Trump impeachment Defence team calls trial a ‘politically motivated witch hunt’
Donald Trump’s defence lawyers are presenting evidence in the US Senate, denying charges he incited insurrection in the Capitol riots of 6 January.
In his opening remarks, lawyer Michael van der Veen called the impeachment a “politically motivated witch hunt”.
The team has indicated it may take up only four of its 16 hours, and so move the impeachment trial to a speedy end.
They are expecting an acquittal, as most Republicans have indicated they will not vote to convict Mr Trump.
Five people died amid the Capitol riots, and Democrats have accused Mr Trump of inciting supporters to attack the Capitol building to stop Joe Biden’s election victory being certified.
Senators sat through two days of minute-by-minute accounts featuring video and audio footage, as Democratic prosecutors sought to show that Donald Trump had a pattern of condoning violence, did nothing on the day to prevent the riot, and had expressed no remorse.
They argued that an acquittal could see a repeat of the attack on Congress.
What is Trump’s defence team’s argument?
Mr van der Veen used his opening remarks to dispute the Democrats’ case that Mr Trump incited violence during his speech to supporters on 6 January.
Mr Trump had made allegations of voter fraud and urged his supporters to converge at the Capitol building, a short while before the riot broke out.
However, the fact there was evidence among some groups that violence was pre-planned “demonstrates the ludicrousness of the incitement allegations against the [former] president”, Mr van der Veen said, adding: “You can’t incite what was already going to happen.”
Donald Trump had been “entirely consistent in his opposition to mob violence”, the lawyer added, pointing out that the president had urged his supporters to “peacefully and patriotically” march to the Capitol.
Telling the crowd they needed to “fight like hell” was simply political speech, Mr van der Veen said.
Make no mistake, he told the senators, “this is an effort to smear, censor and cancel not just President Trump, but the 75 million Americans who voted for him.”
The lawyer also argued that Mr Trump had a legal right to challenge the election result.
“In the past, numerous other candidates for president have used many of the same processes to pursue their own election challenges,” Mr van der Veen said, before showing a montage of clips from 2017 when Democrats objected to the election results that gave Mr Trump his victory.
The Democrats had presented new video footage of the riots on both Wednesday and Thursday, taking senators step-by-step through the events of the day of the riot.
The impeachment managers hoped the graphic shots of violent rioters, fleeing lawmakers and crushed police would bolster their case that Mr Trump had incited the riot.
House prosecutor Joe Neguse made the case that Mr Trump was “not just some guy” making a controversial speech – he was a president addressing supporters who were “poised for violence [and] he struck a match”.
Representative Jamie Raskin said: “My dear colleagues, 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?”
Congressman Ted Lieu said: “Impeachment, conviction and disqualification [from office] is not just about the past. It’s about the future. It’s making sure that no future official, no future president does the same exact thing.”
What happens next?
After the defence case, senators will then have up to four hours to present written questions to the legal teams.
That will be followed by a debate and vote over whether to allow witnesses – if either side wants them. If they do not, or if the vote fails, both sides will make brief closing arguments followed by the final vote on Mr Trump’s fate.
This could wrap up as early as Saturday night or by Monday at the latest – less than a week from start to finish.
Senators on both sides have indicated this is likely.
A two-thirds majority is required to convict Donald Trump in the 100-seat Senate, which is split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats.
At least 17 members of Mr Trump’s party would need to vote against him and although six have shown some movement that way, none of the others have, with many staunchly rejecting the accusation.
Several Republicans have said they do not believe an ex-president should be impeached, although ahead of the trial a Senate vote rejected that position.
If Mr Trump were convicted, the Senate could then vote to bar him from holding elected office again.