Support Just the News

Help Fund Honest Journalism

Donate

Trump defense team wraps case, argues Trump's Jan. 6 rhetoric is 'protected' free speech

A Trump defense attorney called the Democrats' second impeachment effort 'constitutional cancel culture'

Updated: February 12, 2021 - 4:53pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

Former President Donald Trump's defense team wrapped up their oral argument during the fourth day of Trump's impeachment trial on Friday, accusing the House impeachment managers of taking Trump out of context with edited video clips and arguing that Trump's rhetoric is protected by the First Amendment.

Trump's defense had up to 16 hours to present their case but used less than 4 hours. After a break, senators will pose questions in the trial.

On Friday, the defense team played video clips of Democrats' calling on their supporters to "fight" in the Trump era. After showing past harsh rhetoric from Democrats, Trump's defense queued up footage of the violent protests that happened in major cities last year after the death of George Floyd.

The House impeachment managers wrapped up their oral arguments on Thursday and called on senators not to let Trump's incitement of his supporters "go unanswered."

The impeachment managers argued on Wednesday, the second day of the trial, that Trump engaged in a "months-long effort to incite" his supporters to doubt the presidential election results, leading to the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

On Tuesday, senators heard opening arguments from both sides about the constitutionality of the trial. Following the arguments, the full Senate voted that it is constitutional to try a U.S. president who is no longer in office.

Trump attorney Michael van der Veen said Trump followed the Constitution when speaking at the “Save America” rally in his Jan. 6 speech. He showed clips of Democrats objecting to some of Trump’s Electoral College votes in 2016. 

He referred to the impeachment managers’ effort to bar Trump from future public office “constitutional cancel culture.” 

Attorney David Schoen argued the impeachment managers relied heavily on media reports to make their case against Trump rather than actual evidence. He said people get more “due process” fighting a parking ticket than Trump did in this trial. Schoen also questioned why the House managers held the "never-before-seen" Capitol security footage and did not release it to the public or Trump himself ahead of the trial.

Schoen also argued that the House impeachment managers "manipulated" Trump's words when playing a clip of him saying there were "fine people on both sides" after the Charlottesville protest. The full remarks included Trump denouncing white supremacists and neo-Nazis.   

The House impeachment managers focused heavily on Trump's "fight like hell" comment during his Jan. 6 speech. Schoen showed video clips of Democrats using rhetoric that could be interpreted as violent.

His video montage included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying Democrats have to learn how to "throw a punch" and former Vice President Joe Biden saying he would "beat the hell" out of Trump in high school. He also played clips of Democrats like then-Sen. Kamala Harris saying Democrats have to "fight" in the Trump era.

"We like a good fight," Harris said.

House impeachment managers argued that Trump's "stop the steal" message was unprecedented. To respond to that argument, Schoen showed video of 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton saying that you could be a major political party's presidential nominee and have the election "stolen" from you. He also played Democratic Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown saying Stacey Abrams' gubernatorial election was "stolen" from her.

Van der Veen played additional video of "robust" rhetoric from Democrats about punching Trump in the face and said the First Amendment should be applied "evenly."

"All robust speech should be protected and it should be protected evenly for all of us," he said. "The Senate cannot ignore the First Amendment."

Van der Veen also said Democrats "selectively" edited Trump's Jan. 6 speech and left out the former president saying that the rally attendees should "peacefully and patriotically" make their voices heard.

Van der Veen queued up another montage of videos that showed former Vice Presidential Nominee Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, saying Democrats have to "fight in the streets" against Trump in 2017. Referring to Trump's use of "fighting" rhetoric, van der Veen said, "suddenly the word 'fight' is off limits?"

After the montage, van der Veen said that "the reality is Mr. Trump was not in any way shape or form instructing these people to fight or to use physical violence" on Jan. 6. 

"What he was instructing them to do was to challenge their opponents in primary elections to push for sweeping election reforms, to hold big tech responsible; all customary and legal ways to petition your government for redress of grievances, which of course is also protected constitutional speech," he said. 

"What he was instructing them to do was to challenge their opponents in primary elections to push for sweeping election reforms, to hold big tech responsible; all customary and legal ways to petition your government for redress of grievances, which of course is also protected constitutional speech," he also said. 

Trump's defense team argued that the impeachment trial "poses a serious threat to freedom of speech for political leaders of both parties at every level of government."