Donald Trump Impeachment Trial Day Four: Defense to Set Out Case

Donald Trump Impeachment Trial Day Four: Defense to Set Out Case

The legal team representing the former president intends to keep the defense presentation to one day and brief

Donald Trump’s defense team will seek to rebut Democrats’ allegations that he incited the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot in its first and only day of arguments on the Senate floor Friday, after Democrats spent two days using video footage and the former president’s own words to make their case for impeachment.

The defense’s case, which Trump lawyer David Schoen said may only take three to four hours, is expected to center on the arguments that rioters breached the Capitol for their own reasons and hadn’t been directed by Mr. Trump to do so. His lawyers are expected to also argue that the former president was exercising his First Amendment rights, not encouraging violence, when he urged his supporters to “fight” and march to the Capitol in his speech preceding the riot.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers are also expected to criticize Democrats’ handling of the impeachment process in the House, arguing that they deprived him of due process, including representation during those proceedings. His defense team has argued that it is unconstitutional to try a former president in the Senate, an argument that all Republican senators but six agreed with in a vote earlier this week.

The defense team is likely to air footage of Democrats using fiery political language as it focuses on its First Amendment defense, a person familiar with the strategy said.

Mr. Trump’s defense team, like the House impeachment managers, has 16 hours allotted to make its case. On Thursday, Trump adviser Jason Miller said the team plans to only use one of their two days. Mr. Schoen had initially asked for the trial to be suspended during the Jewish Sabbath from 5 p.m. Friday through Saturday, but later withdrew that request.

After the defense team concludes its arguments, the Senate is expected to hold a four-hour question-and-answer period, which Mr. Trump’s lawyers are hoping can be completed on Friday night.

If the House managers don’t seek to call witnesses, the Senate vote on whether to convict or acquit the former president could come as early as this weekend. Some Democratic senators said Thursday they didn’t think there was a need for witnesses. Democrats last week asked Mr. Trump to testify, and he declined.

The House impeached Mr. Trump last month on an article of inciting an insurrection. All 50 Democrats plus at least 17 Republicans will be required to convict Mr. Trump in the Senate, and only a handful of Republicans so far have indicated they could vote to convict.

“I’m not afraid of Donald Trump running again in four years. I’m afraid he’s going to run again and lose, because he can do this again.”— Rep. Ted Lieu (D., Calif.)
Over two days on the Senate floor, Democrats laid out a detailed case against Mr. Trump, arguing that he spent months exciting his supporters with false claims of a rigged election, ignited the powder keg he had created, and then not only didn’t show remorse for his role but defended his remarks preceding the riot as “totally appropriate.”

“I’m not afraid of Donald Trump running again in four years,” Rep. Ted Lieu of California said Thursday. “I’m afraid he’s going to run again and lose, because he can do this again.”

Impeachment managers aired gripping footage of an angry mob bursting into the Capitol and efforts by Capitol Police officers to usher lawmakers and former Vice President Mike Pence away from the rioters that revealed several close calls. Democrats said Mr. Trump “put a target” on the backs of certain lawmakers and then incited a mob of his supporters to “hunt them down,” pointing to tweets and speeches in which Mr. Trump riled his supporters with false claims of a rigged election and urged them to fight on his behalf.

On Thursday, several Republican senators indicated they remained unswayed. “I’d be surprised if very many minds have been changed,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R., Mo.) told reporters. Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas) said he thought Democrats’ presentation was “excellent” but that the real question for him was Mr. Trump’s intent, which he said still remained unclear.

“I’d be surprised if very many minds have been changed.”— Sen. Roy Blunt (R., Mo.)
A group of GOP senators, including Ted Cruz of Texas, met Thursday with Mr. Trump’s legal team in advance of their arguments before the Senate on Friday. The Trump team’s performance will draw scrutiny after his lawyers appeared unprepared in opening arguments on Tuesday, drawing harsh criticism from Republican senators and from Mr. Trump himself.

“I think their job is to make clear how the House managers have not carried their burden of proof, they have not demonstrated that the president’s conduct satisfied the legal status of high crimes and misdemeanors,” Mr. Cruz said.

Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine), who is considered a possible swing vote for conviction, criticized Mr. Trump’s lawyers earlier in the week and said Thursday she was expecting a better performance from them on Friday.

“I hope they’ll be as specific as the House managers were, who went through the evidence, provided legal arguments and gave a very thorough presentation,” Ms. Collins told reporters.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R., La.) indicated that he might be open to convicting Mr. Trump and said he wanted the defense team to address why he didn’t immediately call off the mob or take steps to bolster forces at the Capitol.

“I hope what the defense does is explain that,” he told reporters Thursday night. “If one of the charges was that you should have called out people [and] you didn’t, even though it was clear that the police officers were under assault, please explain that.”

Republican senators often appeared distracted during Democrats’ presentation. Sen. Rick Scott (R., Fla.) studied a map of Southeast Asia during Wednesday’s proceedings, and was writing on a blank map of Asia on Thursday. By about 2 p.m. on Thursday, nearly a third of Republicans were missing from the chamber.

Even Mr. Trump’s defense team at times appeared to not be paying close attention. Mr. Schoen stepped out of the trial at various points to give some TV interviews. He told reporters House managers had not “in any way” tied the violence at the riot to Mr. Trump and said it was the “antithesis of the healing process” to air footage of the Jan. 6 riot.

Before they concluded their arguments on Thursday, Democrats sought to pre-emptively rebut some of the defense’s arguments. Mr. Lieu disputed the defense’s argument that Mr. Trump was deprived of due process and said it wasn’t necessary to introduce evidence because the offenses happened in plain sight. “President Trump is receiving any and all process that he is due right here in this chamber,” he said.

Lead impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin (D., Md.) said Mr. Trump incited a mob to violent insurrection, which isn’t protected as free speech. “Absolutely nobody in America would be protected by the First Amendment if they did the things that Donald Trump did,” he said, likening Mr. Trump to the “now-proverbial municipal fire chief who incites a mob to go set the theater on fire, and not only refuses to put out the fire, but encourages the mob to keep going as the blaze spreads.”

The fire chief would be barred from that job, Mr. Raskin said, and added: “That’s exactly what must happen here.”

—Siobhan Hughes and Lindsay Wise contributed to this article.

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