Impeachment Briefing: A Combative Defense

By Amelia Nierenberg

This is the Impeachment Briefing, The Times’s newsletter about the impeachment investigation. Sign up here to get it in your inbox.

What happened today

Lawyers for Donald J. Trump delivered a short defense, using just three of their allotted 16 hours.

His lawyers claimed, contrary to facts, that Mr. Trump never glorified violence, and they falsely equated his conduct to Democrats’ use of combative rhetoric.

Senators from both parties submitted written questions that were answered by the House managers and defense lawyers for Mr. Trump.

In breaks, Republican senators spoke positively of the defense. Absent any major shifts, it appears unlikely that there will be enough Senate votes to convict Mr. Trump.

Officer Eugene Goodman, hailed as a hero for diverting the mob and rescuing senators from peril on Jan. 6, was given a standing ovation and will receive the Congressional Gold Medal.

The trial adjourned until Saturday, when it is likely to conclude.

The defense presents its case

Mr. Trump’s impeachment team presented an incendiary defense of the former president, calling the House’s charge that he incited an insurrection at the Capitol a “preposterous and monstrous lie.”

Just before the riot, Mr. Trump told his supporters: “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” In an attempt to suggest the metaphorical nature of political speeches, Mr. Trump’s lawyers presented video montages of elected Democrats and some celebrities uttering the word “fight.”

“Suddenly, the word ‘fight’ is off limits?” said Michael T. van der Veen, one of the lawyers hired in recent days to defend Mr. Trump. “Spare us the hypocrisy and false indignation.”

“OK, you’ve made the point that it’s possible to use ‘fight’ in a metaphoric sense,” said Adam Liptak, who covers the Supreme Court, in The Times’s live briefing. “Question is whether, in context, Trump called for fighting in the physical sense.”

Mr. Trump’s lawyers dismissed the trial as “constitutional cancel culture.” Bruce L. Castor Jr. said the impeachment was “about canceling 75 million Trump voters and criminalizing political viewpoints.”

The lawyers claimed the riot was premeditated, pointing to pipe bombs that were planted before the rally. “You can’t incite what was already going to happen,” said Mr. van der Veen.

Mr. van der Veen also said the Jan. 6 rally had been “hijacked” by extremists, including antifa activists from the far left. But Republican leaders have dismissed that claim. “Some say the riots were caused by antifa,” the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, said last month. “There is absolutely no evidence of that, and conservatives should be the first to say so.” (For context, here’s how Mr. Trump used false statements about antifa as a smoke screen for a growing right-wing threat.)

The lawyers leaned heavily on Mr. Trump’s single use of the word “peacefully” as he urged backers to march to the Capitol while minimizing the 20 times he used the word “fight.” “No thinking person could seriously believe that the president’s Jan. 6 speech on the Ellipse was in any way an incitement to violence or insurrection,” Mr. van der Veen said. “The suggestion is patently absurd on its face. Nothing in the text could ever be construed as encouraging, condoning or inciting unlawful activity of any kind.”

The defense team argued that the Senate “lacks jurisdiction” to even try a former president now out of office, that Mr. Trump’s conduct was protected by the First Amendment and that it came nowhere near the legal definition for “incitement.” In a letter last week, 144 leading First Amendment lawyers and constitutional scholars from across the political spectrum called that argument “legally frivolous.”

The Trump team lawyers also framed the trial as rushed, claiming Mr. Trump had not been given due process. “Trump lawyers seem to be complaining that they did not get sufficient time to view ‘the evidence,’” said Mark Leibovich, the chief national correspondent for The Times Magazine. “But of course, the evidence was mostly in plain view before.”

What else we’re reading

Much of the trial hinges on the definition of the word “incitement.” Adam Liptak broke down this week how earlier precedent applies in an impeachment trial.

The Oath Keepers militia group, which largely draws its membership from former law enforcement and military personnel, appears to have coordinated before the Capitol attack with other extremist groups.

Nikki R. Haley, a United Nations ambassador under Mr. Trump, said she was “disgusted” by his conduct on Jan. 6.

The Capitol assault resulted in one of the worst days of injuries for law enforcement in the United States since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Did a friend forward you the briefing? Sign up here.

The Impeachment Briefing is also available as a newsletter. Sign up here to get it in your inbox.

Source: Read Full Article