WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial is expected to wrap up Saturday and its likely he will not be convicted of inciting the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol attack by rioters wanting to overturn the election.
Using less than three of their allotted 16 hours on Friday, Trump’s defense team probably mustered up enough cover to keep Trump-allied Republican senators from voting to convict. Questions from more than two dozen senators did not pave enough new ground to change the expected outcome.
The truncated defense centered around portraying Trump as a victim of “cancel culture,” Democratic “hatred,” a dance around the meaning of the word “fight” and gripes about the process.
The Democratic House prosecutors laid out their case Wednesday and Thursday.
Closing arguments for Trump’s second impeachment trials start 9 a.m. Central Time Saturday morning. A vote is possible in the afternoon.
In the unlikely event the 50 Senate Democrats find 17 Republicans to join them in voting to convict, a vote to disqualify Trump from holding office again will immediately follow.
Takeaways from Day 4 of Trump’s second impeachment trial:
Defense casts Trump as an innocent bystander
Defense lawyer Michael Van Der Veen often focused on process because that’s the best he had.
“Now before the Senate is an unjust and blatantly unconstitutional act of political vengeance. This appalling abuse of the Constitution only further divides our nation when we should be trying to come together around shared priorities,” he said.
Van Der Veen seemed unconcerned that Trump contributed enormously to the divisions he referenced.
Trump’s impeachment, he argued, was not about Democrats “opposing political violence. It is about Democrats trying to disqualify their political opposition. It is constitutional cancel culture.”
Centerpiece of Trump defense is ‘whataboutism’
Trump’s defense extensively relied on “whataboutism,” arguing Democrats also have used fiery political rhetoric.
The enormous difference, of course — glossed over by Trump’s defenders — is that not all political rhetoric has the same impact.
Trump’s tweets, speeches, interviews and a specific call to his backers to come to Washington on Jan. 6 ended that day with five dead at the Capitol. The Democratic prosecutors’ case stitched together the totality of Trump’s last-ditch effort to stop Joe Biden from becoming president. The Democrats stressed they had no issue with Trump’s extensive legal challenges; he was entitled to them. It’s just that he lost 61 of his cases.
According to Merriam-Webster, “whataboutism” is a tactic used to make it look like everybody is guilty. The dictionary defines it as “a reversal of accusation, arguing that an opponent is guilty of an offense just as egregious or worse than what the original party was accused of doing, however unconnected the offenses may be.”
From Trump’s point of view, the Jan. 6 rally he headlined was supposed to be peaceful. To say otherwise is a “preposterous and monstrous lie,” said Van Der Veen.
Fight. Fight. Fight. Etc.
An example of whataboutism is the greatest hits video montage Trump’s defense produced showing Democrats using the word “fight.” They probably thought the clip package was clever, dragging in Hillary Clinton and the impeachment managers and other Democratic senators.
But not all “fight” references are equal. There was not one example, in the video of any act of violence resulting from Democrats using the word “fight.”
That video was a bid to try to negate Trump’s call, at that Jan. 6 rally near the White House to “fight” as House and Senate members were counting Electoral College votes.
Yes, Trump also in that speech told his backers they should go to the Capitol to “peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.”
Trump’s lawyers said he was only saying that Republicans who voted to certify the election should be subject to primary challengers.
How does that square with the Capitol attack?
Trump lawyers offered no theory of what or who sparked violence
Van Der Veen incorrectly said a member of “Antifa” was arrested for the Capitol break-in, a naked attempt to blame-shift. “Antifa,” meaning “anti-fascist,” is not an organization and has not been mentioned in any criminal indictments of individuals in connection with the Capitol siege.
Van Der Veen complained the impeachment trial was not preceded by any sort of official evidence gathering. He did not ask for witnesses to be called. Process complaints go only so far.
There’s a big hole in the Trump defense argument — any explanation about why so many Trump supporters turned to violence at the Capitol.