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Trump's impeachment lawyers picture him as perfectly innocent

Then-President Donald Trump speaks to supporters near the

Then-President Donald Trump speaks to supporters near the White House at a Jan. 6 rally that preceded the U.S. Capitol insurrection. Credit: Abaca Press / TNS / Yuri Gripas

No harm, no foul?

Former President Donald Trump's impeachment lawyers only have to meet a low bar to succeed, given how few Republican senators seem open to finding him guilty of inciting the deadly U.S. Capitol insurrection.

Forty-five of those 50 senators are already on record doubting the constitutionality of an impeachment trial for a now-former president. But lawyers Bruce Castor and David Schoen, hired just two days earlier, wanted to show some lawyering in a brief due Tuesday, so they've framed the then-president's actions and motives in advance of the mob attack with a deniability that veers toward the implausible.

"It is denied that President Trump intended to interfere with the counting of Electoral votes," their legal brief says at one point. But Trump suggested five times on Jan. 6 that Vice President Mike Pence reject the states' certified results after the president's election legal team had case after case swiftly thrown out of court.

That threatening phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Jan. 2 in which Trump cajoled him to "find" votes to reverse Joe Biden's victory in the state? It was simply an expression of Trump's belief that a careful examination of the evidence would produce a favorable result, the lawyers contended.

As for Trump's speech urging a rally crowd of supporters to march on the Capitol, telling them to "fight like hell"? That was not a call for violence but merely "about the need to fight for election security in general." (As it happened, the mob surging through the Capitol was chanting demands like "Hang Mike Pence!" — not "Tighten election security!")

The lawyers didn't try to vouch for the legitimacy of Trump's baseless claims of massive fraud, but they said: "Insufficient evidence exists upon which a reasonable jurist could conclude that the 45th President’s statements were accurate or not, and he therefore denies they were false." They argued that Trump was within his First Amendment rights to express to the crowd "his opinion that the election results were suspect." The gray area here is that incitement of violence isn't a protected free-speech right, and rioters have said they believed they were carrying out Trump's wishes.

The Castor-Schoen filing reprised a sloppy distinction of several pro-Trump postelection lawsuits by featuring a glaring typo on its first page: "To: The Honorable, the Members of the Unites States Senate." Click here to read their legal brief in its entirety.

'Abusive means of staying in power'

In their pretrial brief, the Democratic House impeachment managers declared that Trump endangered the lives of all members of a co-equal branch of government when he aimed a mob of supporters "like a loaded cannon" at the Capitol.

The document tied Trump’s baseless efforts to overturn the election results to the deadly riot, saying the then-president bears "unmistakable" blame for actions that "jeopardized the peaceful transition of power and line of succession" and threatened the underpinnings of American democracy.

"This is precisely the sort of constitutional offense that warrants disqualification from federal office," said the Democrats, whose impeachment resolution drew backing from 10 House Republicans.

Trump's efforts to subvert democracy began when he first said last summer that he would not accept the election results, continued after Nov. 3 with his failed court challenges and then resorted to "improper and abusive means of staying in power," the brief stated.

Instead of conceding his loss, Trump "summoned a mob to Washington" and "exhorted them into a frenzy." The crowd "included many who were armed, angry, and dangerous — and poised on a hair trigger for President Trump to confirm that they indeed had to 'fight' to save America from an imagined conspiracy," the impeachment managers wrote. The lawmakers added that the electoral process "must be protected from him and anyone else who would seek to mimic his behavior."

Click here to read the Democrats' brief.

Janison: Lies and lunacy aren't theories

The phrase "conspiracy theory" finally may have outlived its usefulness, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. Paranoid utterances swirling around Washington, D.C., and the elected ranks of the GOP would be better described as laughable memes that lack any fact-based "theory" to back them up.

As commonly defined, a conspiracy theory is the belief that some secret and influential organization or cabal created a situation or event. In science, theories are tested against facts and then confirmed, proved wrong or modified.

The election of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) marks the ascent of someone who buys into a broad-ranging package of outright hoaxes that have been espoused by either Trump or many of his loyalists. Among these is the famous QAnon fantasy that had Trump as a president fighting a secret cabal of Satan-worshipping cannibalistic pedophiles who run the "deep state."

Greene's ravings — about space lasers controlled by a Jewish banker starting wildfires, "fake" school shootings, Clinton-ordered "killings" — all suggest an unhinged impulse to draw attention, subvert facts and share in a cult online following. She has become Congress' answer to right-wing radio fabulist Alex Jones.

The silly propaganda issued by Trump and enabler Rudy Giuliani also falls short of a fully developed conspiracy theory. Their election assertions add up to a series of far-fetched mini-hoaxes about Venezuela-manipulated voting machines, phantom suitcases full of illegal ballots and ordinary Pennsylvania citizens faking vote numbers. Their goal was clear if elusive — to steal an election they called "stolen."

