On day four of Donald Trump’s impeachment trial it was the turn of the defence to make its case.
Earlier this week, Mr Trump’s legal team asserted that the entire impeachment trial was unconstitutional and a violation of the former president’s due process rights. They lost that argument, so now they had to set about defending the former president on the merits of the case.
All in all, it took Trump’s lawyers just over three hours to present their arguments – a far cry from the 13 hours the impeachment managers took to lay out their prosecution. For the defence, less could be more, as it already seems clear that enough Republicans will stick by the former president to assure a not guilty verdict.
The Democrats did it, too
During their defence of the president, Trump’s lawyers tried to turn the words of Democrats against them.
They played clip after clip of members of the House of Representatives, including lead impeachment manager Jamie Raskin, contesting the results of previous presidential elections. If Democrats can challenge the election results, Trump’s lawyers said, why can’t Trump?
In another video montage, the lawyers featured Democrats praising and encouraging the Black Lives Matters demonstrations of 2020, suggesting – as the clips flipped to acts of violence during those protests – that Democrats used rhetoric as bad or worse than Donald Trump.
President Joe Biden’s campaign slogan, Michael Van der Bleen noted, was “a battle for the soul of America”.
He added that he was not suggesting that Democrats should face punishment. Rather, heated rhetoric has long been a part of US politics.
It might be time to cool down the vitriol, van der Bleen said, but Trump’s speech certainly wasn’t grounds for impeachment and conviction.
The Democrats misrepresented the president
When Trump lawyer David Schoen got his first crack at defending the president, he went on the attack against the Democratic impeachment managers. He accused them of selectively editing Trump’s speeches to make them seem more inflammatory than they were.
He played the entirety of the ex-president’s now infamous “good people on both sides” response to the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that turned violent. Trump, Schoen noted, was referring to peaceful protests the night before. (Although he did not mention that the Friday night gathering featured torch-bearing men chanting “Jews will not replace us.)
In one rather remarkable twist, Schoen suggested that a Trump supporter who tweeted that she was “bringing the Calvary” to support Trump on 6 January was a reference to the hill on which Christ was crucified, not a typo for cavalry.
According to journalists watching the proceedings live, that prompted Democratic senators in the chamber to exchange incredulous looks.