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Who says Trump incited U.S. Capitol riot? The rioters say he did

Insurrectionists loyal to then-President Donald Trump at a

Insurrectionists loyal to then-President Donald Trump at a police barrier on Jan. 6 during the deadly U.S. Capitol siege. Credit: AP / John Minchillo

Whose insurrection was it anyway?

We all saw the horns and animal furs around the head of Jacob Chansley, but what got into his head to join the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 with deadly results?

"What these people heard, including my client, was an invitation, a call to arms by the president," said his attorney, Al Watkins. "But for the president, they would not have walked down Pennsylvania Avenue," Watkins added. "They believed the president was going with them. They thought they were helping the president save our country."

Both lawyers and prosecutors of the more than 200 people arrested have repeatedly cited then-President Donald Trump's summons for his followers to stand with his false claims against a "stolen" election as laying the groundwork for the violence, according to documents reviewed by The Washington Post. The day before he allegedly stormed the Capitol, Samuel Fisher of Manhattan posted on Facebook: "At 1 when congress certifies the election … Trump just needs to fire the bat signal … deputize patriots … and then the pain comes." "Trump wants all able bodied patriots to come," an Ohio bartender wrote to a member of her small militia group on Dec. 29, eight days before they breached the Capitol.

Trump's defense team argued in a brief Monday, on the eve of his second impeachment trial that the former president did not incite anybody. All he did was exercise his right of free speech and congressional Democrats are trying to "silence a political opponent and a minority party," they said. The blame falls on the Trump supporters who invaded the Capitol, the brief from his lawyers indicated.

"The real truth is that the people who criminally breached the Capitol did so of their own accord and for their own reasons, and they are being criminally prosecuted," the Trump lawyers argued.

House impeachment managers wrote in their brief Monday that Trump’s false claims and incendiary rhetoric were entitled to no such protection. "When President Trump demanded that the armed, angry crowd at his Save America Rally ‘fight like hell’ or ‘you’re not going to have a country anymore,’ he wasn’t urging them to form political action committees about ‘election security in general,’ " they said, quoting the Trump defense team.

In sum, the managers wrote: "The House did not impeach President Trump because he expressed an unpopular political opinion. It impeached him because he willfully incited violent insurrection against the government."

Guide to the trial

The trial will begin Tuesday with a debate and vote on whether it’s constitutionally permissible to prosecute the former president. Under an agreement between Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Republican leader Mitch McConnell, the opening arguments would begin Wednesday at noon, with up to 16 hours per side for presentations over several days.

At present, the House impeachment managers haven't announced any plans to call witnesses, but the rules don't preclude that. They are expected to rely heavily on videos showing Trump’s rhetoric leading up to Jan. 6, including his remarks the morning of the insurrection.

If no witnesses are called, the trial could wind up by early next week with a vote to acquit or convict Trump.

Newsday's Tom Brune has more on how the trial will proceed and the key questions to be decided by the jury of senators.

No binge-watch for Biden

President Joe Biden will not be glued to the TV during Trump’s impeachment trial, said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

"I think it’s clear from his schedule and from his intention he will not spend too much time watching the proceedings," Psaki said at Monday’s daily press briefing after listing some of the meetings and events on Biden’s agenda this week.

Biden, asked Monday morning whether senators should move to bar Trump from running for office again, deferred to the Senate.

"He got an offer to come and testify; he decided not to. Let the Senate work that out," Biden told reporters before entering the White House upon his return from a weekend in Delaware. See Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

Janison: MAGA past peak?

Whatever the trial outcome, Trump's grip on the Republican Party may soon weaken. A key question looms, writes Newsday's Dan Janison: Can the so-called "MAGA movement" survive very long with its catchphrases and slogans already curdling into self-parody?

The riot gave lie to the claim to "Law and Order." The legacy of "America First" is the U.S. leading the world in COVID-19 deaths. As for "Stop the Steal," it was Trump's attempted election theft that was stopped. "Build that wall" came up many miles short. The "Sleepy Joe" nickname hasn't stuck, as Biden seems awake and alert enough to function in the job.

As for "fake news," see the very real multibillion-dollar defamation suits filed against Trump surrogates who baselessly charged a fix by voting machine companies.

Trump's past record of business enterprises includes many failures, including bankrupt casinos, a discredited Trump University and a failed football league and team. If MAGA were a stock listing, the "smart money" might be on selling about now.

Job insecurity?

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said on "Axios on HBO" that he wished Biden hadn't canceled the Keystone XL pipeline on his first day in office — a move praised by environmentalists — because it will cost some good-paying union jobs.

"I wish he hadn’t done that on the first day," Trumka said in the interview aired Sunday night. "I wish he had paired that more carefully with the thing that he did [on the] second by saying: Here’s where we’re creating jobs." He said he still thinks Biden a "man of his word," and he believes the Democrat’s promises to "create jobs, good union jobs, and be the best union president we’ve ever had."

Biden's embrace of the party progressives' cause of boosting the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour also may not be politically cost-free. A new Congressional Budget Office report estimates the change could cost 1.4 million jobs, lead to higher prices on some goods and increase the federal deficit. But the report also says the minimum wage increase would pull 900,000 Americans out of poverty.

The White House pushed back later Monday on the CBO's assessment of job losses, saying it's "overstated" and that other research shows "at most, a modest effect on employment."

Biden's positive COVID rating

Two-thirds of Americans approve of Biden's response to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new ABC News/Ipsos poll finds.

In contrast, more than 6 in 10 disapproved of Trump's handling of the virus in polls from July to October.

"Things are beginning to click," Biden said Monday as he joined Vice President Kamala Harris in a virtual tour of a vaccination site at a football stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Biden says the administration is on track to deliver more than his promised 100 million shots in his first 100 days.

More coronavirus news

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

What else is happening:

  • Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) will be part of a TV defense squad for Trump during the impeachment trial. Others will include Republican Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio, Mike Johnson of Louisiana, Matt Gaetz of Florida and Elise Stefanik of Schuylerville in Saratoga County, Bloomberg News reported.
  • While Biden hasn't given up on bipartisan coronavirus relief, Democrats are seeing political advantage in passing a bigger package by themselves, Politico reported. The party's campaign committees envision ad drives that portray Republicans as willing to slash taxes for the wealthy but too stingy to cut checks for people struggling during the pandemic.
  • Biden will review the deportations of veterans and military family members that occurred under the Trump administration's immigration enforcement policies, a White House official told McClatchy DC.
  • Financial disclosures show Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, earned between $172 million and $640 million in outside income while serving as White House advisers in the Trump administration, according to a government watchdog group.
  • The deployment of thousands of National Guard troops to protect the U.S. Capitol from Jan. 6 — the date of the insurrection — through March 15 will cost an estimated $483 million, according to Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.
  • The Trump International Hotel in Washington has jacked up its rates for March 4. That's the date QAnon conspiracy cultists, undeterred by past failed and baseless predictions, believe Trump will somehow be sworn in for another term.
  • The Georgia Secretary of State’s Office has formally opened an investigation into Trump’s efforts to overturn the state’s 2020 election results, Reuters reported. Trump was recorded in a Jan. 2 phone call pressuring Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to "find" enough votes for him to change the outcome.
  • Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is self-quarantining for the next 14 days after a member of his security detail tested positive for COVID-19.

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