Live impeachment updates: Trump’s defense lawyer says former president did not encourage ‘unlawful activity of any kind’
Michael van der Veen, one of Donald Trump’s lawyers, argued the former president’s speech Jan. 6 before a mob ransacked the Capitol is protected under the First Amendment, saying House managers prosecuting the impeachment trial want senators to ignore Trump’s right to free speech.
Van der Veen argued that Trump’s speech hadn’t violated any law. The lawyer 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. Van der Veen blasted a letter from 140 legal scholars who called the First Amendment defense frivolous.
“I know these First Amendment arguments are not anywhere close to frivolous,” van der Veen said. “They are completely meritorious.”
The House impeached Trump by charging him with inciting the Capitol riot on Jan. 6. House prosecutors argued that his speech spurred violence in the riot and isn’t protected as free speech.
But Trump’s lawyers said he can’t be blamed for the mob’s actions. Trump’s language urging supporters to “fight” was common political language, and that he challenged election results through legal channels, according to the lawyers. Van der Veen said adopting the House argument would erode hundreds of years of free-speech doctrine.
– Bart Jansen
Former President Donald Trump’s lawyers, after arguing House prosecutors had manipulated Trump’s words by showing edited videos of him speaking, simultaneously showed a montage of edited and spliced videos of dozens of Democratic lawmakers saying the word “fight”.
Trump’s lawyers were attempting to show a parallel between Trump telling his supporters on Jan. 6 before the Capitol attack to “fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” to Democratic lawmakers using the same language. Almost none of the clips provided context.
The lawmakers and politicians spanned from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, former Democratic nominee and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vice President Kamala Harris and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Rachel Cohen, communications director Sen. Mark Warner, who was featured in the video, tweeted that the clip showed Warner “vowing on the Senate floor to ‘fight’ for HEALTH CARE FOR RETIRED MINE WORKERS.”
Trump was not impeached for using the word “fight”, specifically but rather that after his speech, his supporters breached and attacked the Capitol.
– Savannah Behrmann
Former President Donald Trump’s attorney David Schoen accused the Democratic House members prosecuting the former president’s impeachment of selectively editing footage of Trump and his words to distort his role in the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol.
Schoen pointed to what he called mislabeled tweets and short, out-of-context snippets of Trump speaking as examples that managers were more interested in portraying Trump as an inciter of violence rather than someone who was engaged in normal, political speech.
In one instance, Schoen pointed to a clip of the president’s speech at the Jan. 6 rally near the White House where he told the crowd of supporters: “After this we’re going to walk down – and I’ll be there with you – we’re going to walk down to the Capitol.”
Schoen continued to play the clip where Trump at one point said: “I know that everyone here will soon be marching to the Capitol Building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.”
Schoen said the Democratic prosecutors have been deceitful.
“There is significant reason to doubt the evidence the House managers have put before us,” Schoen said. “If they did this in a court of law, they would face sanctions from the judge.”
– Ledyard King
Trump lawyer: Democrats tried to overturn Trump victory 4 years ago
During his defense in the impeachment trial of Donald Trump, the former president’s lawyer Michael van der Veen showed footage from four years ago when several Democratic lawmakers objected to the electoral count of certain states such as Florida, Wisconsin and North Carolina, that affirmed Donald Trump’s 2016 victory.
Among those objecting was Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, who is now heading the team prosecuting Trump during this week’s impeachment trial.
Van der Veen was trying to make a point: Democrats had no problem trying to overturn an election when their candidate lost but took issue when Trump tried to exercise his right to challenge the 2020 election. While Democrats challenged the results, Trump baselessly claimed the election was stolen from him by falsely claiming voter fraud.
“As recently as 2016, the Clinton campaign brought multiple post-election court cases, demanded recounts and ridiculously declared the election was stolen by Russia,” van der Veen told the Senate Friday. “Many Democrats even attempted to persuade the Electoral College delegates overturn the 2016 results. House manager Raskin objected to the certification of President Trump’s victory along with many of his colleagues. You’ll remember it was Joe Biden who had to gavel them down.”
