Sunday December 5th, 2021 12:59AM

Trump lawyers decry impeachment case as political vengeance

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawyers for Donald Trump opened his impeachment defense Friday by strenuously denying he played any role in inciting the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol, blasting the case against him as politically motivated “hatred” and part of a yearslong Democratic “witch hunt.”

Lawyers for the former president told senators that Trump was entitled to dispute the 2020 election results and that his doing so, including in a speech that preceded the assault on the Capitol, did not amount to inciting the violence that followed. They sought to turn the tables on prosecutors by likening the Democrats' questioning of the legitimacy of Trump's 2016 win to his challenge of his election loss. When Trump implored supporters to “fight like hell” on Jan. 6, they said, that was no different from the Democrats' own charged rhetoric that risks precipitating violence.

“This is ordinarily political rhetoric that is virtually indistinguishable from the language that has been used by people across the political spectrum for hundreds of years,” said Michael van der Veen, one of Trump's lawyers. “Countless politicians have spoken of fighting for our principles.”

After a prosecution case rooted in emotive, violent images from the Capitol siege, the impeachment trial shifted to defense lawyers who made a fundamental concession: The violence was every bit as traumatic, unacceptable and illegal as Democrats say — but Trump did not order it. Van der Veen said the siege was carried out by people who had “hijacked” for their own purposes what was supposed to be a peaceful event and had made plans for violence before Trump had even spoken.

“You can't incite what was going to happen,” he said.

Acknowledging the horrors of the January day is meant to blunt the visceral impact of the House Democrats' case and quickly pivot to what Trump's defenders see as the core — and more winnable — issue of the trial: Whether Trump can be held responsible for inciting the deadly Jan. 6 riot.

The argument is likely to appeal to Republican senators who want to be seen as condemning the violence but without convicting the president.

“They haven't in any way tied it to Trump,” David Schoen, one of the president's lawyers, told reporters near the end of two full days of Democrats' arguments aimed at doing just that.

He previewed the essence of his argument Tuesday, telling the Senate jurors: “They don’t need to show you movies to show you that the riot happened here. We will stipulate that it happened, and you know all about it.”

In both legal filings and in arguments this week, Trump's lawyers have made clear their position that the people responsible for the riot are the ones who actually stormed the building and who are now being prosecuted by the Justice Department.

Anticipating defense efforts to disentangle Trump's rhetoric from the rioters' actions, the impeachment managers spent days trying to fuse them together through a reconstruction of never-been-seen video footage alongside clips of the president's monthslong urging of his supporters to undo the election results.

Democrats, who concluded their case Thursday, used the rioters’ own videos and words from Jan. 6 to try to pin responsibility on Trump. “We were invited here,” said one Capitol invader. “Trump sent us,” said another. “He’ll be happy. We’re fighting for Trump.”

The prosecutors' goal was to cast Trump not as a bystander but rather as the “inciter in chief” who spread election falsehoods, then encouraged supporters to come challenge the results in Washington and fanned the discontent with rhetoric about fighting and taking back the country.

The Democrats also are demanding that he be barred from holding future federal office.

“This attack never would have happened but for Donald Trump,” Rep. Madeleine Dean, one of the impeachment managers, said Thursday as she choked back emotion. “And so they came, draped in Trump’s flag, and used our flag, the American flag, to batter and to bludgeon.”

For all the significance the impeachment of a president is meant to convey, this historic second trial of Trump could wrap up with a vote by this weekend, particularly since Trump’s lawyers focused on legal rather than emotional or historic questions and are hoping to get it all behind him as quickly as possible.

With little hope of conviction by the required two-thirds of the Senate, Democrats delivered a graphic case to the American public, describing in stark, personal terms the terror faced that day — some of it in the very Senate chamber where senators are sitting as jurors. They used security video of rioters searching menacingly for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence, smashing into the building and engaging in bloody, hand-to-hand combat with police.

They displayed the many public and explicit instructions Trump gave his supporters — long before the White House rally that unleashed the deadly Capitol attack as Congress was certifying Democrat Joe Biden’s victory. Five people died in the chaos and its aftermath.

“What makes you think the nightmare with Donald Trump and his law-breaking and violent mobs is over?” asked Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., the lead prosecutor. He said earlier, “When Donald Trump tells the crowd, as he did on Jan. 6, ‘Fight like hell, or you won’t have a country anymore,’ he meant for them to ‘fight like hell.’”

