By Susana Samhan
Washington, Feb 12 (efe-epa).- Attorneys representing former President Donald Trump in his Senate impeachment trial devoted their presentation Friday to drawing a radically different picture of the Jan. 6 assault on the US Capitol by supporters of the real estate mogul turned politician than the one offered by prosecutors.
Using fewer than four hours of the 16 hours they were allotted, lawyers Bruce Castor, David Schoen and Michael van der Veen said that Trump’s fiery rhetoric ahead of the riot was protected speech under the First Amendment of the US Constitution.
They also sought to portray their client as the guarantor of law and order and said that the historic second impeachment of Trump is a “witch-hunt” driven by Democrats’ hatred of the now-former president.
Defense counsel also repeated their contention that the trial is unconstitutional because Trump is no longer president.
The “impeachment managers” from the House of Representatives who are acting as prosecutors showed senators extensive video clips of the events at the Capitol on Jan. 6 and Trump’s lawyers likewise relied on videos, though none of them depicted the riot, which resulted in five fatalities.
Instead, they offered a mix of heavily edited clips featuring both Trump and Democratic politicians exhorting supporters to “fight” for their respective causes, as well as images seemingly intended to blur the distinction between right-wing extremists and Black Lives Matter protesters.
The attorneys argued that Trump, who was impeached on a single charge of inciting insurrection, could not be blamed for the actions of his partisans.
The Jan. 6 riot occurred hours after a “Stop the Steal” rally where the-then president encouraged his partisans to march on the Capitol and “fight like hell” as Congress was meeting to certify Democrat Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory.
Trump had spent the months following the Nov. 3 election repeating evidence-free claims of massive fraud.
“And after this, we’re going to walk down there … to the Capitol and we are going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women,” Trump said on Jan 6. “And we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them. Because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong.”
Shortly after mid-day, hundreds of Trump partisans stormed the Capitol, forcing then-Vice President Mike Pence – there to preside over the election certification – and lawmakers to shelter in the House and Senate chambers until they could be evacuated.
“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,” Van der Veen told the Senate.
“Far from promoting insurrection against the United States, the president’s remarks explicitly encouraged those in attendance to exercise their rights peacefully and patriotically,” the attorney said.
“Tragically, as we know now, on Jan. 6, a small group who came to engage in violent and menacing behavior hijacked the event for their own purposes. According to publicly available reporting, it is apparent that extremists of various different stripes and political persuasions preplanned, and premeditated an attack on the Capitol,” Van der Veen said.
Citing FBI sources, CBS News reported last weekend that at least 25 of the 205 people arrested so far in connection with the assault had ties to far-right groups such as the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Three Percenters and Texas Freedom Force, or were adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory.
“Like every other politically motivated witch hunt the left has engaged in over the past four years, this impeachment is completely divorced from the facts, the evidence, and the interests of the American people,” Van der Veen said.
The Democratic-controlled House impeached Trump in December 2019 over his ostensible attempt to leverage military aid to get the government in Kiev to investigate business dealings in Ukraine involving Hunter Biden – Joe Biden’s son – during the time that the elder Biden was serving as vice president under Barack Obama.
The president went on to be acquitted in the Republican-majority Senate.
While Democrats now control the Senate thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ constitutional role as presiding officer, the 100-seat chamber is evenly divided between the parties and a two-thirds majority is necessary for conviction.