After House impeachment managers spent two days presenting harrowing evidence including shocking video footage of the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, former President Donald Trump's lawyers took to the floor of the Senate on Friday to defend him in his trial.
Trump's legal team, cobbled together less than a week before the trial was set to begin, accused Democrats of threatening free speech and trying to disqualify their political competition by pushing to convict the former president on the charge of inciting insurrection.
The defense claimed the charge was baseless, arguing there was no insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, calling it a violent riot instead. Five people died as a result of the mob attack, which sought to prevent Congress from confirming President Joe Biden's election victory. Dozens who took part in the riots, including members of militia groups, have been arrested.
Trump's lawyers concluded their arguments in under four hours, far less time than the prosecution. A question-and-answer session followed in which senators challenged the defense and prosecution on the merits of their cases.
The defense team's opening appearance was widely panned on Tuesday after attorney Bruce Castor offered a rambling and at times incoherent argument on why the trial itself was unconstitutional. The effort failed, with 56 senators voting to proceed.
However, the defense team seemed to have hit their marks on Friday. Even Trump critics such as Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, praised the performance of the former president's lawyers today.
Though some Republican senators have also called the evidence presented by House managers earlier this week "compelling," it remains unlikely that two-thirds of the Senate, which is evenly split between parties, will vote to convict Trump.
Trump impeachment trial ends for night, set to resume Saturday morning
The Senate impeachment trial for former President Donald Trump ended its fourth day early Friday evening, with vote on the verdict set for Saturday.
Friday's session saw closing arguments by Trump's defense team, who argued that senators should acquit him because the Jan. 6 Capitol riot that he is accused of inciting was actually premeditated by a disaparate group of agitators weeks before he hosted a rally that day outside the White House.
The Senate's 48 Democrats and two independent members, who caucus with Democrats, are expected to all vote to convict Trump.
For the former president to be convicted, 17 of his fellow Republicans would need find him guilty. That outcome is considered to be a longshot, as 44 GOP senators earlier had voted in favor of blocking the trial on the argument that a president cannot be tried for an impeachment after leaving office.
Senate awards former Capitol Police officer Goodman congressional gold medal
The Senate unanimously awarded former Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman the Congressional Gold Medal for directing the mob that overran the Capitol on Jan. 6 away from senators.
The chamber bestowed the highest civilian award it can give to Goodman, the acting deputy Senate sergeant-at-arms, at the conclusion of the question-and-answer period of former President Donald Trump's impeachment trial. Senators, House impeachment managers and Trump's lawyers gave Goodman a standing ovation as he stood in the back of the chamber.
"I think we can all agree that Eugene Goodman deserves the highest honor Congress can bestow," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said. He added that Goodman showed "calmness under pressure" and "willingness to make himself a target of the mob's rage so that others might reach safety."
Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., thanked Goodman and others in the Capitol Police force for preventing the pro-Trump mob from reaching former Vice President Mike Pence and members of Congress.
"If not for the bravery and quick thinking of Officer Eugene Goodman, in particular, people in this chamber may not have escaped that day unharmed," McConnell said.
A widely shared video taken on Jan. 6 showed Goodman alone directing rioters up a staircase and away from an open path toward the Senate chamber. Footage unveiled during the trial this week showed Goodman passing Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, in a hallway and directing him away from the mob.
— Jacob Pramuk
Senate Q&A concludes
Senators have concluded asking questions of Trump's defense team and the Democratic prosecutors.
Trump trial is about 'preserving the republic,' Raskin says
Lead House impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin grew agitated after Donald Trump's lawyers repeatedly declined to answer questions about what the former president knew and when during the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
Trump's defense team and the impeachment managers were asked if the former president tolerated threats against former Vice President Mike Pence. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., cited a comment from Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., saying he had told Trump that Pence was evacuated from the Senate before Trump sent a tweet criticizing Pence.
Trump lawyer Michael van der Veen disputed the premise of Tuberville's comment and again did not specify what Trump knew before he sent the tweet about Pence. Raskin grew exasperated when he answered the same question.
He noted that the impeachment trial "is not a criminal proceeding" and does not give the former president the protection against self-incrimination. He added that "this is about preserving the republic."
Rasking said: "Rather than yelling at us and screaming about how we didn't have time to get all of the facts about what your client did, bring your client up here and have him testify under oath about why he was sending out tweets denouncing the vice president of the United States while the vice president was being hunted down by a mob that wanted to hang him and was chanting, in this building, 'Hang Mike Pence!'"
— Jacob Pramuk
Trump did 'nothing' to stop violence during Capitol riot, Democrat says
Then-President Donald Trump did "nothing" for hours to stop the violence during the Capitol riot, a House impeachment manager said at his Senate impeachment trial.