At the White House, Biden said he believed “some minds may be changed” after senators saw the security video, though he had previously acknowledged that conviction was unlikely. By Thursday, many seemed prepared to move on.

“I thought today was very repetitive, actually. I mean, not much new. I was really disappointed that they didn’t engage much with the legal standards," said Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri.

Several Republican senators, including Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, conferred Thursday with Trump’s lawyers. Cruz told reporters that the senators were discussing legal strategy -- something that would never be permissible in a criminal case. There’s no rule against the Senate jurors strategizing with the lawyers in an impeachment trial, though Democrats can use it to raise questions about impartiality.

The presentation by Trump's lawyers is low-risk in one sense given the likelihood of acquittal. But it is also being closely watched because of an uneven performance on Tuesday when one defense lawyer, Bruce Castor, gave such meandering arguments that Trump raged from his home in Florida.

They are highlighting different parts of the same speech focused on by prosecutors, when Trump told supporters assembled at the Ellipse outside the White House to “fight like hell.”

They note that Trump in the same speech encouraged the crowd to behave “peacefully,” and they contend that his remarks — and his general distrust of the election results — are all protected under the First Amendment. Democrats strenuously resist that assertion, saying his words weren't political speech but rather amounted to direct incitement of violence.

The defense lawyers also returned to arguments made Tuesday that the trial itself is unconstitutional because Trump is no longer in office. The Senate rejected that contention as it voted to proceed with the trial.

By Thursday, senators sitting through a second full day of arguments appeared somewhat fatigued, slouching in their chairs, crossing their arms and walking around to stretch.

One Republican, Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, said during a break: “To me, they’re losing credibility the longer they talk.”

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said the facts of Jan. 6, though “unpatriotic” and even “treasonous,” were not his chief concern. Rather, he said Thursday, an impeachment trial for someone no longer in office "sets a very dangerous precedent.”

