Trump's free speech impeachment defense open to dispute

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In a question-and-answer session with senators, Susan Collins, one of the few Republicans considered likely to vote for conviction, asked Mr. Trump's lawyers to clarify when he learned of the riot on January 6 and what he did about it. Mr. van der Veen said he did not know.

The bar for a conviction is high: House managers will need to convince at least 17 Republicans to vote with Democrats to meet it, and it's unclear at this point how many Republicans will vote with them.

Trump's team played a roughly 10-minute video showing prominent Democrats using the word "fight" in political speeches. Democrats say that long campaign, rooted in a "big lie", laid the groundwork for the mob that assembled outside the Capitol and stormed inside.

Other Republican senators have clearly already made up their minds and do not intend to break with Trump, who has threatened to derail their careers should they back impeachment. A final up-or-down vote to convict could come as soon as Saturday.

The day saw one moment of bipartisanship, as the Senate voted unanimously to award a congressional gold medal to Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman. Trump's lawyers say the exhortation to "fight like hell" and other comments were figures of speech not meant to be taken literally.

"When President Trump sent the disparaging tweet at 2:24 p.m. regarding Vice President Pence, was he aware that the vice president had been removed from the Senate by the Secret Service for his safety?"

"The article of impeachment now before the Senate is an unjust and blatantly unconstitutional act of political vengeance", attorney Michael van der Veen said.

The defense case followed two days of video presentations by the nine House Democrats serving as prosecutors.

Yet legal scholars have suggested that it's Trump lawyers who are ignoring the Constitution.

Mr. van der Veen, meanwhile, raised a baseless internet conspiracy theory that the attack on the Capitol was actually secretly instigated by left-wing activists.

The defense team did not dispute the horror of the violence, painstakingly reconstructed by impeachment managers earlier in the week, but said it had been carried out by people who had "hijacked" for their own purposes what was supposed to be a peaceful event and had planned violence before Trump had spoken.

Sen. Mike Braun, a Republican from IN, told reporters he thought the defense was a "good offset" to the House managers' case. Six Republican senators sided with Democrats.

Van der Veen said there was a double standard at the heart of the prosecution's case, arguing that some Democrats had "encouraged and endorsed" violence that erupted at some anti-racism protests across the United States last summer without facing any legal consequences.

Schoen said the Democrats case was driven by "political opportunism" and that it skipped basic norms of due process and fairness, though impeachment trials are not equivalent to criminal trials.

"I thought we were past that". He added that he did not think an effort to bar Trump from holding office again under the 14th Amendment would go anywhere.

Even with a second acquittal imminent, the mere threat of Trump's impeachment may have saved the U.S.

The Senate will reconvene on Saturday to debate on whether to allow witness testimony, then finish closing arguments and possibly vote on a verdict.

. There's no rule against the Senate jurors strategizing with the lawyers in an impeachment trial, though Democrats can use it to raise questions about impartiality.



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