Former President Donald Trump’s lawyers will highlight Democrats’ hypocrisy in condoning street violence when they present his defense on Friday in the Senate impeachment trial over his alleged incitement of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
But with Mr. Trump’s acquittal all but assured as early as this weekend, Democrats are increasingly eyeing a follow-up move to censure Mr. Trump as an easier way for them to bar him from holding office again.
Trump lawyers David Schoen and Bruce Castor Jr. plan to cite examples of prominent Democrats refusing to condemn last summer’s riots over racial justice across the country during Black Lives Matter demonstrations and other lawlessness. In some cases, Democrats such as Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts even advocated “unrest in the streets,” they noted in their pre-trial brief.
The lawyers have criticized Democratic lawmakers for “feigning horror” at Mr. Trump’s words on the day of the riot while looking the other way at calls for violence by other Democrats.
Mr. Schoen confirmed on Thursday that Democrats’ “hypocrisy” will be part of the defense presentation and warned that “politicians will look bad.” The perceived double-standard by Democrats and the media in largely failing to criticize last year’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations and anarchy in cities such as Seattle and Portland, Oregon, has been a major point of contention by Mr. Trump’s allies.
It’s clear that there aren’t enough Republican votes to convict Mr. Trump with a required two-thirds Senate majority in a final vote that could come as early as Saturday. Forty-four of the Senate’s 50 Republicans voted this week that the impeachment trial of a former president is unconstitutional, and there’s been no indication any of them have changed their minds.
“It’s difficult to vote that it’s unconstitutional and vote to convict,” said Sen. John Boozman, Arkansas Republican.
Facing that failure, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer on Thursday didn’t rule out Democrats taking further action against Mr. Trump to ban him from holding office through a censure resolution under the 14th Amendment, which would require only a simple majority vote.
The 14th Amendment, approved during Reconstruction after the Civil War, authorizes Congress to ban people who “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the U.S. from holding federal office. Mr. Trump is believed to be entertaining another bid for the presidency in 2024.
“We’re first going to finish the impeachment trial and then Democrats will get together and discuss where we go next,” Mr. Schumer said when asked about the 14th Amendment.
Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico sounded open to censuring Mr. Trump, but told reporters, “First I want to see … who can stare that [images of the riot] in the face and vote to acquit.”
House impeachment manager Rep. Ted Lieu, California Democrat, said on the Senate floor on Thursday, “I’m not afraid of Donald Trump running again in four years. I’m afraid he’s going to run again and lose. Because he can do this [incite a riot] again.”
“It’s antithesis [of] the healing process, to continue to show the tragedy that happened here that Donald Trump has condemned,” Mr. Schoen told reporters. “And I think it tears at the American people.”
The impeachment managers wrapped up their case Thursday by arguing that Mr. Trump incited supporters to storm the Michigan statehouse last spring as a “dress rehearsal” for the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol, asserting that a plot to kidnap Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Trump foe, also was provoked by the former president.
“The siege of the Michigan statehouse was effectively a state-level dress rehearsal for the siege of the U.S. Capitol that Trump incited on Jan. 6,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, Democrats’ lead impeachment manager. “It was a preview of the coming insurrection.”
Mr. Raskin told senators that the former president had a habit of inciting violence by his supporters, long before the riot in Washington.
“There the pattern is, staring us in the face,” Mr. Raskin said. “Trump knew exactly what he was doing in inciting the Jan. 6th mob. He had just seen how easily his words and actions inspired violence in Michigan. He sent a clear message to his supporters.”
Mr. Trump was engaged in a long-running public feud with Ms. Whitmer last year over her handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. The former president, and many residents of the crucial battleground state, considered her restrictions on businesses heavy-handed.
Mr. Raskin noted that Mr. Trump leveled a series of increasingly critical tweets at Ms. Whitmer in the spring.
On April 30, an angry crowd, some armed and many wearing “MAGA” hats, stormed the Michigan statehouse in Lansing in protest of state lockdown orders. They chanted “Let us in!” at the doors to the House chamber and stood in the state Senate gallery with weapons as they watched legislators conduct business below.
At least two of those demonstrators were among 13 men charged by the FBI on Oct. 8 in a plot to kidnap Ms. Whitmer. Authorities said they planned to take her out of state and possibly execute her.
“The precise consequences of the president’s incitement of violence were revealed to the whole world,” Mr. Raskin said.
Democrats also argued that Mr. Trump’s supporters believed he had summoned them to Washington to storm the U.S. Capitol, to “stop the steal” of the presidential election by Democrat Joseph R. Biden. The attack resulted in five deaths, including a Capitol Police officer and four Trump supporters, and injured more than 140 police officers. About 200 people have been arrested, and authorities are still seeking to identify more suspects.
“The attack was done for Donald Trump, at his instructions, and to fulfill his wishes,” said Rep. Diana DeGette, Colorado Democrat. “Donald Trump had sent them there. They said they came here because the president instructed them to do so.”
Mr. Schoen said the impeachment managers “haven’t in any way tied it to Donald Trump.” As if to illustrate his disgust with the prosecutors’ case, Mr. Schoen left the Senate chamber in the middle of Democrats’ arguments on Thursday to conduct an interview with Fox News.
“It’s more of the same thing,” he said when asked why he ducked out of the trial. “They’re showing the same repetitive videos. They’re showing points that don’t exist.”
Many Republicans agreed with him.
“Today was not connecting the dots,” said Sen. James Lankford, Oklahoma Republican.
Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, said of the Democratic managers, “To me, they’re losing credibility, the longer they talk.”
Asked why he had leaned forward in his seat at one point, Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri replied, “Mainly because my back was cramping. I thought today was very repetitive.”
As the legal arguments by the nine managers covered old ground, Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida could be seen at his desk filling out a blank map of Asia and Europe with the names of countries. Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent, was slumped at his desk. At one point Thursday, at least 15 Republicans were somewhere else in the Capitol, not at their desks listening to the trial.
House impeachment manager Rep. Joaquin Castro, Texas Democrat, made the case that Mr. Trump must be convicted to send a signal across the world that American democracy still stands.
“Think of the consequences to our diplomats,” he said.
Mr. Castro argued the attack showed terrorists how vulnerable government buildings could be and led to Russian officials celebrating the fall of democracy in the U.S.
“To convict Donald Trump would mean that America stands for the rule of law,” he said. “Let us show the world that Jan. 6 was not America.”
Mr. Raskin closed the House Democrats’ case by telling senators to use common sense when deliberating whether to convict the former president.
He noted Mr. Trump was invited to testify but declined, pushing his legal team to answer why their client waited hours before sending help to the Capitol during the riot and failing to condemn the violence that day.
“We need to exercise our common sense about what happened,” he said.
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