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Trump’s defense rests its case in the Senate impeachment trial

Former President Trump's defense team rested their case Friday during his Senate impeachment trial after just a single afternoon, during which they argued his cause on factual, First Amendment and constitutional grounds. Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor join Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The defense has now rested in the Senate impeachment trial of former President Trump.

    His lawyers took less than three hours, arguing his cause on factual, First Amendment and constitutional grounds.

    Congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins reports.

  • Sen. Patrick Leahy:

    The Senate will convene as a court of impeachment.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    With 16 hours on the clock for their turn to make their case, lawyers for former President Donald Trump felt his defense needed far less time. Right away, they rejected the charge that Mr. Trump directly caused the deadly siege on the U.S. Capitol last month.

  • Michael Van Der Veen:

    No thinking person could seriously believe that the president's January 6 speech on the Ellipse was in any way an incitement to violence or insurrection. The suggestion is patently absurd on its face.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It was a sharp rebuttal to presentations from Democratic impeachment managers over the past two days that featured harrowing images of the chaos that day and the words they say incited it.

  • Donald Trump:

    We're going to walk down to the Capitol.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Woman:

    Yes!

  • Man:

    Let's take the Capitol.

  • Man:

    Take the Capitol!

  • Man:

    Take it!

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The defense team's Michael van der Veen dismissed Democrats' approach as a partisan attempt to disparage the former president and prevent him from running for office again.

  • Michael Van Der Veen:

    To claim that the president in any way wished, desired, or encouraged lawless or violent behavior is a preposterous and monstrous lie.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    They sought to appeal to senators with legal arguments. They said Mr. Trump's remarks on January 6 represented freedom of speech, protected by the First Amendment.

  • Michael Van Der Veen:

    "If you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore."

    This is ordinary political rhetoric that is virtually indistinguishable from the language that has been used by people across the political spectrum for hundreds of years. You must reject this invitation to ignore the First Amendment. It is anti-American and would set dangerous precedent forever.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The attorneys said none of Mr. Trump's words were intended to be a call to arms and that insurrectionists acted out of their own accord.

  • Michael Van Der Veen:

    The fact that the attacks were apparently premeditated, as alleged by the House managers, demonstrates the ludicrousness of the incitement allegation against the president. You can't incite what was already going to happen.

  • Donald Trump:

    We have come to demand that Congress…

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The lawyers accused Democrats of cherry-picking Mr. Trump's words and deliberately overlooking a message to supporters to march to the Capitol nonviolently.

  • Donald Trump:

    I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol Building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.

  • David Schoen:

    They know it doesn't meet the standard for incitement, so they edited it down.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    With a video reel of their own, the defense argued the former president's incendiary words were no different from that of some Democrats.

  • Sen. Cory Booker:

    Please, get up in the face of some congresspeople.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi:

    People will do what they do.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer:

    I want to tell you, Gorsuch, I want to tell you, Kavanaugh, you have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Another reel, running nearly 10 minutes, featured a montage of Democrats, including many of the senators watching, using the word fight, just as Mr. Trump did the day of the Capitol assault.

  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren:

    This is the fight of our lives.

  • Sen. Mark Warner:

    But we are going to make sure that this fight does not end tonight.

  • David Schoen:

    Every single one of you and every one of you. That's OK. You didn't do anything wrong. It's a word people use, but please stop the hypocrisy.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Defense lawyer David Schoen spoke to Democrats in the room, including Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, but they rejected the comparison:

  • Sen. Chris Coons:

    Most of us who were quoted as having used the word, we were talking about fighting for health care, or fighting for cleaner air, or fighting for better schools, not fighting to interrupt the certification of the presidential election.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The defense team also returned to a familiar attack on the constitutionality of the trial itself, arguing the Senate holds no jurisdiction to try a former president.

  • Michael Van Der Veen:

    This would transform the solemn impeachment process into a mechanism for asserting congressional control over which private citizens are and are not allowed to run for president. It is constitutional cancel culture.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The Senate, sitting as the jury, already dealt with that issue. A majority of senators agreed the trial should move forward.

    Ultimately, the Trump defense rested their case in significantly less time than prosecutors took, confident their arguments had resonated and that they had the votes to acquit from senators, who followed up with questions for both sides.

