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Friday, 30 July 2021

Trump lawyers primed for rapid defense case in impeachment trial

Democratic impeachment managers rested their case Thursday after two days of often emotional presentations anchored by shocking video footage of a January 6 invasion of Congress by Trump's supporters

AFP , Friday 12 Feb 2021
Former US president Donald Trump. Reuters
Former US president Donald Trump. Reuters
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Lawyers for Donald Trump expect to take just a few hours Friday to argue for acquittal in his impeachment trial, and President Joe Biden says he's "anxious" to see how Republicans will vote after searing testimony that the former president incited insurrection.

"I'm just anxious to see what my Republican friends do, if they stand up," Biden said at the White House.

So far, there is no sign that enough Republicans will join the Democrats to convict Trump, who retains heavy influence over the right wing of the party after leaving office.

Democratic impeachment managers rested their case Thursday after two days of often emotional presentations anchored by shocking video footage of a January 6 invasion of Congress by Trump's supporters.

But in a sign that they want to get to a Senate vote as quickly as possible, Trump's lawyers say they will use as little as three or four hours to state their own case, when under the rules they are allowed up to 16 hours spread across two days.

"There's no reason for us to be out there a long time," one of the lawyers, David Schoen, told Fox News.

The impeachment team argues that Trump stoked mass anger after losing re-election to Biden on November 3 with a campaign of lies claiming there'd been mass voter fraud.

On January 6 he staged a fiery rally near the White House, calling on the crowd to march on Congress, which was in the process of certifying Biden's victory.

The mob then charged the Capitol building. Five people, including a police officer and a woman shot during the unrest, died as a result of the mayhem.

Impeachment managers say Trump, who has never expressed remorse for his encouragement of the violent crowd, is so dangerous he should be barred from holding office again.

But the former president's lawyers are set to argue that his speech was rhetorical and that he cannot be held responsible for the actions of the mob.

They also argue that the trial itself is unconstitutional because Trump is now out of office, although the Senate rejected this claim earlier this week.

It would take a two-thirds majority to convict, meaning 17 Republicans would need to join the Senate's 50 Democrats.

This is highly unlikely. However, if even a handful of Republicans vote to convict, it would be a historic mark against Trump, fueling civil war within his party over whether to pursue his populist, divisive vision or return to more moderate values.

One prominent Republican voice and potential future presidential candidate, former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, told Politico it's time to renounce Trump.

"He's fallen so far," she said. "He went down a path he shouldn't have and we shouldn't have followed him... We can't let that ever happen again."

- Trump 'inflamed' and 'incited' -

Video footage played by impeachment managers showed the crowd in the Capitol hunting down opponents of Trump as senior figures, including then vice president Mike Pence, fled to safety.

The defense will stress that Trump did not expressly tell his fans to commit violence.

Schoen has mocked the video as a slick product presented as "an entertainment package."

But lead impeachment manager Jamie Raskin pointed out that the Republican leader had been encouraging extremism even in the lead-up to Election Day.

"This pro-Trump insurrection did not spring out of thin air," Raskin said. "This was not the first time Donald Trump had inflamed and incited a mob."

He said it was imperative the Senate convict Trump and bar him from running for the White House again in 2024 or face the risk of the same kind of behavior being repeated.

"Would you bet the future of your democracy on that?"

- 'Not guilty' -

Republican Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana said video evidence shown by House managers was "powerful," but "how that influences final decisions remains to be seen."

Other Republican senators have clearly already made up their minds and do not intend to break with Trump, who has threatened to derail their careers should they back impeachment.

"The 'Not Guilty' vote is growing after today," tweeted Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. "I think most Republicans found the presentation by the House Managers offensive and absurd."

Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri echoed the argument by Trump's defense lawyers that it is unconstitutional to try a former president.

"You're not going to get anything but condemnation from me for what happened with those criminals at the Capitol on January 6," Hawley told Fox News.

"But that doesn't make the trial any more legitimate than it is, which is totally illegitimate."

One strong call for conviction came Friday from Hillary Clinton, who lost to Trump in his first election in 2016 and was turned into a right-wing hate figure during his presidency.

"Fulfill your oath. Convict him," she tweeted to senators. "Disqualify him from using the power of elected office to incite deadly insurrection again."

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