Trump impeachment trial speeds towards conclusion

Trump defence team argued the president’s speech was protected by First Amendment as trial races towards its conclusion.

  • Senators asked questions in the fourth full day of arguments in the Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump now under way.
  • Trump’s lawyers presented his defence, relying on the argument that the former president’s rally remarks are protected by free speech principles.
  • House managers had offered two days of powerful and, at times, emotional arguments including graphic video of the January 6 attack by Trump supporters on the US Capitol.
  • President Joe Biden said he was “anxious to see” whether Republican senators will vote to convict as the trial appears headed to a speedy conclusion.

Welcome to Al Jazeera’s coverage of the impeachment trial. This is William Roberts and Steve Chaggaris.

Senate awards congressional medal to Capitol Police officer

Republicans and Democrats suspended proceedings in the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman for bravery during the January 6th mob attack on the Congress.

“In the weeks after the attack on January the sixth, the world learned about the incredible bravery of Officer Goodman on that fateful day,” said Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.

“Here in this trial, we saw new video, powerful video showing calmness under pressure, his courage in the line of duty, his foresight in the midst of chaos and his willingness to make himself a target of the mob’s rage, so that others might reach safety,” Schumer said.

“If not for the quick thinking and bravery of Officer Eugene Goodman, in particular, people in this chamber may not have escaped harm that day,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said.

US Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for directing the January 6 mob away from the Senate door and the Chamber, and towards other officers [Brandon Bell/The New York Times via AP, Pool]

Senators have completed their questions in the Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump

Dem senator asks what would have happened had officials bowed to Trump’s pressure

Senator Michael Bennet, a Democrat, asked the following question:

“Since the November election, the Georgia secretary of state, the vice president, and other public officials withstood enormous pressure not to uphold the lawful election of President Biden and the rule of law,” Bennet said.

“What would have happened if these officials had bowed to the force President Trump exerted or the mob that attacked the Capitol?” Bennet asked.

House manager Joaquin Castro responded, saying the events of January 6 were “a combination of things that only Donald Trump could have done”.

“And for us to think otherwise, is to think that somehow a rabbit came out of the hat and a mob just showed up here on their own, all by themselves,” Castor said.

House manager says ‘Brandenburg’ case does not apply

“Brandenburg was a case about a bunch of Klansmen who get assembled in a field and they weren’t near anybody such that they could actually do violent damage to people but they said some pretty repulsive racist things,” Representative Jamie Raskin, the lead Democratic House impeachment manager.

“They think we are making a criminal case here, the former president is not going to spend one hour, one minute in jail,” Raskin said.

“This is about protecting our republic and articulating and defining the standards of presidential conduct,” he said.

House impeachment manager Representative Jamie Raskin answers a question during the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump in the US Senate [Senate Television via AP]

Donald Trump’s lawyer says House managers are relying on hearsay evidence

“Unfortunately, we are not going to know the answer to the facts in this proceeding because the House did nothing to investigate what went on,” Trump counsel Michael van der Veen said.

“It was a report from a reporter from a friend of somebody who had some hearsay they heard the night before at a bar somewhere,” he said.

“I mean that’s really the kind of evidence that the House has brought before us.”

Senator Ted Cruz questioned whether Trump’s remarks met the criminal law standard for incitement

“Out of their 16 hours, the House managers devoted all of 15 minutes to articulating a newly created legal standard for incitement,” Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas asked.

“One, was violence foreseeable? Two, did he encourage violence? Three, did he do so willfully?” Cruz asked.

“Is this new standard derived from the criminal code or any Supreme Court case?” Cruz asked.

Trump’s defence counsel outlined the US criminal law standard for incitement found in the 1969 “Brandenburg” ruling by the US Supreme Court which requires specific words urging people to commit violence.

“The speech has to be explicitly or implicitly encouraging the use of violence. In other words, it has to be in the words itself,” which is “clearly not” in the president’s words, Trump lawyer Michael van der Veen said.

Senator Ted Cruz walks out of a meeting room for the lawyers of former President Donald Trump and back to the Senate floor on the fourth day of Trump’s Senate impeachment trial [Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via AP, Pool]

Trump’s lawyer accuses House managers of ‘doctoring’ evidence

Donald Trump’s lawyer Michael van der Veen accused lead House manager Representative Jamie Raskin and his team of “doctoring” evidence in the impeachment trial.

“There was nothing fun here, Mr Raskin. We aren’t having fun here. This is about the most miserable experience I’ve had down here in Washington, DC,” said van der Veen, a personal injury lawyer from Philadelphia.

“There’s nothing fun about it. And in Philadelphia, where I come from, when you get caught doctoring the evidence, your case is over.”