None of the objections in 2016 were granted.
– Ledyard King
Several Republican senators previewed questions for the Democratic impeachment managers and former President Donald Trump’s lawyers Friday morning as the chamber prepared to move into a question-and-answer session as soon as Friday evening after Trump’s lawyers finished their arguments at the Senate impeachment trial.
Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., said he wanted to ask for clarification about the timeline surrounding Trump’s call to Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., on Jan. 6 as Trump tried to pressure more senators to object to the counting of electoral votes. Tuberville had told the president that Vice President Mike Pence had been evacuated from the Senate chamber, but Trump still tweeted an attack on Pence as he faced the threat of rioters inside the Capitol.
“The president clearly had knowledge at that point. And then the tweet went out,” Cassidy said.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, a potential swing vote on conviction, told reporters she had “several” questions, though she declined to elaborate.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who voted to convict Trump on one impeachment charge last year, said he’d submitted five questions for the managers and Trump’s lawyers.
Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., who said he was likely to acquit Trump, was still working on drafting questions but wanted to know more about what the standard for “incitement in a criminal case” would be compared to what it would be an impeachment trial.
– Nicholas Wu
Former President Donald Trump’s defense lawyer opened his argument in the Senate impeachment trial with a fiery denunciation of the House charge he incited insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“The article of impeachment now before the Senate is an unjust and blatantly unconstitutional act of political vengeance,” said Michael van der Veen, one of the lawyers defending Trump. “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 the interests of the American people.”
In Trump’s speech to supporters Jan. 6 before the crowd laid siege to the Capitol, he called for legislative remedies to his complaints about the election, including better voter identification, requiring proof of citizenship to vote, van der Veen said.
“Nothing in the text could ever be construed as encouraging, condoning or enticing unlawful activity of any kind,” van der Veen said.
The House charged that Trump incited the insurrection through months of challenging election results that culminated in the speech and then a lack of response when the mob stormed through the Capitol. Five people died in the attack.
But Trump’s lawyers have said he can’t be held responsible for the mob’s actions. Van der Veen said the entire text of Trump’s speech called for lawful responses to his proposals.
“The Senate should promptly and decisively vote to reject it,” van der Veen said. “These are not the words of someone inciting a violent insurrection.”
– Bart Jansen
Michael van der Veen, one of former President Donald Trump’s attorneys at his impeachment trial, falsely suggested that Antifa was, in part, responsible for the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol.
The FBI has said there is “no indication” Antifa took part in the violence. Several outlets, including USA TODAY, have fact checked this claim several times.
Van der Veen also repeatedly compared the Jan. 6 insurrection, which was in protest to Trump losing the election, to the Black Lives Matter protests that erupted in the summer following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other African Americans, at the hands of police officers.
“Many Democrat politicians endorsed and encouraged the riots that destroyed vast swaths of American cities last summer,” Van der Veen stated, showing numerous clips of the protests alongside several Democratic lawmakers talking about them.
– Savannah Behrmann
The fourth day of former President Donald Trump’s historic second impeachment trial has begun, with Trump’s defense team beginning its opening arguments before the Senate.
They’re afforded 16 hours of arguments over two days, but David Schoen, one of Trump’s defense lawyers, said their side will only speak for three to four hours.
House managers concluded their opening arguments Thursday, and insisted Trump be held accountable for his rhetoric to his supporters in the months and years leading up to the Capitol riots Jan. 6, as well as his inaction and lack of remorse on the day of the violence.
“We humbly, humbly ask you to convict President Trump for the crime for which he is overwhelmingly guilty of, because if you don’t, if we pretend this didn’t happen, or worse, if we let it go unanswered, who’s to say it won’t happen again?” Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., one of the House prosecutors asked Senators Wednesday evening.
