By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
Speaking to the Senate in the historic impeachment trial, Trump’s defense team said Democratic prosecutors conveniently overlooked Trump’s appeal for peace.
Trump’s impeachment lawyer Michael van der Veen recalled that Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally: “I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.”
Van der Veen stressed that this was “far from promoting insurrection against the United States” over a disputed election, as prosecutors claim. Instead, Trump “explicitly encouraged those in attendance to exercise their rights peacefully and patriotically,” the lawyer added.
Trump’s use of the word “fight” was figuratively and protected by the Constitution’s First Amendment right to free speech, he stressed. The defense team also made clear that elected officials of different parties made similar remarks.
To make their point, lawyers played a video showing edited clips of Democratic lawmakers using the word “fight” repeatedly. They then accused Democrats of hypocrisy for criticizing Trump’s speech to supporters on January 6.
“This is ordinary political rhetoric that is virtually indistinguishable from the language that people across the political spectrum have used for hundreds of years,” declared Trump lawyer Van der Veen. “Countless politicians have spoken of fighting for our principles.”
Van der Veen warned the Senate about “the precedent this case will set.”
But critics said the presentation blurred the difference between general encouragement to battle for causes and Trump’s fight against what he saw as fraudulent election results.
The president told his supporters to fight on after every state had verified its results after the Electoral College had affirmed them, prosecutors said. Also, nearly all election lawsuits filed by him and his allies were rejected in court, prosecutors stressed.
Separately, Trump’s defense lawyer got into a heated argument with Senator Bernie Sanders after the Vermont lawmaker asked if Trump lied about winning the 2020 US election.
“My judgment is irrelevant in this proceeding,” Van der Veen said in response. “No, it isn’t,” Sanders hit back, adding: “You represent the president of the United States.”
The confrontation came in a question-and-answer session after the defense wrapped up their case in about three hours earlier Friday.
Before adjourning for the night, the Senate unanimously approved awarding officer Eugene Goodman with a gold medal for his bravery during the January 6 attack. “Officer Goodman is in the chamber tonight. Officer Goodman, thank you,” said Chuck Schumer, before senators stood to applaud the officer.
It was a rare sign of unity in otherwise divisive procedures. Trump is the first former U.S. president to face an impeachment trial, with the Democratically-controlled Senate rejecting arguments that the trial was unconstitutional.
If convicted, Trump could be prevented from running for office again. That seemed unlikely as most Republican legislators were expected to vote against convicting a leader who received some 75 million votes.
However, pressure mounted on legislators as Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama was standing by controversial claims. He said he told then-President Trump that Vice President Mike Pence was being evacuated from the Senate during the Capitol riot.
The conversation is of interest to Democrats because Trump sent a message on social networking site Twitter at 2:24 p.m. on January 6 saying that Pence didn’t have “the courage” to challenge the election results.
If Tuberville’s account is correct, then Trump would likely have known before sending the tweet that Pence was in danger, prosecutors argue.
At the time, the rioters had already broken into the Capitol, some of them calling for Pence’s death.
The Associated Press news agency said Tuberville recounted the phone call to reporters on Friday: “I said, ‘Mr. President, they’ve taken the vice president out. They want me to get off the phone, I gotta go.”
Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy, a Republican who indicated he is open to convicting Trump, asked Trump’s lawyers and the House impeachment managers about the call.
In response, Trump lawyer Van der Veen called Tuberville’s account “hearsay,” comparing it to something someone had “heard the night before at a bar somewhere.”
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