Stacey Plaskett's scathing dismissal of Trump came in response to Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., who noted that the ex-president's lawyers had failed to answer the question about when Trump learned of the breach of the Capitol, and what specific actions he took to stop the attack.
"This attack was on live TV, on all major networks, in real time, said Plaskett, who serves in the House as a non-voting delegate from the Virgin Islands.
"The president as president has access to intelligence, including reports from inside the Capitol. He knew the violence that was underway, he knew the severity of that and most importantly he knew Capitol police were overwhelmingly outnumbered and in a fight for their lives against thousands of insurgents with weapons."
"We know that he knew that," Plaskett said. "We know that he did not send any individuals, we did not hear any tweets, we did not hear him tell those individuals to 'stop, this is wrong, you must go back.' We did not hear that."
"So what else did the president do? We are unclear," she said. "But we believe it was a dereliction of his duty and that was because he was the one who caused them to come to the Capitol, and they were doing what he asked them to do, so there was no need to stop them from what they were engaged in."
Plaskett noted that her fellow impeachment manager, Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., had asked during the trial why Trump did not condemn the violence and ask his supporters to leave the Capitol as soon as he heard of the riot, and why he did not send reinforcements to the complex to help police there.
She also pointed to video shown during trial from an officer's body camera, which showed him "still fighting" rioters at 4:29 p.m. — hours after the mob invaded the Capitol. But even by that point, Trump still had not sent help.
"The reason this question keeps coming up" — what did Trump do to stop the attack — "is because the answer is: 'Nothing,'" Plaskett said.
Plaskett suggests Trump defense team videos of Democrats had racist undertones
House impeachment manager Rep. Stacey Plaskett suggested Donald Trump's lawyers leveraged racism in defending the former president against charges of inciting an insurrection.
During their presentation, Trump's attorneys repeatedly showed videos of Black Democrats including Vice President Kamala Harris, Rep. Maxine Waters and Sen. Cory Booker urging supporters to "fight" for a particular cause. They aimed to put the politicians' speech into the same category as the rhetoric that Democrats have said led to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Plaskett, a Black woman who is the delegate for the U.S. Virgin Islands, noted that the defense team's videos disproportionately targeted Black politicians.
"The defense counsels put out a lot of videos out in their defense, playing clip after clip of Black women talking about fighting for a cause or an issue or a policy," she said while answering a question about the implications of the Senate's potential acquittal of Trump. "It was not lost on me, so many of them were people of color and women. Black women, Black women like myself who are sick and tired of being sick and tired for our children."
Plaskett later added: "I thought we were past that. I think maybe we're not."
— Jacob Pramuk
Trump defense team claims Trump did not know Pence was in danger
Former President Donald Trump's defense team claims the former president did not know that Vice President Mike Pence was in imminent danger on Jan. 6.
When asked if Trump knew about the danger his vice president was in, Michael van der Veen said, "No," adding, "at no point was the president informed the vice president was in any danger."
"To be clear, this is an article of impeachment for incitement. This is not an article of impeachment for anything else," van der Veen said. "So that the question, although answered directly, 'No,' it's not really relevant to the charge for impeachment in this case."
However, House Democratic impeachment manager Rep. Joaquin Castro asked, "How could he not know?" Castro argued the news of what was transpiring within the Capitol building was being reported across all media.
— Christian Nunley
Trump lawyer dodges question about what Trump did to stop Capitol riot
A lawyer for Donald Trump did not directly answer when asked "exactly when" the former president found out rioters breached the Capitol on Jan. 6 and what specific actions he took to stop the violence.
Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — two of the Republicans considered most likely to vote to convict Trump of inciting an insurrection — posed the question to Trump's defense team.
Attorney Michael van der Veen only went as far as to say Trump sent a tweet about the attack on 2:38 p.m. ET that day, "so it was certainly sometime before that."
He claimed the onus was on House impeachment managers to find out the information. The attorney contended the Democratic prosecutors relied on "hearsay" to make their case.
— Jacob Pramuk
Romney reveals planned questions ahead of Q&A portion of impeachment trial
Sen. Mitch Romney, R-Utah, has released questions to the public that he plans to ask in the Q&A portion of former President Donald Trump's second impeachment trial.
His questions include:
- When did President Trump first learn that the Capitol was breached and what specific actions did he personally take to defend the Capitol, Vice President Pence, and the others inside?
- Is it necessary to the House Managers' case to prove that President Trump intended for the mob to enter the Capitol and cause mayhem?
- When President Trump sent the disparaging tweet at 2:24PM regarding Vice President Pence, was he aware that the Vice President had been removed from the Senate by the Secret Service for his safety?
