WASHINGTON — Lawyers for Donald Trump fired back Friday at Democratic prosecutors in the Senate impeachment trial, accusing them of depriving Trump of due process and free speech, and creating a "constitutional cancel culture."
The lawyers blamed House Democrats’ hatred for the former president for the unprecedented act of impeaching Trump not once but twice, and then urging the Senate to carry out what the defense called an unconstitutional act of convicting him as a private citizen.
"The article of impeachment now before the Senate is an unjust and blatantly unconstitutional act of political vengeance," said Trump lawyer Michael van der Veen as he opened a defense that used just three of the 16 hours available to them.
"Like every other politically motivated witch hunt the left has engaged in over the past four years, this impeachment is completely divorced from the facts, the evidence, and interests of the American people," he said of the article of impeachment charging incitement of insurrection.
But House managers countered those arguments during the question-and-answer session with senators that followed. "Donald Trump summoned the mob. He assembled the mob. And he lit the flame," said Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas).
The trial moves to its final stages at 10 a.m. Saturday with up to two hours of debate on whether to admit witnesses, and as much as four hours of closing arguments evenly divided between the House managers and Trump’s legal defense.
And then the Senate votes on whether to convict Trump.
Senate Republicans, buoyed by the short but focused presentation by Trump’s attorneys after their stumbling start on Tuesday, appeared unlikely to convict.
"The president’s lawyers just blew the House mangers’ arguments out of the water," said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), a Trump loyalist.
Here are some highlights of Friday’s proceedings.
"Hypocrisy," said van der Veen after he played a clip of several Democratic lawmakers using the word "fight" and, earlier, other incendiary language after House Democrats charged Trump with inciting an insurrection in his Jan. 6 speech. Trump’s lawyers said "the word fight has been used figuratively in political speech forever." To prove it they played clips of prominent Democrats, including lead House manager Rep. Jamie Raskin, President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and both New York senators using the word fight. "I am not showing you this video as some excuse for Mr. Trump’s speech," van der Veen said. "This is not whataboutism. I am showing you this to make the point that all political speech must be protected. The reality is Mr. Trump was not in any way shape or form instructing these people to fight or to use physical violence."
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) found his ill-advised remarks at a rally in March 2020 as the Supreme Court heard a controversial Louisiana abortion access law repeated no fewer than four times. Speaking to abortion rights supporters, Schumer took aim at Trump-appointed Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. "I want to tell you Gorsuch. I want to tell you Kavanaugh. You have released the whirlwind and you will pay the price. You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions," Schumer said. The senator watched the clip hunched down in his chair. But unlike Trump, Schumer admitted his error the next day. "I should not have used the words I used yesterday. They did not come out the way I intended to," Schumer said on the Senate floor. "I’m from Brooklyn. We speak in strong language. I shouldn’t have used the words I did, but in no way was I making a threat. I never, never would do such a thing."
Lock her up?
If it’s OK to impeach Trump when he’s not in office, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio asked during the question-and-answer session, why not former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton? Trump attorney van der Veen responded, "If you see it their way, yes. If you do this the way they want it done, it could happen in the example there of the former secretary of state. That is not the way this is supposed to work. Not only could happen to a lot of people, it would become much more regular as well." Raskin dismissed the question. "In this case we have a president who committed this crime against the republic while he was in office. He was impeached by the House of Representatives while he was in office," Raskin said. "The hypothetical by the gentleman from Florida has no bearings on this case because I don't think you are talking about an official who was impeached while they were in office for the conduct that they conducted while in office."
What did Trump do?
In the question-and-answer session, senators from both sides asked the same question: Exactly when did President Trump learn of the breach of the Capitol and what specific action did he take to bring the rioting to an end and when did he take them? "On the day, we have a tweet at 2:38 p.m.," said Trump lawyer van der Veer of the first of three Trump tweets telling intruders to "support" or "respect" law enforcement and be "peaceful." He added, "There has been no investigation into that and that is the problem with the entire proceeding." House manager Castro said, "We are unclear (about what Trump did), but we believe it was dereliction of his duty because he was the one who caused them to come to the Capitol." He added, "Why didn’t President Trump tell the protesters to stop as soon as he learned about it? ... Why did President Trump do nothing to help protect the Capitol and law enforcement?"