WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump’s impeachment lawyers accused Democrats of waging a campaign of “hatred” against the former president as they sped through their defense of his actions and fiery words before the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U. S. Capitol, hurtling the Senate toward a final vote in his historic trial.
The defense team vigorously denied on Friday that Trump had incited the deadly riot and said his encouragement of followers to “fight like hell” at a rally that preceded it was routine political speech. They played a montage of out-of-context clips showing Democrats, some of them senators now serving as jurors, also telling supporters to “fight,” aiming to establish a parallel with Trump’s overheated rhetoric.
“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,” declared Trump lawyer Michael van der Veen. “Countless politicians have spoken of fighting for our principles.”
But the presentation blurred the difference between general encouragement to battle for causes and Trump’s fight against officially accepted national election results. The defeated president was telling his supporters to fight on after every state had verified its results, after the Electoral College had affirmed them and after nearly every election lawsuit filed by Trump and his allies had been rejected in court.
The case is speeding toward a vote and likely acquittal, perhaps as soon as Saturday, with the Senate evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans and a two-thirds majority required for conviction. Trump’s lawyers made an abbreviated presentation that used less than three of their allotted 16 hours.
Their quick pivot to the Democrats’ own words deflected from the central question of the trial — whether Trump incited the assault on the Capitol — and instead aimed to place impeachment managers and Trump adversaries on the defensive. His lawyers contended he was merely telling his rally crowd to support primary challenges against his adversaries and to press for sweeping election reform.
After a two-day effort by Democrats to sync up Trump’s words to the violence that followed, including through raw and emotive video footage, defense lawyers suggested that Democrats have typically engaged in the same rhetoric as Trump.
But in trying to draw that equivalency, the defenders minimized Trump’s months-long efforts to undermine the election results and his urging of followers to do the same. Democrats say that long campaign, rooted in a “big lie,” laid the groundwork for the mob that assembled outside the Capitol and stormed inside. Five people died.
On Friday, as defense lawyers repeated their own videos over and over, some Democrats chuckled and whispered among themselves as many of their faces flashed on the screen. Some passed notes. Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal threw up his hands, apparently amused, when his face appeared. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar rolled her eyes. Most Republicans watched intently.
During a break, some joked about the videos and others said they were a distraction or a “false equivalence” with Trump’s behavior.
“Well, we heard the word ‘fight’ a lot,” said Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats.
Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet said it felt like the lawyers were “erecting straw men to then take them down rather than deal with the facts.”
“We weren’t asking them fight like hell to overthrow an election,” Blumenthal said.
After the arguments ended, senators asked more than 20 questions of the lawyers, read by a clerk after submission in writing, including several from Republicans who are being closely watched for how they will vote.
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