- Is it the position of Counsel to the former President that President Trump's call to the Georgia Secretary of State was not an attempt to have him falsify the election results?
- Did President Trump personally approve the deployment of the National Guard to the Capitol and if so, at what time?
— Christian Nunley
Trump defense team wraps up argument, both sides to take questions
Donald Trump's defense team has wrapped up its case, arguing that the former president's Jan. 6 speech is protected by the First Amendment and that he did not incite the violent attack on the Capitol.
Bruce Castor, one of Trump's two defense lawyers, was the last to speak.
Both legal teams are now set to hear questions from the Senate. Republican Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have publicly stated they've submitted questions, according to Politico.
The office of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., confirmed this Q&A will be the last proceeding on Friday, according to NBC News.
— Christian Nunley
Key GOP senator praises Trump defense team
One of the Republican senators most critical of Donald Trump's conduct after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol praised the arguments presented by the former president's lawyers.
"I think they are putting on a good defense today," Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said, according to NBC News.
Murkowski, who called on Trump to resign following the riot last month, criticized the president's attorneys earlier in the week. She was one of only six GOP senators who voted to say Trump's second impeachment trial was constitutional, and is considered one of the Republicans most likely to vote to convict the former president.
Other GOP lawmakers who have defended Trump throughout the process offered more predictable praise for the defense team. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., wrote in a tweet that the president's lawyers "blew the House Manager's case out of the water."
— Jacob Pramuk
'Clearly there was no insurrection' at the Capitol, Trump lawyer says
A lawyer for former President Donald Trump said that the deadly attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6 was a violent riot but not an insurrection.
Attorney Bruce Castor Jr., making the case for Trump's acquittal, said that "the critical issue in this case" is about incitement.
"That issue is, did the 45th president engage in an incitement of, [Democrats] continue to say, insurrection. Clearly there was no insurrection," Castor said.
"Insurrection is a term of art," he elaborated. "It's defined in the law, it involves taking over a country, a shadow government taking the TV stations over and having some plan of what you're gonna do when you finally take power."
"Clearly this is not that. What our colleagues here across the aisle meant is incitement to violence, to riot."
— Kevin Breuninger
Trump's defense presentation is 'almost over,' lawyer says
The defense team's presentation in the impeachment trial is "almost over," a lawyer for former President Donald Trump said.
Attorney Bruce Castor Jr., the first member of Trump's legal team to speak in the Senate trial, said around 2:30 p.m. ET that the defense would wrap up its arguments within "another hour" or so.
Trump's team began laying out its case at noon. The attorneys were allotted 16 hours to present their arguments against conviction and disqualification.
— Kevin Breuninger
House impeachment managers respond to accusations of manipulating tweets and video
An aide to the House impeachment team pushed back after defense lawyers accused them of manipulating evidence in their presentation.
The examples from former President Donald Trump's lawyer David Schoen included an incorrect date on a tweet — which was corrected prior to the trial — and a Twitter verification symbol that he said was wrongly attached to a user's account.
Schoen also slammed the team for recreating images of Trump's tweets, rather than using screenshots.
"As Trump's attorneys are no doubt aware, President Trump's Twitter account has been removed by Twitter and so is only available in archive instead of screenshots," a senior aide to the impeachment team told NBC News.
"As Trump's attorneys spotlighted, while inexplicably condemning the Managers for a draft graphic of a tweet barely visible on a computer screen inside a New York Times photo that was not shown in the Senate, it is necessary to format and blow up the text of tweets into a graphic so that Senators can see it," the aide said.
"The text is entirely unchanged."
The aide said that a graphic was included in their presentation that "accidentally had a blue verification checkmark on it, but the substance of it was entirely accurate."
"So what is Trump's attorneys' point?" the aide asked.
"If anything, it is further evidence of President Trump's attention to and knowledge of what was being openly planned on Jan. 6 by his followers, even those without Twitter verifications."
— Kevin Breuninger
Trump lawyer defends pre-riot speech: 'Suddenly the word 'fight' is off limits?'
A member of the impeachment defense team defended former President Donald Trump's speech at his rally outside the White House just prior to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
"Suddenly the word 'fight' is off limits? Spare us the hypocrisy and false indignation," attorney Michael van der Veen told the Senate.
Democratic House impeachment managers had repeatedly pointed to a key phrase from that speech — "If you don't fight like hell you're not going to have a country anymore" — as part of their argument that he is guilty of inciting the Capitol riot.
Van der Veen argued that the word "fight" is commonplace in politics, used rhetorically and metaphorically and never taken as a literal call to action.
Earlier in the presentation, Trump's legal team played a lengthy video, splicing together dozens of instances of Democrats using the word publicly.
— Kevin Breuninger