Lawyer Michael Van Der Veen gave the opening statement for former President Trump’s impeachment defence, in which he called the trial a ‘politically motivated witch hunt’ and argued that the riots on 6th January were ‘premeditated’. The Democrat-backed prosecution finished its arguments yesterday, in which it claimed that the former President incited the attack. Its arguments leaned heavily on the phrase ‘fight like hell’, which was used by the President at a speech prior to the Capitol invasion. However, Trump lawyer David Schoen dismissed this, playing an 11-minute montage of Democrats using the word ‘fight’ and other violent phrases, such as Joe Biden saying he would ‘take Trump behind the gym and beat the hell out of him’. Schoen said of the word ‘fight’; ‘It’s OK, it’s a word people use, but please stop the hypocrisy.’
One of the first key issues that was raised is that of the Democrats’ objection to the 2016 election results. Though it was not reported very widely by mainstream media outlets at the time, a number of Democrats objected to certifying Trump’s win in 2016, a fact which is being used by Van Der Veen to defend Trump. He showed footage of some of those lawmakers, such as Jamie Raskin, who is a high-profile member of and witness for the prosecution, objecting to make the election results official. This, along with Schoen’s suggestion that impeachment was really motivated by Trump’s refusal to accept election results, and not by Trump’s speech on 6th January, painted the Democrats as hypocrites and liars.
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Race, an issue which has been at the forefront of many Americans’ minds over the past few months, has played a key role in this impeachment trial. Trump’s lawyers compared the Capitol Hill riots to the riots that were seen after the killing of George Floyd, and debunked allegations made by Democrats that President Trump supports (or at least refuses to condemn) white supremacy. David Schoen played an unedited clip of Trump’s response to the Charlottesville riot and white supremacist protests, in which the President condemned the racists and neo-Nazis who held a rally in the city back in 2017.
In what could be described as an appeal to the constitution, Trump’s legal team defended the former President’s speech on 6th January as an exercise of the first amendment. Van der Veen quoted James Wilson, a founding father, in saying ‘Lawful and constitutional conduct may not be used as an impeachable offense.’ The defence’s argument goes that, if President Trump was simply exercising Freedom of Speech (which it is his constitutional right to do), then it follows that he cannot be impeached based on what he said. The quote from James Wilson suggests that the founding fathers would’ve agreed with that logic.
In response to the prosecution’s arguments, the impeachment defence team argued that the Democrats were being hypocritical and taking quotes out of context. They argued the whole trial was politically motivated, with Van Der Veen saying that the Democrats’ support for it was centred around ‘political hatred’, and even went on to call impeachment proceedings ‘constitutional cancel culture.’ The team also pointed to the fact that the Democrats had been so eager to push impeachment through congress as evidence that the trial was ‘rushed’, and they argued that the Democrats were trying to deny President Trump due process.
All in all, Trump’s legal team has had a successful first part of the day, though they are only just getting started. It is expected that later on they will argue that the trial is unconstitutional as Trump is not currently President, and they will likely continue to put his words into context whilst claiming that they were not inflammatory and did not incite violence. It is predicted that President Trump will be acquitted of all charges, as it is improbable that 17 Republicans will vote to convict him.