FBI court filings against those who participated in the violence at the Capitol referred to the events as an “insurrection,” and Republican congressional leaders have echoed that characterization. Castor’s comments come even after the Trump team said the evidence of advance planning by heavily militarized elements of the rioters suggests that the violence was orchestrated ahead of time, rather than an organic reaction to Trump’s speech earlier that morning.
“President Trump’s words couldn’t have incited the violence at the Capitol,” Castor added.
In their opening arguments and responses to senators’ questions, the Trump defense team refused to disclose details about what Trump knew — or what actions he took — as the violence unfolded on Jan. 6, instead blaming the House for not undertaking an investigation.
And they said there was no evidence that Trump knew that Mike Pence was in danger when he tweeted an attack on the then-vice president — even though the Capitol siege was widely televised and Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) told POLITICO he directly informed Trump that Pence had been evacuated moments after. Trump’s lawyers called Tuberville’s account “hearsay.” Tuberville told reporters Friday evening that he stood by his original comments to POLITICO.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), the lead impeachment manager, said the “evidence is in the sole possession of their client,” referring to Trump, who last week declined an invitation from the House to testify as part of the trial.
Perhaps more importantly, key GOP senators weighing whether to convict Trump said the former president’s attorneys’ answers were not satisfactory, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who asked the lawyers for specific details about when Trump learned that the Capitol had been breached, what actions he took in response, and when.
Trump’s second impeachment trial is barreling toward a rapid close, with a final vote expected on Saturday. The House charged Trump with a single count, incitement of insurrection, last month and rested their case earlier this week.
Republican senators have praised the House managers’ presentations, but most have said the managers failed to connect the violence directly to Trump. Barring an unexpected development, Trump is almost certain to be acquitted, with just a handful of GOP senators joining Democrats to vote to convict Trump.
The trajectory of the trial is not yet certain, though. When the Senate comes into session on Saturday, the House’s nine impeachment managers will inform the chamber whether they intend to seek witness testimony, which would require a simple majority vote. But Democrats have largely indicated that they do not believe additional witnesses are needed to bolster their case against Trump.
“I think adequate evidence has been presented,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said.
Each side will then have up to two hours to give closing arguments before potential deliberations and then a final vote.
A central theme of Trump’s defense Friday was the contention that the impeachment article was created out of “hatred” and “vengeance,” and was intended as a tool of political retribution.
“Hatred should have no place in this chamber,” Trump attorney Michael van der Veen said, arguing that Democrats invented the standard of “incitement” that they are asking the Senate to apply against Trump.
Van der Veen falsely claimed that an “Antifa leader” was among those arrested at the Capitol, even though no identified antifa leaders have been arrested and only one rioter of hundreds brought up on charges has been identified as having potential ties to the left. Van der Veen also falsely said Trump’s first tweets amid the Capitol riots was to call for peace — though his actual first tweet was an attack against Pence.
David Schoen, another Trump attorney, accused House Democrats of “manipulating” their evidence against Trump and then displayed an almost 10-minute montage of Democrats and some celebrities using the word “fight,” in an attempt to draw an equivalence between Trump’s repeated urging of a rally crowd to “fight like hell” to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s election on Jan. 6.
The montage included comments from Democratic senators, who watched in shock as their prior remarks were being broadcast. Inside the chamber, some senators laughed while others shook their heads and passed notes to each other.
The display, which repeatedly insinuated that Democrats had sanctioned violence at riots that broke out over the summer in the wake of the death of George Floyd, at times seemed to engage in score-settling aimed at Trump’s longtime political adversaries, dwelling on comments made by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in which she pledged to “fight” for causes she supported.
Democratic senators emerged from the chamber fuming about the Trump team’s display.
“Donald Trump was told that if he didn’t stop lying about the election, people would be killed. He wouldn’t stop, and the Capitol was attacked, and seven people are dead that would be alive today,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). “That’s what I think of those clips.”
Trump’s lawyers lodged an argument that accepts House Democrats’ case about the violence that they played on a loop for the Senate this week. But they said “no thinking person” could conclude that Trump bears culpability for unleashing it, and that his months-long campaign to delegitimize the election results and incendiary remarks the morning of the insurrection are protected by his First Amendment right to free speech.
The former president’s lawyers also reiterated their view — shared by a majority of Republican senators — that the Senate has no constitutional authority to put a former president on trial for impeachment charges. The Senate voted earlier this week, however, that the impeachment trial is constitutional.
Assuming the managers opt against making motions for witness testimony, Saturday’s session will include two hours of closing arguments for each side, followed by deliberations and then a vote on whether to convict Trump of the impeachment charge against him.
Though Trump is widely expected to be acquitted — and Republican senators repeatedly emphasized that the House’s presentation didn’t move them enough to convict — one of the most enduring mysteries of the trial is how Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will vote. He has studiously avoided tipping his hand, though he has said Trump provoked the mob.
A handful of other GOP senators are weighing conviction, but the exact number is unknown because the issue has been largely avoided at party meetings.
Burgess Everett contributed to this report.