WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — Donald Trump’s lawyers Friday laid out their case for why the former president should be acquitted of inciting last month’s deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol, accusing Democrats of a double standard for prosecuting him on a charge of inciting the riot last month after using combative language themselves.
After a prosecution case rooted in emotive images from the Capitol siege, the impeachment trial shifted to defense lawyers who were prepared to make a fundamental concession: The violence was every bit as traumatic, unacceptable and illegal as Democrats say — but Trump did not order it.
The Trump legal defense spent three hours making their case that the former president was not to blame for the violence at the Capitol. They cited moments Democrats had called for protests after police shootings or repeated use of the word fight as evidence other members used inciting language, playing a roughly 10-minute video showing prominent Democrats including Vice President Kamala Harris, Senator Elizabeth Warren, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other party officials using the word “fight” in political speeches.
“You didn’t do anything wrong,” Trump lawyer David Schoen said, addressing Democrats. “It’s a word people use, but please stop the hypocrisy.”
An attorney 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.
Michael van der Veen, one of Trump’s attorneys, 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.
The proceedings began just before noon EST. You can watch the Trump impeachment trial live stream here.
Van der Veen said the entire premise of Trump’s remarks to his supporters was that the democratic process would and should play out according to the letter of the law. “These are not the words of someone inciting a violent insurrection,” he said.
Van der Veen said Trump was speaking metaphorically when he told his supporters to “fight like hell” at the rally before the siege of the Capitol and it was no different from Democrats’ own rhetoric.
“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 van der Veen before playing another video. “Countless politicians have spoken of fighting for our principles. Joe Biden’s slogan was ‘battle for the soul’ of America. No one believes that the use of this political terminology was incitement of political violence.”
Defense lawyers also questioned the integrity of the House managers case saying the prosecution selectively edited video from the insurrection out of “political vengeance.”
Trump defense lawyer Bruce Castor warned Republican senators specifically that the former president was closely watching the events of the day. He said Trump would peacefully support any primary challenges for those who supported convicting him.
“Nobody in this chamber is anxious to have a primary challenge. That is one truism I think I can say with some certainty. But that’s the way we operate in this country.”
House Democrats serving as prosecutors wrapped up their case Thursday. The first three days of the trial focused on Trump’s words to supporters in the weeks leading up to the deadly Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.
Anticipating defense efforts to disentangle Trump’s rhetoric from the rioters’ actions, the impeachment managers tried to fuse them together through a reconstruction of never-been-seen video footage alongside clips of the president urging his supporters to undo the election results.
Through jarring images and video footage from the siege, House prosecutors forced senators to relive the attack that occurred as Congress was certifying Democrat Joe Biden’s victory.
“This attack never would have happened but for Donald Trump,” Rep. Madeleine Dean, one of the impeachment managers, said 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.”
The question period of the impeachment trial began after former president Donald Trump’s lawyers rested their case in the impeachment trial Friday afternoon.
So far several senators have asked questions related to Trump’s knowledge about the events on Jan. 6th as well as the former president’s role in inciting the Capitol riot.
One of the first questions came from Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who have been critical of Trump’s actions. They asked Trump’s lawyers to lay out in detail what Trump did to stop the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, and when Trump first learned the building had been breached.
Trump lawyer Michael van der Veen did not answer directly, instead accusing Democrats of denying Trump due process during the impeachment process.
“The House managers did zero investigation and the American people deserve a lot better than that,” he said.
Democrats appear unlikely to secure a conviction by the required two-thirds of the Senate. At least 17 Republican senators would have to side with Democrats. Only Six Republicans voted with Democrats in the 100-seat chamber to proceed with the trial earlier this week.
“If he gets back into office and it happens again, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves,” lead impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin said of Trump Thursday, wrapping up the prosecution arguments.
During a break in the proceedings on Thursday, Republican Sen. James Lankford told reporters that the managers failed to connect the dots between Trump and the rioters.
Senator James Inhofe said: “It’s just redundant, the same thing over and over again. … To me, the more you hear it, the less credibility there is in it.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham indicated in a Twitter statement that conviction is unlikely.
“The ‘Not Guilty’ vote is growing after today,” Graham wrote. “I think most Republicans found the presentation by the House Managers offensive and absurd.”
“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.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer left open the possibility that Congress might seek a different way to punish Trump if the Senate acquits him. That includes potentially invoking the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which gives Congress the power to bar public officials from holding office if they engaged in insurrection or rebellion.
Trump is the first U.S. president to be impeached twice and the first to face trial after leaving office. His first impeachment trial, which stemmed from his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden, ended in an acquittal a year ago in what was then a Republican-controlled Senate.
Neither side has so far announced an intention to call witnesses, leaving senators on track for final arguments and a vote as soon as Saturday.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report. Reporting by Reuters’ David Morgan and Richard Cowan, as well as AP’s Eric Tucker, Lisa Mascaro, Mary Clare Jalonick and Jill Covin.