Trump lawyers: Impeachment is political vengeance
Lawyers for Donald Trump opened his impeachment defense by strenuously denying he played any role in inciting the deadly riot at the Capitol, blasting the case against him as political vengeance and part of a yearslong Democratic “witch hunt.” (Feb. 12)
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.
“Nothing in the text could ever be construed as encouraging, condoning or enticing unlawful activity,” said Michael van der Veen, one of Trump’s attorneys.
After a prosecution case rooted in emotive, violent 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.
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.
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.”
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