.
After arguing that House prosecutors had manipulated Trump’s words by showing edited videos of him speaking, his defense attorneys simultaneously showed a montage of edited and spliced videos of dozens of Democratic lawmakers saying the word “fight.”
Some of the lawmakers shown included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, former Democratic nominee and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vice President Kamala Harris and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
The House managers had previously pointed to Trump’s use of the words, “fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” to bolster their incitement argument.
Trump is protected by First Amendment, lawyers say
Trump’s attorneys argued that House managers prosecuting the impeachment trial want senators to ignore Trump’s right to free speech, and that Trump’s words addressing supporters ahead of the Jan. 6 riot did not rise to the level of incitement it would require to convict him.
Lawyer Bruce Castor warned against the “constitutional cancel culture” that he said would result from a conviction, saying it would set a precedent for Republicans to do the same to the opposing party if they are in power.
‘Political vengeance’:Trump’s defense blasts second House impeachment as partisan attack
Van der Veen cited Supreme Court cases to argue that Trump’s speech did not violate any law. He cited James Wilson, one of the first Supreme Court justices and an expert on impeachment, who said lawful and constitutional conduct may not be used as an impeachable offense.
While the House argued that Trump’s actions and speech leading up to Jan. 6 spurred violence at the Capitol and therefore isn’t protected as free speech, Trump’s lawyers said that the violence wasn’t the direct result of Trump’s speech.
Castor said that in order for Trump’s speech to rise to the standard of incitement, the violence would have to be the “likely result of the speech.”
Castor said that the Jan. 6 violence was planned ahead of time by the rioters, pointing to statements made by law enforcement, to show that the speech Trump gave that day was not directly responsible for what followed.
“That argument is completely eviscerated by the fact that the violence was pre-planned,” Castor said. “Not the result of the speech at all.”
House prosecutors also used previous speeches and actions by Trump to demonstrate their case that Trump’s words and actions over weeks and months taken together incited the violence.
Trump lawyer repeats false election claims
Castor defended Trump’s recorded call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, which is now part of a criminal investigation and was used by House prosecutors in their presentation.
The defense lawyer defended baseless and widely debunked claims of election fraud by suggesting that Trump was taken out of context in the call.
Trump urged Raffensperger in the call to “find” the number of votes required to overtake Biden in the state. Castor repeated a false claim about Georgia’s mail-in ballot rejection rate, and said Trump was within his authority in the call.
“There was nothing untoward with President Trump, or any candidate for that matter, speaking with a lead elections officer of a state. That’s why the Georgia secretary of state took a call along with members of his team.”
Trump referenced his phone call with Raffensperger during the Jan. 6 rally that preceded the Capitol attack.
“In Georgia, your secretary of state … I can’t believe this guy’s a Republican,” Trump told the crowd. “He loves recording telephone conversations. You know … I thought it was a great conversation personally. So did a lot of other. People love that conversation because it says what’s going on.”
Lawyers take heat for playing videos
After criticizing the House impeachment managers’ use of video montages of rioters in their presentation as “an entertainment package,” Trump’s team used similar clips of Democratic lawmakers’ speaking, drawing criticism from social media users.
The videos, which Trump’s defense team said were intended not to justify Trump’s speech but to show that all political speech should be protected, included rhetoric from Democratic lawmakers and others.
They included clips of speeches from Madonna addressing the Women’s March on Washington and news anchors such as CNN’s Chris Cuomo. Some played more than once during the defense’s presentation.
Other clips featuring impeachment managers and news hosts were set to ominous background music, while clips of Trump speaking were set to a dramatic soundtrack.
Lawmakers on both sides question timeline of Trump’s actions
During the question-and-answer session of the impeachment trial, lawmakers pressed both the House managers and Trump’s defense team on what the former president knew on Jan. 6 and when he knew it.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who are both considered open to the possibility of convicting Trump, asked the former president’s lawyers to clarify exactly what Trump knew about the riot and when on Jan. 6 he was aware, in an attempt to learn what knowledge he had when he tweeted and what he did to stop the riot.
