Trump’s Defense: An Alternate Reality
Updated: Feb 14
If convicted, former U.S. President Donald Trump may be barred from public office (Photo by The Associated Press)
The defense of former U.S. President Donald J. Trump in his impeachment trial struck me as a stark example of the conflicting realities that exist in the country. Hearing the prosecution’s arguments earlier this week and, then, the defense's yesterday was like watching CNN and, then, Fox News.
Trump’s lawyers argued that the 45th president did not incite insurrection, or violence as they called it because they said that the riot at the Capitol was not a legally defined insurrection. They said that the prosecution “doctored” the evidence by editing, misrepresentation and switching dates, to fit its story. They said that Trump’s second impeachment trial was “constitutional cancel culture”.
Trump’s team insisted that its client had First Amendment free speech rights: he was a mile away from the Capitol addressing his followers and telling them to go “peacefully and patriotically” to the Capitol, and that he was “the most law and order president”. Also, the lawyers said that Trump did not have due process.
The four-hour siege at the Capitol on January 6 took the lives of five people, wounded 140 officers and endangered the lives of hundreds of legislators who ran and hid for their lives. Two police officers committed suicide later that month.
Trump’s counsel used less than three hours of an allocated 14, but the question period afterward lasted four hours during which the prosecution had the opportunity to rebut defense arguments. Michael van der Veen, a Trump defense lawyer who specializes in personal injury law, said that the spirit of the impeachment was motivated by hate “which has no place in politics”:
“The article of impeachment before the Senate is an unjust and blatantly unconstitutional act of political vengeance.
“Like every other politically motivated witchhunt, (these proceedings are) divorced from fact and the interest of the American people. No thinking person could seriously believe that the president’s January 6 speech on the Ellipse was in any way an incitement to violence or insurrection.”
Later, during the questioning period, Representative Stacey Plaskett, (Democrat, Virgin Islands delegate), impeachment manager, said that the incitement was “an activity he was engaged in for months before January 6, not just the speech on January 6." The prosecution made this point repeatedly.
The defense presented videos and tweets to bolster their contentions. There were two unedited videos of Trump addresses – one at Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, where a protester died, and the other on January 6 in Washington, D.C. – rendering Trump, the team claimed, more sympathetic than if shown in edited versions. The prosecution had shown an edited version of the D.C. clip. In the former video, Trump said:
“There were very fine people on both sides. . . . You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down to them a very important statue to them (of Confederate Robert E. Lee, a “great general). George Washington was a slave owner. . . . Should George Washington lose his status? How about Thomas Jefferson? You‘re changing history. You had people –and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists because they should be condemned totally -- you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists, and the press had treated them badly. . . . There were people in that rally protesting very quietly . . . legally. They had a permit. The other side didn’t have a permit. It was a horrible moment in our history.”
David Schoen, Trump's defense lawyer, said: “This may be the first time the media played those remarks. How many times have you heard that the president never denounced white supremacy?”
The second video showed the 45th president at the Ellipse in Washington, D.C. addressing the rally of his followers: “We’ll cheer on our brave senators, not some others . . . We have to demand that others do the right things. . . . Go to the Capitol and make your voices peacefully and patriotically heard.”
“Peacefully and patriotically” was repeated several times. In fact, all the scant evidence of the defense was repeated over and over again.
There were other videos of spliced material that showed words and actions out of context which, ironically, was the defense’s criticism of the prosecution’s case. One video, designed to show animosity toward Trump since he first took office in 2017, began with a few Democratic lawmakers, including Representative Jamie Raskin (Democrat-Maryland), lead impeachment manager, objecting to the certification of Trump’s victory four years ago and Senator Joe Biden (Democrat-Delaware) rejecting their bids due to the lack of a signature from a Senator.
Another video revolved around the word “fight” which they said was normal in politics. “Consider,” said Van der Veen. ‘If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore’. This is ordinary political rhetoric that is virtually indistinguishable from the language that has been used across political spectrums for hundreds of years. . . . No human being believes that this language is incitement.”
The video showed Democratic politicians and celebrities uttering the word “fight”. It included now-President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, then-House Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York), Representative Maxine Waters, (D-California), Senator Elizabeth Warren, (D-Massachusetts), Representative Cory Booker, (D-New Jersey), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, (D-California) and Representative Al Green, (D-Texas).
It was long – about 10 minutes -- and some of it was ugly. Yet, after the word was spoken, there were no riots. There were no killings. There were no beatings.
Like the other videos, the defense ran it several times.
Bruce Castor, Jr, Trump defense lawyer, said that there was a reluctance to call out law enforcement reinforcements to the Capitol because of the public reaction to the increase of armed forces at Lafayette Square last summer during demonstrations for racial justice. Yet, those protestors were peaceful and were teargassed and shot with rubber bullets, regardless, so that Trump could walk to a historic church and hold up a Bible.
Later, Representative Stacey Plaskett, (Democrat, Virgin Islands delegate) said: Defense wants to blame everyone else. (Washington, D.C) Mayor Bowser does not have jurisdiction over the Capitol (and, therefore, could not call out reinforcements for it). The president of the United States did not defend the Capitol. It’s indefensible.”
Attorney David Schoen asserted that his client had not gotten due process:
“You get more due process when you’re fighting a parking ticket. There is significant reason to doubt the evidence that the house managers…manipulated evidence. I don’t raise this lightly. There were false representations of tweets. There was no time to verify . . .” Yet, those protestors were peaceful and were teargassed and shot with rubber bullets, regardless, so that Trump could walk to a historic church and hold up a Bible.
Later, Representative Stacey Plaskett, (Democrat, U.S. Virgin Islands delegate) said: Defense wants to blame everyone else. (Washington, D.C) Mayor Bowser does not have jurisdiction over the Capitol (and, therefore, could not call out reinforcements for it). The president of the United States did not defend the Capitol. It’s indefensible.”
Lack of due process was the response several times to questions put to the defense afterward by the Senate.
Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski, (R-Alaska), Mitt Romney, (R-Utah) and Susan Collins, (R-Maine) asked for detail on what the former president did that day. When did he know of the riot? Did he know that Mike Pence was in grave danger? What did he do?
The defense attorneys’ answers were vague. Pence was Trump’s friend, so he would not want him hurt. Then, again, they said that their client had not gotten due process. There was not enough time to prepare the case.
Senate Majority Leader Schumer (Democratic-New York) and Senator Dianne Feinstein (Democratic-California) submitted the written question: “Isn’t it a fact that the attack would not have happened without Trump?”
Representative Joaquim Castro (Democrat-Texas), an impeachment manager, answered: “It did not come from one random speech, and it did not come out of thin air.”
The prosecution contends that Trump did nothing to calm or control the violent mob.
“Trump left everyone in the Capitol for dead,” said Representative Castro (Democrat-Texas).
It was a chilling comment made to the lawmakers who escaped death in the very building in which they heard these arguments.
After the questions, Majority Leader Schumer introduced a resolution to award Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman for “making himself a target” during the siege. The resolution was passed, and Goodman received a standing ovation. The officer, already hailed for diverting the mob away from the Senate chambers, was seen this week for the first time in the prosecution’s security camera footage directing Representative Romney away from the mob.
Goodman is a patriot. He risked his life for the greater good.
How many Republican senators will vote as patriots with their conscience and risk political survival?
Two-thirds of the 100 senators must vote to convict Trump. There are 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans. Seventeen Republican senators would have to break ranks for a conviction.
The fifth day of the proceedings was adjourned to Saturday, February 13 at 10 a.m. (EST). A final vote is expected on that day.