By Priscilla Huff
Trump defense focused on free speech
The defense for Trump was allotted 16 hours to present their case, but they wrapped up in fewer than three. The main trio was an unusual choice for a case centered on constitutional questions. Michael Van der Veen is a personal injury and criminal defense attorney. David Schoen is a civil rights attorney. Bruce Castor is the former district attorney for a Pennsylvania county.
Trump’s defense centered on the phrase “fight like hell.” A video was played out showing a wide variety of Democrats, including the current Vice President Kamala Harris, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and former presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren all saying the word, “fight,” but not showing any of the context. Van der Veen insisted he was not showing the video to make an excuse for what Donald Trump said on January 6, “This is not whataboutism. I am showing you this to make the point that all political speech must be protected.”
The defense tried to broaden their argument to the American culture wars. Van der Veen said that the trial is “constitutional cancel culture,” while other of Trump’s attorneys went further. Bruce Castor insisted on a First Amendment argument, “I urge you instead to look to the principles of free expression and free speech.”
“How gullible do you think we are,” was the rhetorical question from lead impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) to Donald Trump’s defense attorneys, highlighting that both chambers of the U.S. Congress were physically present when rioters attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6.
Trump defense team takes questions
Following a recess, the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump moved on to questions, submitted in writing by senators. Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) wanted to know, “When did President Trump first learn that the Capitol was breached and what specific actions did he personally take to defend the Capitol, Vice President Pence, and the others inside?”
Details have been slowly emerging over who spoke with Donald Trump on January 6. Some Republican lawmakers have admitted, they called into 24-hour news channels, hoping to gain the President’s attention. The Senators wanted to know if and when Trump knew that Vice President Pence had been evacuated to a secure location. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) asked if the President knew about that when Donald Trump tweeted Mike Pence was a coward.
“The answer is no,” Trump lawyer Bruce Castor responded. “At no point was the president informed the vice president was in any danger …” But after the trial concluded, Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala), who has only been a senator for a few weeks, stood his ground that he had spoken with Donald Trump on January 6 and told him that Vice President Mike Pence had been evacuated.
CNN then began reporting astonishing details of a phone call between Rep. Kevin McCarthy (D-CA), the House minority leader and Donald Trump on January 6. The President defended the rioters, saying they were more upset about the election than Rep. McCarthy, adding that he thought it was ANTIFA, and not Trump supporters. The call grew heated and is described as “expletive-laden.”
“I think it speaks to the former President’s mindset,” Rep. Anthony Gonzalez told CNN. He’s an Ohio Republican who voted to impeach Trump last month. Rep. Gonzalez continued about what that call told him about what Trump was thinking, “he was not sorry to see his unyieldingly loyal vice president or the Congress under attack by the mob he inspired. In fact, it seems he was happy about it or at the least enjoyed the scenes that were horrifying to most Americans across the country.”
Even as House impeachment manager Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D_USVI) wondered where the exculpatory evidence was, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a key Republican vote, said she thought things were going better. “[You] listen as the House managers present their case, then you listen to the defense,” she said, “and then you make a determination and that’s what we’re supposed to be doing.” Murkowski also said, “I think the defense is — is more on their game today than what I saw the other day.”
Impeachment managers: Trump defense light on engagement with facts
The House impeachment managers emphasized that the Trump defense did not engage with the actual facts their case had laid out. In fact, the defense team was not able to answer the question from Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), on whether Joe Biden actually won the 2020 election.
For Senators such as Tim Kaine of Virginia, it seemed obvious that Donald Trump failed to heed warnings in favor of what’s come to be known as “the Big Lie” – that Donald Trump somehow won the 2020 presidential election when he did not and there was little evidence of any voter fraud. Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado said, “I just think it’s, you know, it just feels — I think it feels like they’re erecting straw men to then take them down, rather than deal with the fact that the events of the 6th happened, including Donald Trump doing nothing to protect this place.”
During the question and answer period, the House impeachment managers repeated their key points. “The peaceful transfer of power can be the most dangerous moments for democracies,” warned Rep. Jamie Raskin, “and it had just happened to us, the United States.” He rejected the claim that House democrats came in with a spirit of vindictive power, “we come here in the spirit of protecting our Republic.” He echoed what Rep. Castro said: that if Donald Trump is not convicted, this will allow future presidents to abuse their power.
After touring a display of Valentine’s decorations installed by the First Lady’s office, U.S. President Joe Biden briefly responded to a reporter’s question about the impeachment trial: “I’m anxious to see what my Republican friends do,” he said, but Biden — who served nearly 30 years in the U.S. Senate — otherwise ignored questions about the proceedings as he headed to Camp David, the presidential retreat above Thurmont, Maryland, for the weekend.
Praise for Officer Goodman
The day was not entirely full of recriminations. Just before recessing for the evening, everyone in the U.S. Senate chamber stood to applaud Capitol Hill police officer Eugene Goodman, who saved lives by distracting riots and sending them the wrong way, just moments after re-directing Sen. Mitt Romney to run the other way to safety. Following a unanimous vote, Officer Goodman will receive the Congressional gold Medal of Honor, one of the nation’s highest honors.
With the end of the second impeachment trial of Donald John Trump approaching, Senator Mitch McConnell has refused to do what’s called a whip count – count the noses of who will vote to acquit and who will vote to convict. Instead, he said that Senators must vote their conscience. Six Republican Senators voted to proceed with the second impeachment trial of Donald John Trump and according to reports, as many as 10 might vote to convict. But 17 Republicans are needed to meet the two-thirds threshold to convict Trump. That vote is expected some time Saturday.
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