“Exactly when did President Trump learn of the breach of the Capitol, what specific actions did he take to bring the rioting to an end and when did he take them?” they asked.
Trump’s defense team used the question to attack the House managers for what they called a lack of due process, saying that there would be more answers to such questions if the House had allowed proper time to investigate.
Unsatisfied with the answer, Democrats Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, asked the same question to House managers, who argued Trump must have had access to top-level intelligence coming from the Capitol that day.
When Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Collins later asked again whether Trump knew that Pence had been evacuated from the Senate when he sent a disparaging tweet about Pence, Trump’s team said he was not informed at any point that Pence was in danger.
As rioters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, Trump’s tweet at 2:24 p.m. said, “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving states a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify.”
House managers said Trump must have known because news of the riot was widespread by the time his tweet about then-Vice President Mike Pence was sent and Trump was aware Pence was presiding over the vote count.
The Secret Service had already evacuated Pence from the Senate, where was overseeing the Electoral College vote count.
Van der Veen insisted: “At no point was the president informed the vice president was in any danger.”
Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., stood by his initial account that he informed Trump the vice president had been escorted out of the chamber on Jan. 6, as it was happening or shortly after.
Tuberville previously had been on record telling Trump on a phone call that Pence had left, but Trump’s defense team during the trial called this account, as presented by House managers, “hearsay.”
Asked whether he stands by his account on Friday evening, Tuberville said he did.
“I said, ‘Mr President, they’ve taken the vice president out. They want me to get off the phone, I gotta go,'” Tuberville said, adding that he didn’t know whether Trump was previously aware about Pence’s situation before the phone conversation.
According to new video footage from Jan. 6, Pence was removed from the Senate around 2:13 p.m. Trump’s tweet was at 2:24 p.m.
House managers and legal team fire shots during Q&A
Republican and Democratic senators asked pointed questions of managers and defense lawyers to make points furthering their sides, but the House prosecutors and defense team took several of those opportunities to needle at the other side.
At one point, van der Veen accused the House managers of conducting “prosecutorial misconduct” during one of his responses on Friday, accusing them of skipping over Trump’s due-process rights.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, asked both the House impeachment managers and the former president’s counsel whether Trump was perpetrating a “big lie” when he claimed the election was stolen from him or if they thought Trump actually won.
“Who asked that?” van der Veen asked, clearly irritated with Sanders’ question.
Senators were called to order after an audible response to van der Veen, who stated emphatically that his opinion and the question were not relevant to the matter at hand.
At one point in the question-and-answer session, van der Veen lamented the process of the trial when he seemed frustrated his legal argument wasn’t sinking in.
“We aren’t having fun here. This about the most miserable experience I’ve had here in Washington D.C.” the Philadelphia lawyer told the Senate.
About half an hour later, lead House manager Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, said he could think of at least one day that was worse: the day of the siege at the Capitol.
“For that, I guess we’re sorry,” Raskin said of van der Veen’s comment. “But man, you should have been here on Jan. 6.”
More:Eugene Goodman, heralded as hero during Capitol riot, to be awarded Congressional Gold Medal
Up next: Senators expected to vote on conviction
Because Trump’s team decided not to use their second day of arguments, the question-and-answer session was moved up to Friday evening, and the trial now is expected to conclude sooner than originally anticipated.
The decision on whether to call witnesses before the Senate has yet to be made, but both sides have indicated it’s unlikely.
After that decision, closing arguments will take place for up to four hours for both the sides, and a vote on conviction could take place as early as Saturday.
Sixty-seven senators would need to agree Trump is guilty of incitement in order to convict. Though Republicans have indicated they are likely to acquit the former president, if he is convicted, another vote on whether he should be barred from future office will be held. That vote would require a simple majority to pass.
Contributing: Christal Hayes, Nicholas Wu, Bart Jansen, Ledyard King, Savannah Behrmann, Courtney Subramanian