Bruce Castor and Michael van der Veen, lawyers for former President Donald Trump, walk back to their meeting room during a break on the fourth day of the Senate Impeachment trial of former President Trump [Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via AP, Pool]

Senator Warren highlights false equivalency in Trump defence’s arguments

“The defence’s presentation highlighted the fact that Democratic members of Congress, raised objections to counting of electoral votes in past joint sessions of Congress,” Warren said.

“To your knowledge, were any of those Democratic objections raised after insurrectionists stormed the Capitol in order to prevent the counting of electoral votes?”

“And after the president’s personal lawyer asked senators to make these objections, specifically to delay certification?”

Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks to the media at the conclusion of the third day of the second impeachment trial of Trump in the Senate on Thursday, February 11, 2021 [Michael Reynolds/Pool via AP]

Dem Senator asks about import of Trump’s ‘big lie’

Senator Alex Padilla asked about Trump’s “big lie” about the election, “How did this plot to unconstitutionally keep President Trump in power lead to the radicalisation of so many of President Trump’s followers, and the resulting attack on the Capitol?”

Democratic manager Joaquin Castro answered, “Donald Trump spent months inciting his base to believe that their election was stolen.”

“It wasn’t a one-off comment. It was over and over and over again with a purpose,” Castro said.

“He directed all of that rage that he had incited to January 6.”

Klobuchar asks what message failure to convict would send

Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, asked, “If we do not convict President Trump what message will we be sending to future president’s and congresses?”

“The extremists who attacked the Capitol at the president’s provocation will be emboldened. All our intelligence agencies have confirmed this,” said Stacey Plaskett, one of the Democratic prosecutors.

Senators are asking questions of Trump’s counsel and House managers

Senators are asking questions, through the Senate presiding officer, of former President Donald Trump’s defence lawyers and House managers prosecuting the impeachment case against him for “incitement of insurrection”.

Among the questions from senators thus far:

Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, Republicans, asked, “Exactly when did President Trump learn of the breach of the Capitol? What specific action did he take to bring the rioting to an end? And when did he take them? Please be as specific as possible.”

Trump’s defence counsel offered no specific information, instead claiming House managers had failed to build a sufficient evidentiary record.

Senator Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, asked, “Is it true or false that in the months leading up to January 6, dozens of courts, including state and federal courts in Georgia, rejected Prescient Trump’s campaign’s efforts to overturn his loss to Joe Biden?”

Democrat Representative Jamie Raskin gave a five-minute response:

“The president went from this traditional combat, which was fine, to intimidating and bullying – bullying state election officials and state legislators. And then finally as Representative Cheney said, ‘summoning a mob, assembling a mob, and then lighting the match’.”

Senators Lisa Murkowski and Senator Susan Collins, both Republicans, questioned when Trump learned Vice President Pence was in danger on January 6 [File: J Scott Applewhite/AP Photo]

Analyst: “Most important impeachment trial” in US history

This impeachment trial is the “most important” in the history of the United States because it is directly reflective of the Constitution’s intent for impeachments, The Nation magazine’s John Nichols told Al Jazeera.

“I say that, not casually, but because this goes to the heart of the matter. This goes to exactly why the impeachment power exists,” Nichols said.

“It exists to guard against abuses of office, particularly by a defeated president trying to remain in office, things of this nature.”

Dem: ‘Unavoidable’ conclusion Trump knew Pence’s life was in danger

Democratic senators are focusing on former President Donald Trump’s state of mind when he issued a tweet during the Capitol riot on January 6 targeting Vice President Mike Pence.

“How could the president of the United States, watching what was going on, knowing that his vice president was in the chamber, notified that he’d been removed by Secret Service, not know that his life was in danger? How could you miss that?” said Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat

“My family, just watching the riot unfolding on CNN or whatever, were out of their minds with worry,” Coons said.

“How could the president of the United States not know that there was an angry mob assaulting the Capitol?”

“It is his job to know about security and bluntly, he had just spoken to the mob that then stormed the Capitol,” Coons said.

Trump’s defence team closes its arguments, trial will move to senators’ questions

Former President Donald Trump’s defence team has concluded its opening arguments in the Senate impeachment trial after just more than two and a half hours of argument.

The Senate will now move to the next phase of the trial in which senators ask questions of the House prosecutors of the case and Trump’s defence lawyers. Senators are permitted to submit questions in writing for either the defence or the prosecution or both which are then read out loud by the presiding officer, Senator Patrick Leahy.

Defence: January 6 attack on US Capitol was preplanned, not triggered by Trump speech

Trump lawyer Bruce Castor said evidence that the January 6 attack on the Capitol was preplanned, as hundreds of people assembled at the Capitol even before Trump began his remarks.

Law enforcement agencies had advance warnings that people attending the rally intended to assault the Congress, according to media reports.