Trump’s defense team, led by Schoen and Bruce Castor Jr., will argue Trump can’t be held responsible for the mob’s actions on Jan. 6 that led to the Capitol being breached.
– Savannah Behrmann
House managers will be prepared to answer any questions from senators in the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, but the timing of questions remains uncertain heading into the closing hours of the proceedings, according to senior aides to the managers.
Schoen has said defense lawyers will speak for three to four hours. If they finish that quickly, senators could potentially move Friday to a question-and-answer period of up to four hours for senators to submit written questions to both sides, according to aides.
Trump’s defense team led by Bruce Castor Jr. and David Schoen begin opening arguments Friday, after two days of arguments from managers. Trump is charged with inciting the insurrection in the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, but his defense lawyers contend he can’t be held responsible for the mob’s actions that left five dead and the building sacked.
Senators filled the entire 16 hours of questions during Trump’s first impeachment trial last year, when he was acquitted.
After questions, managers or defense lawyers could request witnesses, with two hours of debate. Members of both sides have suggested they don’t need to call witnesses, which could prolong the trial by weeks or months, but no formal decisions have been announced.
If no witnesses are called, the managers and defense team will each have two hours for closing arguments, probably on Saturday. The Senate provided for a return Sunday at 2 p.m. if there has not yet been a vote to convict or acquit Trump by then.
– Bart Jansen
President Joe Biden weighed in Friday on the Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, saying he wondered if Republican senators would “stand up.”
“I’m just anxious to see what my Republican friends do – if they stand up,” Biden said.
Biden has said he wasn’t watching the trial because he was working on administration priorities. But he said Thursday that he thought House managers who are prosecuting the case could change some minds.
The House charged Trump with inciting insurrection in the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. But his defense team, which will begin their opening opening arguments Friday, contends he can’t be blamed for the mob’s actions.
A two-thirds majority of the evenly divided Senate is required for conviction. Many Republicans have said they weren’t persuaded by the House case.
Biden, a former 36-year senator, offered his perspective while visiting with reporters outside the White House.
– Bart Jansen
Trump legal team to try to distance Trump from Capitol attack
Donald Trump’s lawyers will argue there’s no link between the former president’s fiery rhetoric and the violent Jan. 6 Capitol riots and appeal to senators’ free speech rights when they begin their opening arguments Friday in Trump’s impeachment trial.
Trump’s defense team led by Bruce Castor Jr. and David Schoen have said the actions at the Capitol were repugnant, but contend House prosecutors failed to adequately prove Trump’s tweets and words urged his supporters to march to the Capitol, break in and ransack the nation’s seat of government.
“They haven’t in any way tied it to Donald Trump,” Schoen said.
Their arguments, which begin at noon, follow two days of arguments by Democratic House impeachment managers prosecuting the case. The nine managers, using at times chilling security footage of the violence, argued Trump whipped his followers into a frenzy over his election loss, called them to Washington, D.C., and encouraged the violence that resulted at the Capitol. And then, as the mob made its way through the building, prosecutors said Trump failed to act and showed no remorse.
Will witnesses be at trial?:Democratic senators say there’s no need for witnesses in Trump impeachment trial
The managers played videos of Trump encouraging supporters at rallies and on Twitter. And managers quoted rioters defending their actions by saying Trump invited them. But his lawyers disagreed.
“I don’t believe that’s what happened, no,” Castor said.
Trump is charged with inciting the insurrection at the Capitol, where five people died, including a police officer and a woman shot by police. The violence interrupted Congress’ electoral vote count of President Joe Biden’s victory.
House managers face a high hurdle for conviction because a two-thirds vote is required in the Senate, meaning at least 17 Republicans would have to join Democrats to convict Trump. But more than a third of the chamber – all Republicans – have twice voted that the trial is unconstitutional, suggesting Trump will be acquitted.
