Trump's defense highlights Democrats endorsing unrest, calls impeachment 'political vengeance'

Defense lawyers for former President Donald Trump began their defense in his Senate impeachment trial Friday by calling the case an “unjust and blatantly unconstitutional act of political vengeance.”

“Like every other politically motivated witch hunt the Left has engaged in over the past four years, this impeachment is completely divorced from the facts, the evidence and the interests of the American people,” said Trump lawyer Michael van der Veen of Philadelphia.

He called on senators to “promptly and decisively” vote against the article of impeachment that accuses Mr. Trump of inciting the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

The defense team also played video of Democrats repeatedly objecting to Mr. Trump’s Electoral College votes in January 2017, including Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the lead House impeachment manager.

Mr. Raskin did not show any reaction when his own remarks were played back for the senators.

In another video, the defense showed Mr. Trump repeatedly praising “law and order” while leading Democrats such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, Rep. Maxine Waters of California and President Biden were uttering aggressive rhetoric that appeared to encourage civil unrest.

“Push back on them and tell them they’re not welcome anywhere,” Ms. Waters said of Trump supporters at a rally.

Mr. van der Veen said, “There are numerous officials in Washington who have indeed used profoundly reckless, dangerous and inflammatory rhetoric.”

He said Mrs. Pelosi didn’t criticize rioters in Portland, Oregon, last summer but called the law-enforcement officers protecting federal buildings “storm troopers.”

Mr. van der Veen said the former president’s challenge to the November election “was squarely focused on how the proper civic process could address any concerns through the established legal and constitutional system.”

Mr. Trump’s acquittal is virtually assured, with a final vote coming as early as Saturday.

Republican allies of the president appeared pleased with his lawyer’s arguments at the start of Friday’s hearings.

Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, laughed a few times during the video clips, and was seen smiling and nodding when Mr. van der Veen pointed out the Democratic lawmakers’ rhetoric.

Mr. van der Veen said the Democrats’ goal in the impeachment is “to disqualify their political opposition.”

“It is constitutional cancel culture,” he said. “History will record this shameful effort as a deliberate attempt by the Democrat Party to smear, censor and cancel not just President Trump but the 75 million Americans who voted for him.”

Defense lawyer David Schoen that Democrats’ “hatred, vitriol and political opportunism” have led to a rush to judgment and denial of due process for Mr. Trump.

He accused the impeachment managers of hiding security video of the Capitol riot from the defense team until Democrats played it this week in the trial. Mr. Schoen also criticized the Democrats for relying on media reports as evidence in their case.

“You get more due process than this when you fight a parking ticket,” Mr. Schoen said.

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