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Trump’s defense team took under 3 hours to make its oral arguments in his impeachment trial. Here are the biggest takeaways.

Bruce Castor and David Schoen
David Schoen, left, and Bruce Castor Jr., center, lawyers for former President Donald Trump, left, arrives for the second impeachment trial of Trump in the Senate, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021

  • Trump’s impeachment defense team wrapped up its oral arguments in just a few hours.
  • They relied heavily on whataboutism and many of their statements were divorced from reality.
  • One of the attorneys also claimed the Capitol siege wasn’t actually an insurrection.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

The Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump is slowly winding to a close, as lawyers representing Trump took about 2 hours and 40 minutes to make their oral arguments on Friday.

Next, US senators who are acting as jurors in the trial will get four hours to ask both sides – Trump’s attorneys and the nine House impeachment managers who are prosecutors in the trial – questions. The two sides will then get two hours each to make closing arguments, after which the Senate will cast a final vote on whether to convict or acquit Trump.

Here are the biggest takeaways from Friday’s proceedings:

Trump lawyer’s claim that he called for the democratic process to ‘play out according to the letter of the law’ was divorced from reality

What was said: Trump’s defense attorney Michael Van der Veen accused the House’s article of impeachment of “slanderously” alleging that Trump intended for the crowd at his January 6 rally to to interfere with Congress’ plans to finalize the 2020 presidential election results. “This is manifestly disproven by the plain text of the remarks” from the rally, he said.

“The entire premise of his remarks was that the democratic process would and should play out according to the letter of the law, including both the Constitution and the Electoral Count Act,” he said.

Fact check: Van der Veen failed to note Trump’s numerous tweets and statements falsely suggesting that then-Vice President Mike Pence had the power to “decertify” already certified electoral slates from battleground states and “send them back.” He also pressured Pence to do so, even on January 6.

There is no legal mechanism for Congress to revoke the certification of electoral votes or throw them back to the states. According to the Electoral Count Act of 1887, Congress’ only duty is to count electoral votes that have already been certified by the states.

Pence’s role in the counting of electoral votes was a purely procedural one in which he oversaw the process of tellers reading out electoral certificates and fielded objections.

mike pence
Vice President Mike Pence presides over a joint session of Congress to certify the 2020 Electoral College results after supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol earlier in the day on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on January 6, 2021.

The defense relied heavily on whataboutism

Trump’s defense attorneys used the first portion of their arguments on Friday to accuse Democrats of hypocrisy. After briefly defending Trump’s use of the phrase “fight like hell” at his “Save America” rally on January 6, Schoen played a lengthy montage of Democratic lawmakers, politicians, and celebrities using the term “fight” in political speeches. 

The defense team also accused Democrats of encouraging violence during Black Lives Matter demonstrations last summer and showed clips of them praising protesters. At one point, Van der Veen drew a false equivalence between a supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders shooting Rep. Steve Scalise at a congressional baseball practice and the pro-Trump mob attacking the Capitol.

Trump’s attorneys also pointed to some of the half-dozen House Democrats who objected to certain states’ electoral college counts in 2016.

  • Fact check: No Democratic senators voted against certification of any states’ electoral count in 2016, so these efforts were doomed.
  • Hillary Clinton conceded electoral defeat the morning after the 2016 election, virtually guaranteeing there would be no attempt by Democrats to overturn the results of that election. By contrast, 147 House Republicans and eight Senate Republicans voted against certification of the 2020 election hours after the Capitol insurrection. Trump also refused to concede the election.

Still, Van der Veen said: “This is not whataboutism. I am showing you this to make the point that all political speech must be protected.”

Trump attorney accused House managers of manipulating evidence before going on to play a selectively-edited video montage

What was said: “There is significant reason to doubt the evidence the House managers have put before us,” Schoen said. “Let me say this clearly: we have reason to believe the House managers manipulated evidence and selectively edited footage. If they did, and this were a court of law, they would face sanctions from the judge.” He went on to accuse the managers of having “created false representation of tweets.”

Fact check: As Schoen himself noted, the tweets in question were never presented at the trial.

