WASHINGTON – They argue he bears no responsibility for the deadly mob attack on the U.S. Capitol and that it is unconstitutional to try him since he has already left office.
Trump’s lawyers are appealling to Republican senators by acknowledging Democrats’ arguments that the violence that left five people dead was illegal and unacceptable, but that the former president played no part in inciting the insurrection.
The attorneys previously said they would need only one day to present their client’s case before the U.S. Senate, although they are entitled to 16 hours over two days.
They are mounting the former president’s defense without any testimony from Trump, who has declined to participate in Friday’s session of the trial.
The defense follows a two-day presentation by House Democrats linking Trump’s rhetoric at a rally on Jan. 6 to the actions of the mob that overtook the U.S. Capitol shortly afterward in an attempt to block the certification of the 2020 presidential election results.
In an unusual move Thursday, three Republican Senators — Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah — who are jurors in the trial, met with Trump’s lawyers.
CNN reported that David Schoen, one of Trump’s lawyers, said the lawmakers wanted to ensure that the Trump’s defense team was “familiar with procedure” before Friday’s presentation.
Trump is reported to be disappointed with the performance of his lawyers –- Schoen and Bruce Castor — who were recruited after the former president’s first legal team quit shortly before the trial began.
Impeachment prosecutors contended Thursday there is “clear and overwhelming” evidence that former Trump incited insurrection by sending a mob of his supporters to the Capitol last month to confront lawmakers as they were certifying that he had lost the November election to Democrat Joe Biden.
In closing arguments, the lead impeachment manager, Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland, told the 100 members of the Senate acting as jurors they should use “common sense on what happened here.”
“It is a bedrock principle that no one can incite a riot” in the American democracy, Raskin said.
But he argued that Trump urged hundreds of his supporters to march to the Capitol on Jan. 6 and then, when they stormed the building, smashed windows, ransacked offices and scuffled with police, “did nothing for at least two hours” to end the mayhem that left five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer.
“He betrayed us,” Raskin said of the former U.S. leader, whose four-year term ended Jan. 20 as Biden was inaugurated as the country’s 46th president. “He incited a violent insurrection against our government. He must be convicted.”
Raskin and eight other impeachment managers, all Democrats in the House of Representatives, concluded their case after about 12 hours spread over two days of presenting arguments and evidence against Trump.
They flashed dozens of Trump’s Twitter comments on television screens in the Senate chamber from the weeks leading up to the election with his claims that the only way he could lose to Biden was if the election were rigged, then more tweets with an array of his unfounded claims after the election that he had been cheated out of another term in the White House.
The House impeachment managers also showed an array of video clips of the rioters raging through the Capitol complex, most graphically scenes of some of them shouting “Hang Mike Pence!” as they searched in vain for Trump’s vice president, who had refused to accede to his demands to block certification of Biden’s victory.
Other insurgents stormed into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, looking to kill the longtime Trump political opponent. But security officials escorted Pence to a secluded room in the Capitol and whisked Pelosi to safety away from the building, which is often seen as a symbol of American democracy.
Trump’s lawyers have broadly claimed that Trump’s speech at the rally shortly before the rampage at the Capitol in which he urged his supporters to “fight like hell” was permissible political rhetoric, sanctioned by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment protection of freedom of speech.
But Raskin told the Senate, “What is impeachable conduct if not this? If you don’t find [that Trump committed] high crimes and misdemeanors [the standard for conviction of an impeachment charge] you have set a new terrible standard for presidential conduct.”
Earlier Thursday, another impeachment manager, Congresswoman Diana DeGette of Colorado, quoted numerous insurgents who stormed the U.S. Capitol who said they acted on Trump’s demands.
She said the mob “believed the commander in chief was ordering them. The insurrectionists made clear to police they were just following the orders of the president.”
“The insurrectionists didn’t make this up,” she said. “They were told [by Trump] to fight like hell. They were there because the president told them to be there.”
DeGette showed lawmakers several television interviews in which the protesters said they went to the Capitol because Trump had commanded them to do so.
Several impeachment managers warned that if Trump is acquitted, which is the likely outcome of the trial, he could be emboldened to create more chaos in another run for the presidency in 2024.
Congressman Ted Lieu of California said, “You know, I’m not afraid of Donald Trump running again in four years. I’m afraid he’s going to run again and lose, because he can do this again.”
Thursday’s session came after several lawmakers told reporters they were shaken by graphic, previously undisclosed videos of the mayhem the Democratic lawmakers showed them Wednesday, with scenes of dozens of officials scrambling to escape the mob that had stormed into the Capitol.
But there was no immediate indication that Republican supporters of Trump in the Senate were turning en masse against him. Trump remains on track to be acquitted.
A two-thirds vote is needed to convict Trump of a single impeachment charge, that he incited insurrection by urging hundreds of supporters to confront lawmakers at the Capitol to try to upend Biden’s victory. In the politically divided 100-member Senate, 17 Republicans would have to join every Democrat for a conviction.
At the moment, it appears that only a handful of Republicans might vote to convict Trump, the only president in U.S. history to be twice impeached.
Trump’s lawyers say he bears no responsibility for the attack on the Capitol. The Senate voted 56-44 on Tuesday to move ahead with the trial, rejecting Trump’s claim that it was unconstitutional to try him on impeachment charges since he has already left office. The vote also seemed to signal that relatively few Republicans appear willing to convict him.
Trump left Washington hours ahead of Biden’s inauguration Jan. 20 and is living at his Atlantic coastal mansion in Florida.