Live Blog: Trump’s Defense Team Takes the Stage

Here’s the latest.

Mother Jones illustration; Michael Brochstein/Sipa/AP; Getty

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 My Happy Friday and welcome back to Mother Jones’ live coverage of Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial.

The former president’s lawyers, who are set to deliver their defense today, are expected to largely stick to the claim that the Senate trial is unconstitutional because Trump is no longer in office. As my colleague Pema Levy noted, that’s a pretty weak argument, and most constitutional scholars have rejected it. Still, Republicans hellbent on acquitting Trump have made this dubious contention the basis of their opposition to Trump’s impeachment trial. The defense also plans to focus on the First Amendment and reject claims that Trump incited violence with his “Stop the Steal” rhetoric.

As for the prosecution, House impeachment managers have been widely hailed—even by some Republicans—for their exceptionally sharp presentation over the past three days. Their case for conviction featured never-before-seen video footage that underscored, in both frightening and emotional terms, the harm of Trump’s actions and how greater tragedy was only narrowly averted. Follow along for updates below:

6:25 p.m. ET: That concludes the question-and-answer session. The Senate is now applauding Officer Eugene Goodman, who helped guide Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) to safety on Jan. 6 and led the mob away from the Senate chamber. The Senate unanimously voted to award him the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor Congress can bestow.

The Senate will adjourn at 10 a.m. ET tomorrow. Thanks for following along.

6:15 p.m. ET: You just have to watch this video:

6:05 p.m. ET: Arguing that Trump’s Jan. 6 speech was not the sole factor contributing to the insurrection but rather the culmination of a prolonged campaign to rile his base, Stacey Plaskett took on a lighter tone: “Most of you men would not have your wives with one attempt at talking to her.”

5:24 p.m. ET: Van der Veen did not like being asked by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) whether he thought Trump actually won the election.

Sanders’ question was: “The House prosecutors have stated over and over again that President Trump was perpetrating a big lie when he repeatedly claimed that the election was stolen from him and that he actually won the election by a landslide. Are the prosecutors right when they claim that Trump was telling a big lie, or in your judgment, did Trump actually win the election?”

“My judgment?” Trump’s attorney replied. “Who asked that?”

“I did,” Sanders said.

“My judgment’s irrelevant in this proceeding,” van der Veen said. “In my judgment, it’s irrelevant to the question before this body. What’s relevant in this impeachment article is, were Mr. Trump’s words inciteful to the point of violence and riot? That’s the charge. That’s the question.”

4:45 p.m. ET: Did you notice all the clips the defense played of Black women protesting police brutality? And how that was supposed to be a bad thing, comparable to people storming the Capitol? Stacey Plaskett did.

4:32 p.m. ET: Michael van der Veen is now contending that “at no point was the president informed that the vice president was in danger,” and that the question is irrelevant to the charge of incitement of an insurrection. It seems hard to square that response with his failure to say when the president knew an insurrection was taking place. 

4:25 p.m. ET: Now it’s the House impeachment managers’ turn to answer the same question:

4:12 p.m. ET: Trump’s lawyers appear unable to answer when Trump first found out about the breach of the Capitol and what he did to stop it. My colleague Pema Levy wrote about the implications of that non-answer here.

4:00 p.m. ET: The Senate will now take up to four hours of written questions, with a maximum of five minutes allotted for each answer.

3:15 p.m. ET: Castor just showed a supercut, under dramatic music, of politicians saying they aimed to prevent Trump from running for office again. “The goal is to eliminate a political opponent,” he said, “to substitute their judgment for the will of the voters.” He keeps saying that the trial is about “cancelling” the voters who cast their ballots for Trump, as if their candidate didn’t lose fair and square.

2:40 p.m. ET: 

2:30 p.m. ET: Castor is now up—with a better fitting suit—and rejecting the label of “insurrection” for what happened on January 6. He’s also replaying the same video footage from before.

2:00 p.m. ET: More apparent lying from Trump’s defense team. 

1:00 p.m. ET: As we reported earlier, Trump’s defense is now playing a video montage of Democrats using the word “fight” to downplay Trump’s long record of inciting violence. It’s an incredibly disingenuous tactic. But also just embarrassing and very long. Let’s take a look at how the video is being received:

12:45 p.m. ET: Trump’s defense falsely blames the insurrection on Antifa, directly contradicting the assessment of the FBI:

Trump’s defense team has now one-upped that by falsely accusing extremists of “various different stripes and political persuasions” were behind the pro-Trump Capitol attack last month when countless pieces of video evidence, charging documents, and law enforcement assessments rebut that bold lie. But with a defense so weak that debuted dead on arrival, who can afford to care about the truth?

12:15 p.m. ET: Taking a page out of his client’s playbook, Trump’s lawyer Michael van der Veen is up first arguing that the trial is a “witch hunt.” He’s also playing a video montage of Trump declaring law and order to reject the accusation that the former president has promoted violence. What a perfect time to read my colleague Nathalie Baptise on what conservatives really mean when they call for law and order

11:50 a.m. ET: More trouble in Castor-land. From the Wall Street Journal:

Trump lawyer Bruce L. Castor Jr. suggested he was still contemplating changes to the lineup shortly before the defense team was set to begin arguing its case.

In a text message at 10:45 a.m., asked whether lawyer David Schoen would speak on Friday, Mr. Castor said he was “wrestling” with that question. “We have to decide what is best for the case,” he said.

10:20 a.m. ET: We’ve got more details on what Trump’s lawyers are going to be presenting today, including plans to falsely compare Trump’s violent rhetoric to Democratic politicians who have urged voters to “fight.” Not only is that disingenuous, as my colleague Dan Friedman notes, Trump’s lawyers also already botched their own argument earlier this week. 

9 a.m. ET: Despite his widely-panned, incoherent debut on Tuesday, Bruce Castor is still expected to have a speaking role today. Get the popcorn ready.

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FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2021 demands.

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