  • Associated Categories: Homepage, U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, Top General short headlines, AP Online Headlines - Washington, AP Online Congress News, AP Elections, General Election News, General Presidential Election News
© Copyright 2021
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Trump lawyers decry impeachment case as political vengeance
Defense lawyers for Donald Trump have opened their impeachment defense by strenuously denying that he played any role in inciting the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol
12:21PM ( 7 minutes ago )
Expected top pick Lawrence throws for Meyer, NFL teams
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence worked out Friday for NFL personnel including his expected pro coach in Jacksonville Jaguars' Urban Meyer
12:20PM ( 7 minutes ago )
Fox hosts Dobbs, Bartiromo strike back in voting fraud suit
Three hosts for Fox News have filed motions to dismiss claims against them and their employer as part of a $2.7 billion libel lawsuit brought by a voting technology company
12:10PM ( 17 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Sign of inequality: US salaries recover even as jobs haven't
Americans as a whole are now earning the same amount in wages and salaries that they did before the virus struck — even with nearly 9 million fewer people working — a stark sign of the economic inequality that has marked the pandemic recession and recovery
11:44AM ( 43 minutes ago )
Riot video spotlights mob's focus on stopping Biden win
Democrats this week showed the montage of stunning and disturbing video footage, some never seen publicly before, during the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump
11:43AM ( 45 minutes ago )
AP Interview: French government to tackle child abuse issue
The junior minister responsible for children and families in France is acknowledging the country has a “deeply rooted” societal problem with child sexual abuse
11:41AM ( 47 minutes ago )
AP National News
Chinese TV features blackface performers in New Year's gala
Chinese state TV included dancers in blackface depicting Africans in a holiday gala for the second time in three years, prompting criticism online, as Asia welcomed the Year of the Ox with subdued festivities amid travel curbs to contain renewed coronavirus outbreaks
9:12AM ( 3 hours ago )
Mori is gone but gender issues remain for Tokyo Olympics
Yoshiro Mori has resigned as the president of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee after sexist comments made last week in which he said women “talk too much.”
9:08AM ( 3 hours ago )
Biden administration to allow 25,000 asylum-seekers into US
The Biden administration is unveiling plans for an estimated 25,000 asylum-seekers waiting in Mexico for their next immigration court hearings to be allowed into the United States while their cases proceed
8:27AM ( 4 hours ago )
Top General short headlines
Biden views Valentine's Day decorations on WH lawn
The North Lawn of the White House is covered with giant pink, white and red hearts that resemble the popular Valentine’s Day candy
11:35AM ( 53 minutes ago )
Czechs in chaos with political infighting amid virus surge
The Czech Republic is in chaos after Parliament deprived the government of a powerful tool to tackle the coronavirus pandemic
10:47AM ( 1 hour ago )
Int'l Criminal Court member states to elect new prosecutor
Member states of the International Criminal Court are electing a new prosecutor to replace incumbent Fatou Bensouda when her nine-year term expires later this year
9:30AM ( 2 hours ago )
AP Online Headlines - Washington
Convict Trump or face dire democracy damage, prosecutors say
Democratic prosecutors in Donald Trump's impeachment trial are arguing that dire harm from his false and violent incitements will long vex American democracy unless the Senate convicts him of impeachment and bars him from future office
8:29PM ( 15 hours ago )
Trial highlights: 'We were invited' and a quick defense
Donald Trump incited a deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol, put his own vice president in danger and later expressed solidarity with rioters who attempted to overturn the 2020 election in his name
6:51PM ( 17 hours ago )
Race to vaccinate older Americans advances in many states
Two months after the first COVID-19 shots were administered, the race to vaccinate older Americans is gaining traction
6:21PM ( 18 hours ago )
AP Online Congress News
How a leading anti-Trump group ignored a crisis in its ranks
One of the best-known players in the so-called Never Trump movement is facing intense scrutiny that threatens to undermine the broader coalition’s influence amid new revelations about its financial management and improper behavior involving a co-founder
9:01PM ( 15 hours ago )
GOP attacks Dems' $1.9T COVID-19 relief bill from all angles
Republicans are attacking the Democrats’ $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package as too costly, economically damaging and overtly partisan
1:49PM ( 22 hours ago )
Mexico president warns against false claims of open US doors
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador says many migrants believe the “doors are open” to the United States following the election of President Joe Biden
1:39PM ( 22 hours ago )
AP Elections
Trump trial video shows vast scope, danger of Capitol riot
Prosecutors in Donald Trump's impeachment trial have unveiled chilling new security video for Senate jurors and the nation
10:15PM ( 1 day ago )
Police beg for help, senators flee in Trump trial video
Prosecutors in Donald Trump's impeachment trial have unveiled chilling new security video for Senate jurors and the nation
8:16PM ( 1 day ago )
The Latest: Democrats agree to strike remark referencing Lee
House Democrats have agreed to strike some of their impeachment prosecution comments after Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah objected
7:56PM ( 1 day ago )
General Election News
The Latest: Democrats use rally footage to argue incitement
Prosecutors at President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial are using footage of the rally he headlined ahead of the riot on the Capitol to argue he incited the crowd
4:33PM ( 1 day ago )
The Latest: Many GOP senators indifferent to Democrats' case
At a break in Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, many Republicans appeared indifferent to the Democratic prosecutors’ case that the former president incited the violent attack on the Capitol Jan. 6 — and made clear they were unlikely to convict
3:29PM ( 1 day ago )
Georgia prosecutor opens election probe after Trump call
A Georgia prosecutor says she has opened a criminal investigation into “attempts to influence” the outcome of last year’s general election
1:40PM ( 1 day ago )
General Presidential Election News
Expected top pick Lawrence throws for Meyer, NFL teams
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence worked out Friday for NFL personnel including his expected pro coach in Jacksonville Jaguars' Urban Meyer
12:20PM ( 7 minutes ago )
Fox hosts Dobbs, Bartiromo strike back in voting fraud suit
Three hosts for Fox News have filed motions to dismiss claims against them and their employer as part of a $2.7 billion libel lawsuit brought by a voting technology company
12:10PM ( 18 minutes ago )
The Latest: Trump lawyers present defense at trial
Defense lawyers have begun their opening arguments in the impeachment trial of Donald Trump as the case speeds to an expected conclusion this weekend
12:05PM ( 23 minutes ago )
Hendrick hesitant to change Bowman's engine before 500
Hendrick Motorsports is checking the engine of Daytona 500 pole winner Alex Bowman
11:49AM ( 38 minutes ago )
Cuomo administration 'froze' over nursing home data requests
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top aide has told Democratic lawmakers that his administration took months to release data on the coronavirus death toll among nursing home residents because officials “froze” over worries that information was “going to be used against" them
11:46AM ( 42 minutes ago )