Immigrant song

Biden on Tuesday signed the latest in a series of executive orders aimed at dismantling the Trump administration’s hard-line immigration policies that his successor denounced as shameful, including family separations, reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

Biden ordered the creation of a federal task force focused on reuniting migrant children who were separated from their parents at the U.S. southern border. The president also ordered his administration to review Trump-era policies that made it more difficult for migrants to apply for asylum in the United States.

"We're going to work to undo the moral and national shame of the previous administration that literally — not figuratively — ripped children from the arms of their families, their mothers and fathers, at the border, and with no plan, none whatsoever, to reunify the children," Biden said before signing the order.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki, speaking at Tuesday’s daily press briefing, said the task force will issue a report in 120 days on the progress of the reunification effort. But she declined to say whether the Biden administration will allow parents who have already been deported to return and stay with their children.

Psaki also cautioned would-be migrants to think twice while policies are adjusted to create a more humane asylum process. "It remains at dangerous trip. This is not the time to come to the United States," she said.

Why Trump really lost

A campaign post-mortem written by Trump chief pollster Tony Fabrizio — and privately circulated among advisers — found that Trump lost because he did himself in, Politico reported.

The former president suffered from voter perception that he wasn’t honest or trustworthy, and there was strong disapproval over how Trump handled the coronavirus pandemic.

Most voters said they prioritized battling the coronavirus over reopening the economy, even as Trump put a firm emphasis on the latter. And roughly 75% of voters — most of whom preferred Biden — said they favored public mask-wearing mandates.

The autopsy says that Trump saw his "greatest erosion with white voters, particularly white men," and that he "lost ground with almost every age group."

Biden Cabinet filling up

The Senate confirmed Pete Buttigieg on an 86-13 vote Tuesday to head the Transportation Department, the first openly gay U.S. Cabinet member to be confirmed by lawmakers.

Buttigieg will oversee aviation, highways, vehicles, pipelines and transit, as well as efforts to ensure safe transportation during the pandemic. He will take a key role in a White House effort to dramatically ramp up infrastructure spending. Unlike his predecessors, he brings to the job a huge social media following built during his Democratic presidential primary campaign, Politico writes.

The Senate also confirmed Alejandro Mayorkas as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security on a narrower 56-43 vote. Opponents, including Republican leader Mitch McConnell, called Mayorkas an "ethically compromised partisan lawyer." An inspector general's report found that Mayorkas, as head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services during the Obama administration, intervened to help several foreign investors connected to high-profile Democrats obtain green cards.

Drugstores to get COVID vaccines

The Biden administration will begin delivering COVID-19 vaccines directly to retail pharmacies, the White House and federal health officials announced Tuesday.

"This will provide more sites for people to get vaccinated in their communities, and it's an important component to delivering vaccines equitably," said Jeffrey Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, in a briefing with reporters. The effort includes 21 national pharmacies and will eventually encompass 40,000 locations across the country, the officials said.

The administration also has pledged to give undocumented migrants the same access to the vaccines as other civilians, and said vaccination sites would be immigration enforcement-free zones.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • The Manhattan District Attorney's Office is weighing whether to bring a state case against Steve Bannon, who was indicted on federal fraud charges for his role in a fundraising scheme to build a border wall but received a last-minute pardon from Trump, who he served as a political strategist, The Washington Post reported.
  • Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has removed members of the Pentagon's advisory boards who included Trump loyalists named by former acting Secretary Christopher Miller in his final weeks on the job. Among them were Trump's 2016 campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and deputy campaign manager David Bossie.
  • The Biden administration said it would release $1.3 billion in aid that Puerto Rico can use to protect against future climate disasters, The New York Times reported. It also is starting to remove some restrictions put in place by the Trump administration on $4.9 billion in spending that was to help the island after Hurricane Maria in 2017.
  • Investigators are struggling to build a federal murder case in the death of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick during the insurrection, CNN reports. Video and photos show Sicknick engaging with rioters, but authorities haven't pinpointed how he suffered his fatal injuries. He made it back to his office and then collapsed. The former Air National Guardsman's cremated remains were lying in honor Tuesday night in the Capitol Rotunda, where Biden and first lady Jill Biden came by to pay their respects.
  • It wasn't just differences over strategy that caused Trump's breakup with his previous impeachment legal team, Axios reports. The ex-lead lawyer, Butch Bowers, and the former president fought over fees and expenses.
  • Axios has a wild account of a late-night scream- and expletive-filled White House meeting on Dec. 18 with Trump hearing advice from fringe characters on how to overturn the election and White House lawyers calling their ideas nuts. The cast included conspiracy theory-spewing lawyer Sidney Powell, military interventionist Mike Flynn, Giuliani phoning in and former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne, who was pronounced an "idiot" after shouting at one White House lawyer he mistook for another.
  • Lin Wood, who with Powell filed a blitz of failed election lawsuits alleging far-out fraud plots, is under investigation by Raffensperger on suspicion of illegally voting in Georgia, reports Atlanta's WSB-TV. An email from Wood to a reporter from the station said he had moved to South Carolina months before.

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