Trump lawyers use whataboutism as primary, brief defense in impeachment trial over Capitol assault



Donald Trump’s lawyers at his impeachment trial on Friday accused Democrats of a double standard for prosecuting him on a charge of inciting the deadly U.S. Capitol riot last month after using combative language themselves.

Trump is on trial in the U.S. Senate after a fiery speech to his supporters before the Jan. 6 attack in which he repeated his false claims that his Nov. 3 election defeat was due to fraud and urged them to “fight like hell” before hundreds stormed the building, leaving five dead including a police officer.

“This unprecedented effort is not about Democrats opposing political violence,” said Trump lawyer Michael van der Veen. “It is about Democrats trying to disqualify their political opposition. It is constitutional cancel culture.”

Trump’s team played a roughly 10-minute video showing prominent Democrats including Vice President Kamala Harris, Senator Elizabeth Warren, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other party officials using the word “fight” in political speeches.

“You didn’t do anything wrong,” Trump lawyer David Schoen said, addressing Democrats. “It’s a word people use, but please stop the hypocrisy.”

The defense case followed two days of presentations by the nine House of Representatives Democrats serving as prosecutors.

They showed videos of the Republican former president cheering violence at his rallies, repeating his election fraud claims and urging his supporters to gather in Washington on Jan. 6, when Congress met to formally certify President Joe Biden’s election victory, for a rally he said would be “wild.”

The Democratic-controlled House charged Trump on Jan. 13 with inciting the insurrection, but Democrats are unlikely to get a conviction in the evenly-divided Senate or to bar Trump from running for office again.

Conviction requires a two-thirds majority in the 100-member Senate, which means at least 17 Republicans would have to defy Trump despite his continued popularity among Republican voters.

“I’m anxious to see what my Republican friends do,” Biden told reporters at the White House on Friday.

Van der Veen said there was a double standard at the heart of the prosecution’s case, claiming that some Democrats had “encouraged and endorsed” the violence that erupted at some anti-racism protests across the United States last summer without facing any legal consequences.

“They have clearly demonstrated that their opposition to mobs and their view of using the National Guard depends upon their political views,” said van der Veen, a last-minute addition to the defense team who sued Trump in August in a lawsuit that accused him of making repeated claims about fraud in mail-in voting without evidence.

Trump’s lawyers also argued that his remarks were protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which ensures the right to free speech.

Conviction unlikely

On Tuesday, the Senate voted largely along party lines that the impeachment trial was constitutional and even though Trump’s term ended on Jan. 20. Six Republican senators sided with Democrats.

If Trump is acquitted, the Senate could decide to censure him or even vote to bar him from holding public office again. Asked on Thursday about pursuing the latter option, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that decision would have to wait until the end of the trial.

South Dakota Senator John Thune, the No. 2 Republican in the chamber, indicated that a censure motion could be in the cards.

“I’ve seen a couple of resolutions at least that I think could attract some support,” Thune told reporters. He added that he did not think an effort to bar Trump from holding office again under the 14th Amendment would go anywhere.

Neither side has so far announced an intention to call witnesses, leaving senators on track for final arguments and a vote as soon as Saturday.

Trump is the first U.S. president to be impeached twice and the first to face trial after leaving office. His first impeachment trial, which stemmed from his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden, ended in an acquittal a year ago in what was then a Republican-controlled Senate.