“The president did not cause the riots, either explicitly or implicitly encourage the use of violence or lawless action but in fact called for peaceful exercise of every American’s First Amendment rights to peacefully assemble and petition their government of redress for grievances,” Castor said.

“This was a preplanned assault, make no mistake, and that is a critical fact,” Castor said.

Trump lawyer says Trump’s words were twisted by House Democrats

Former President Donald Trump’s instructions to protesters at his January rally were to “peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard”, his defence team argued.

“The managers would have you believe that the president’s supporters usually follow his every word, but in this case, imputed some imaginary meaning to them, while ignoring his most clear instructions,” said lawyer Bruce Castor.

“President Trump said ‘peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard’. And the House managers heard, took from that, ‘go down to the Capitol and riot’,” Castor said.

“Again, the House managers manipulated the president’s words,” he said.

Lawyer Bruce Castor, representing former President Donald Trump, pleads Trump’s defence case during the fourth day of the impeachment trial of the former president on charges of inciting the deadly attack on the US Capitol [Senate TV/Handout via Reuters]

Analyst: Republican base is the intended audience for defence lawyers

The presentation by Donald Trump’s legal team “is aimed directly at” Republican senators and the Republican base, John Nichols, a writer for The Nation magazine told Al Jazeera.

The goal, Nichols said, is to shore up GOP senators “to make sure that they don’t break from President Trump and frankly aimed at the Republican base out across the country”.

Nichols argues that if Trump’s lawyers succeed in keeping Republican senators on the side of acquitting the former president, “that becomes a factor” as it could prod “both the impeachment managers and the defence lawyers … toward moving this trial toward a conclusion.”

Key Senate Republican open to censuring Trump

Senator John Thune, the number two Republican in the Senate, said that he could support a censure resolution against Donald Trump, if he is acquitted in the impeachment trial as expected.

Thune told reporters Thursday that “there are a couple of [censure] resolutions out there … that I think could attract some support,” according to The Hill news outlet.

One resolution has already been drafted by Democratic Senator Tim Kaine. When asked if he would support a censure resolution, Thune responded, “Yeah.”

A censure is essentially a formal statement of disapproval, something many Democrats have argued is not nearly a harsh enough punishment.

Senate Minority Whip John Thune, a Republican, told reporters he would be open to a censure of President Donald Trump in the impeachment trial as an alternative to conviction, which most Republicans will not support [Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo]

Trump’s defence drawing a ‘distorted and false argument’, Democratic senator says

Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal said that the former president’s defence team’s arguments were intended to divert attention from Trump’s actions.

“They are attempting to draw a dangerous and distorted equivalence,” Blumenthal told reporters at the Senate during a short break in proceedings.

“It is plainly a distraction from Donald Trump inviting and then inciting the mob and then failing his oath of office to protect the Capitol and everybody in it,” he said.

Trump legal team painting impeachment as ‘a partisan issue’

The words Donald Trump’s lawyers are using are “interesting”, said Al Jazeera correspondent Alan Fisher, who pointed out that they are setting impeachment up “as a partisan issue”.

“They’ve used ‘hypocrisy’ a lot, they’ve used ‘punish’, they’ve used ‘hatred’, they’ve used ‘hate’,” Fisher said.

“They’re trying to paint this very much as a partisan issue; it is the Democrats that are attacking Donald Trump because they do not like him.”

Trump used the word ‘fight’ 20 times in rally speech on January 6: Defence lawyers

Lawyers defending former President Donald replayed the video of his January 6 speech to a rally of his supporters showing that he used the words “fight” or “fighter” or “fighting” 20 times.

“These are the metaphorical and rhetorical uses of the word ‘fight’,” lawyer Michael van der Veen said.

“We all know that,” he said.

House Democratic prosecutors’ focus on only two of the 20 times Trump used the word in his speech is “hypocrisy”, he said, again showing video clips of Democratic politicians using the same phrases.

Trump defence argues former president’s speech protected by First Amendment

Donald Trump’s lawyer Michael van der Veen argued that the former president’s speech at his “Stop the Steal” rally on January 6 was protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which protects free speech.

“There is an entire body of law – Supreme Court landmark cases – supporting the conclusion that Mr Trump actually has enhanced free speech rights because he is an elected official,” van der Veen told the Senate.

Michael van der Veen, lawyer for former President Donald Trump, pleads Trump’s defence case during the fourth day of the impeachment trial of the former president on charges of inciting the deadly attack on the US Capitol [Senate TV/Handout via Reuters]

“There is no doubt Mr Trump engaged in constitutionally protected political speech that the House has improperly characterised as incitement of insurrection,” van der Veen said.

Trump’s defence plays 10-minute video of Democratic politicians using the word ‘fight’

Lawyers defending former President Donald Trump against an impeachment charge of “incitement of insurrection” played a 10-minute video of Democratic politicians repeatedly using the word “fight” in speeches, rallies, interviews and political ads.

