Trump lawyers primed for rapid defence case in impeachment trial

Trump lawyers primed for rapid defence case in impeachment trial
Lawyers for former president Trump are seeking a speedy resolution to the impeachment trial, currently underway in the US senate.
4 min read
12 February, 2021
Trump is expected to be acquitted. [Getty]

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.

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.

"There's no reason for us to be out there a long time. As I said from the start of this thing, this trial never should have happened," one of the lawyers, David Schoen, told Fox News.

The impeachment team charged Trump with stoking an insurrection after losing re-election to Biden on 3 November.

According to the case against him, the former president began to lay the groundwork for the riot within weeks of refusing to concede with claims that he'd only lost because of mass voter fraud.

On 6 January 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 invaded 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 insist that 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.

Biden said Thursday that evidence against his predecessor -- including grim, never before seen footage of the 6 January riot -- was so strong it could change "some minds" in the Senate.

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, but if even a handful of Republicans vote to convict, it would be a historic mark against Trump.

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 defence 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.

"Is there any political leader in this room who believes that if he's ever allowed by the Senate to get back into the Oval Office Donald Trump would stop inciting violence to get his way?" Raskin asked.

"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. 

Read more: How a multiracial coalition powered Democrats to victory in Georgia's Senate battle

"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 defence 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 6 January," Hawley told Fox News. 

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

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