Legal experts also shot down Schoen’s allegations, noting that they were “petty” and “irrelevant” to the case.

Later in the defense’s presentation, Schoen played a 13-minute, selectively-edited video montage of several Democratic lawmakers using the word “fight” or the phrase “fight like hell” to describe pushing back on Trump’s policies and rhetoric when he was in office.

Schoen went on to argue that both Trump’s January 6 rally remarks in Washington, DC, and what Democrats said in those video clips were protected speech under the First Amendment.

Trump lawyer Bruce Castor Jr. claimed the Capitol siege ‘was no insurrection’

What was said: “Clearly, there was no insurrection,” Castor said. “Insurrection is a term of art … What our colleagues here across the aisle meant was incitement to violence, to riot.”

Castor argued that Democrats spent far too long describing and showing how horrific the Capitol riot was, while offering little evidence that Trump actually incited this violence.”By any measure, President Trump is the most pro-police, anti-mob rule president this country has ever seen. His real supporters know this,” he said.

Fact check: An insurrection is defined as a revolt against civil authority or an established government. In videos, online posts, and public statements leading up to the siege and in the weeks since, Trump supporters said they were acting on his orders to stop Congress from finalizing Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election, which is a bedrock principle of the democratic process and the peaceful transfer of power.

Biden was lawfully elected the 46th president of the United States; despite bogus claims of voter fraud and election malfeasance from Trump and his allies, the 2020 election was the safest and most secure in US history. That was reaffirmed by courts across the country from the local level all the way to the Supreme Court, who struck down lawsuit after lawsuit challenging the election results in battleground states that Trump lost. In accordance with federal law, the Electoral College cast its votes for Trump and Biden on December 14, and Biden received 306 votes compared to Trump’s 232 (a candidate needs at least 270 to win the presidency).

Bruce Castor
In this image from video, Bruce Castor, an attorney for former President Donald Trump, speaks during the second impeachment trial of Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021.

Trump lawyers narrowly focused on his January 6 speech

In making their arguments, the former president’s lawyers said Trump’s rally speech was not only constitutionally protected under the First Amendment but also that he said nothing in his remarks to incite his followers to attempt a violent coup.

It’s worth nothing, however, that the House managers emphasized in their arguments that the January 6 speech was not an isolated incident or an aberration.

“You will see during this trial a man who praised and encouraged and cultivated violence” weeks before the insurrection,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, the lead impeachment manager, said on Wednesday. He and the other managers went on to lay out a lengthy timeline of Trump’s previous attacks against lawmakers, state election officials, and his own vice president.

Trump “galvanized, encouraged, and electrified” his “extremist followers” even before the deadly insurrection, Raskin reiterated Thursday. “These tactics were road-tested,” he said, adding, “Time after time, he encouraged violence. His supporters listened and they got the message.”

He then cited several instances in which Trump “successfully incited his supporters into assaulting his opponents” or praised violence. They included comments Trump made at his political rallies toward protesters; his fawning praise of then-Montana gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte after he physically assaulted a reporter; his refusal to forcefully condemn the deadly “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia; and his attacks on Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last year.

Democratic senators laughed and rolled their eyes when Trump’s lawyers played clips of them objecting to electoral results

Shortly after kicking off their oral arguments, Trump’s lawyers played a lengthy video montage of Democratic lawmakers, many of whom were in the Senate chamber as jurors, objecting to the electoral count following the 2004 and 2016 presidential elections.

According to Capitol Hill pooler Lisa Desjardins of PBS Newshour, here’s how Democratic senators reacted:

  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota rolled her eyes several times.
  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York looked at Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii as the footage rolled and gestured with her hand as if to say, “What is this?” or “Give me a break.” According to Desjardins, Gillibrand appeared to smile when she was featured in a later clip.
  • Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island burst into laughter when he saw footage of fellow Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico objecting to the electoral results.
  • Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio patted Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania on the back when Trump’s lawyers played a clip of the latter.
  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer seemed to smile when he saw himself pop up on the screen, and he exchanged notes with Sen. Patty Murray of Washington.
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