The evidence was offered to bolster Trump’s claim that the language he used at the January 6 rally was normal political rhetoric.

Trump lawyer cites debunked Antifa claim

During his opening argument in defence of Donald Trump, lawyer Michael van der Veen declared that it wasn’t just pro-Trump “extremists” that stormed the Capitol last month, an assertion that has been widely debunked.

“It is apparent that extremists of various different stripes and political persuasions preplanned and premeditated an attack on the Capitol,” van der Veen said. “One of the first people arrested was a leader of antifa.”

Van der Veen was ostensibly referring to John Sullivan, a left-wing activist who has denied any affiliation with Antifa and who said he was at the Capitol to document the protest. Politifact, a non-partisan fact-checking operation, says there is no evidence that Sullivan was involved in any violence or any premeditated incitement.

Furthermore, Politifact’s deeper research reveals that “there’s no proof antifa stormed the Capitol”.

Defence lawyer says House Democrats twisted Trump’s words, manipulates tweets and videos

“It turns out there is significant reason to doubt evidence that house managers have put before us,” Trump defence lawyer David Schoen told senators sitting as jurors in the case.

“We have reason to believe that the House managers created false representations of tweets and the lack of due process means there was no opportunity to review or verify the accuracy,” Schoen said.

“They manipulated video, time shifting clips and made it appear the president’s words were playing to a crowd,” Schoen said.

An image from security video that was shown to senators by House impeachment manager Eric Swalwell during the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump in the Senate on February 10, 2021 [Senate Television via AP]

Trump’s language in January 6 rally was normal ‘political’ speech: Trump lawyer says

Michael van der Veen, one of the lawyers representing former President Donald Trump in the Senate trial, said the language cited by Democrats as incitement was instead typical political language.

“Consider the language that the House impeachment article alleges to constitute incitement,” Castor said.

“If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country any more,” Trump had said in his rally speech on January 6.

“This is ordinary political language that is virtually indistinguishable from the language that has be used by people across the political spectrum for hundreds of years,” Castor said.

Trump’s defence team played for senators a video montage of Democratic politicians using similar language in speeches and rallies.

Former  President Donald Trump’s defence lawyers Bruce Castor and Michael van der Veen arrive to begin pleading Trump’s case during the fourth day of the impeachment trial of the former president on charges of inciting the deadly attack on the Capitol [Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]

Trump lawyer says House Democrats pursuing ‘political vengeance’

Michael van der Veen, a lawyer representing former President Donald Trump in his Senate trial, said Democrats were pursuing the impeachment for political motives.

“The article of impeachment now before the Senate is an unjust and blatantly unconstitutional act of political vengeance,” Castor said.

“This appalling abuse of the Constitution only further divides our nation when we should be trying to come together around shared priorities,” Castor said.

Michael van der Veen, a lawyer for former President Donald Trump, speaks during the second impeachment trial of Trump in the Senate on February 12, 2021 [Senate Television via AP]

Day 4 of Trump impeachment trial is under way in US Senate

Donald Trump’s legal team has taken the floor in the US Senate on Thursday as they begin the formal defence of the former president against the House of Representatives impeachment charge of “incitement of insurrection” for the January 6 attack by his supporters on the US Capitol.

Jason Miller, left, senior adviser to the Trump 2020 re-election campaign, and David Schoen, right, member of former President Donald Trump’s defence team arrive at the Capitol before the start of the impeachment trial [Bill Clark/Pool via Reuters]

Trump legal team to make their case

After two days of what even Republicans said were powerful arguments made by House Democratic impeachment managers, Trump’s legal team hinted at their strategy to defend the former president.

“They haven’t in any way tied [the riot] to Trump,” lawyer David Schoen, who will argue on behalf of Trump, told reporters after the Democrats concluded their arguments on Thursday.

Schoen and Bruce Castor, who was criticised for a meandering performance on February 9 at the trial, will argue that Trump was not afforded “due process” when the House passed its article of impeachment last month.

They are also expected to attempt to turn the tables on Democrats, arguing that Trump’s actions leading up to the riot were fiery politics and not an “incitement of insurrection”.

The lawyers promise to show video of Democrats making similar incendiary political comments as Trump – with “fight like hell” being one quote mentioned – and argue that the former president said and did nothing that Democrats themselves had not done before.

Biden ‘anxious to see’ how Republicans vote

President Joe Biden, who has said very little about the impeachment trial in an effort to focus on the pandemic and other pressing issues, said on Friday morning that he is curious to see whether Senate Republicans vote to convict former President Donald Trump.

“I’m just anxious to see what my Republican friends do, if they stand up,” Biden told reporters outside the White House, adding that he has no plans to speak to any Senate Republicans before the vote.

Source: Al Jazeera