  • Sen. Patrick Leahy:

    Senator Warnock has a question.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    A conviction would require support from at least 17 Republicans, and has been unlikely from the start. A final vote could come as early as tomorrow.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Lisa joins us now from the Capitol, along with our White House correspondent, Yamiche Alcindor.

    So, Yamiche, you have been tracking the defense very closely. Give us the core of the argument they made today and where they feel this trial stands.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, former President Trump's defense attorneys feel very confident that he will be acquitted. And one Trump adviser told me just a few minutes ago, if they had said nothing in the Senate chamber, they still feel like President Trump would have been acquitted.

    And that's because they believe there aren't just 17 Republican senators not willing to go against President Trump, but to go against their voters, who, many of them are Trump supporters.

    That said, the defense did put on a short presentation. And they focused on saying that President Trump was the real victim here, that he was the — what they were really being — he was being targeted politically because of his power, saying that this was a witch-hunt, saying that there was constitutional cancel culture happening here, in some ways echoing the president's own words.

    What they didn't do, though, was try to litigate the 2020 election. Of course, President Trump still falsely saying that he won the election.

    But, just a few minutes ago, an attorney for the president also would not admit that he lost the election. So, that tells you a little bit about what's going on there.

    Something else that the Trump lawyers did today, they put out this video, this very long, extended video of Democrats and of reporters, media personalities, talking about fighting, talking about using the same words that now, of course, President Trump is being criticized for using.

    And in that chamber, in the Senate chamber, there was really two sides of kind of reactions. There was the laughter from Democrats, who really didn't take it seriously, thought that it was a false equivalency.

    And then I also saw Republican senators laughing, essentially saying, yes, Democrats are being hypocritical. But just a few minutes ago, Representative Stacey Plaskett, House impeachment manager, she said that — she pointed out that that video featured a lot of Black women and people of color.

    And she said, quoting the civil rights activists failing Fannie Lou Hamer, I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired, making the point that this trial is really about who we want to be as a country, and if President Trump is even acquitted, it still begs the question whether or not we as a country want white supremacy and systemic racism to continue.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Yamiche, you were also telling us that there's a dispute that has broken out between the defense team and the House managers over security video that was shown this week.

    Tell us about that.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    That's right.

    The Trump attorneys are making the case that new video evidence that was shown during this trial, the security camera footage showing Vice President Pence running from the crowd, being evacuated, and a number of other lawmakers running for their lives, that that was not video evidence that they had gotten ahead of the trial.

    They were saying that that was the first time they ever saw it, when, in fact, a source told me, a senior Democratic aide is saying, that's not true, that David Schoen in particular was not telling the truth. In fact, they said that all of the evidence, including the video, was given to the Trump defense attorneys, as per the trial rules.

    So, that's a big, big argument going on there, with Democrats essentially saying that President Trump's lawyers are not telling the truth.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And to you, Lisa, we know that the trial is now in the question phase, where senators can pose questions to each side.

    Tell us where that stands. What coming out of this part of the trial?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's ongoing as we speak, Judy.

    So far, some two dozen questions by the 100 members of the Senate, taking turns. And it's interesting, because they're asking questions that I think many Americans would have asked, very straightforward questions, some of them including asking the president's defense team, what exactly was the president doing? What did he know about what was happening at the Capitol as it was unfolding, as he was tweeting out things about Vice President Pence?

    Did he understand that Vice President Pence had been evacuated? An important question from Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, a Republican, said, what we know about the president suggests that he did not care that the vice — that Vice President Pence was in danger.

    Interesting. The defense team has taken the approach to answer all these questions to say: We don't know what the president was doing because Democrats have not investigated this case.

    And in that question from Senator Cassidy, they even said that his premise was false. They have rejected the idea that President Trump knew what was going on with Vice President Pence.

    But I'm curious if that will backfire. Democrats keep pounding away at that, saying: It is up to you to tell us what the president was doing. You had the ability to have him speak in his own defense. And, if not, then we have to assume that he was not, in fact, trying to protect the U.S. Capitol.

    So, some really interesting questions here. And I'm particularly interested in Senator Cassidy to see how he votes in the end. He's indicated that he is still open possibly to a conviction, but we will have to see how that goes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa Desjardins, Yamiche Alcindor, thank you both.

    We understand the questions are expected to wrap up tonight. Tomorrow, they go to closing statements, and we may well get a vote on this impeachment trial.

    Thank you both.

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