Schoen estimated they’ll need just three to four hours to make their opening arguments Friday, far less than the 16 hours over two days they’ve been afforded. House impeachment prosecutors used about 10 of their 16 hours over Wednesday and Thursday.
‘Brings tears to your eyes’:What we learned from previously unseen riot footage at the impeachment trial
The trial could potentially end Saturday with a vote on whether to convict or acquit Trump. When the defense is done, senators will have up to four hours to ask questions and then each side will have two hours for closing arguments.
– Bart Jansen
Trump’s lawyers to lay out free speech argument
Former President Donald Trump’s legal team plans to make their case Friday personal to senators, arguing that if Trump’s remarks aren’t protected by the First Amendment then their comments might not be, either.
Trump’s legal team had already made clear the three central arguments of their case: The trial is unconstitutional because Trump is no longer in office, the House rushed the impeachment process and Trump’s remarks are protected by the First Amendment.
“I don’t think there should be any surprises,” David Schoen, one of Trump’s attorneys, said of their presentation. “It’s all out there in the public domain.”
“I thought that the argument we heard today from Congressman Raskin about what he understands the law to be was dangerous,” Schoen said. “I think it puts at risk every – every – senator in that chamber and every politician who wishes to speak, passionate political speech.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., the lead House prosecutor, argued Thursday the First Amendment is not a defense to impeachment.
Schoen noted there is much about the Jan. 6 attack that remains unclear, including all the planning ahead of the riot.
“We don’t know the facts of what happened here,” Schoen said. “So why on Earth would you have something you call a trial without having the facts when you say it’s fact-intensive.”
Schoen’s remarks followed a meeting with three GOP senators – who are jurors in the case but also fierce allies of Trump. Schoen said Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Mike Lee of Utah did not offer advice in the trial, but talked about procedures and took the legal team through how the question-and-answer period would operate once their presentation had concluded.
Cruz appeared to offer a slightly different account of the meeting, telling reporters they’d been “discussing their legal strategy and sharing our thoughts.”
He said Trump’s lawyers had to make the case that the House managers had not met the burden of proof to show Trump’s “conduct satisfied the legal standard of high crimes and misdemeanors.”
– Christal Hayes and Nicholas Wu
Senators will start hearing from former President Donald Trump’s lawyers for the second time on Friday, and after two days of hearing the evidence against Trump, Republican senators are hoping for a focused presentation from Trump’s team.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a potential swing vote on convicting Trump, said she hoped the former president’s lawyers would be as “specific” as the House lawmakers.
The lawyers had taken criticism from Republican lawmakers after their presentation on the trial’s constitutionality Tuesday. One of the attorneys, Bruce Castor, was criticized by Republican senators as unfocused. Collins said Tuesday Castor “did not seem to make any arguments at all.”
Republicans said they wanted Trump’s attorneys to focus on the broader context of Trump’s remarks ahead of the Capitol riots, which Democrats said incited the violence, and to address whether the trial is constitutional since Trump is no longer in office.
Trump’s Jan. 6 timeline:A minute-by-minute timeline of Trump’s day as the Capitol siege unfolded on Jan. 6
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., told reporters he wanted Trump’s lawyers to “walk through the rest of the story” and explain more of what was happening beyond what he called Democrats’ “selective messages” from Trump on Jan. 6.
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a member of Senate Republican leadership, said he’d made up his mind to acquit Trump and “I can’t imagine that the president’s lawyers will manage to talk me out of that.”
He said he wanted to hear some “context” from Trump’s lawyers.
“There’s a difference in reckless behavior and intentional motivation to do something as terrible as incitement,” he said.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, told reporters he wanted a “good presentation” from Trump’s lawyers that would “hopefully focus more on the issues.” He hoped they would address more of the issues on the constitutionality and jurisdiction of the case.
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Trump’s lawyers contended Tuesday the case was unconstitutional because Trump is no longer president. But the Senate voted that the trial was constitutional.
– Nicholas Wu and Christal Hayes