March 1, 2021


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Trump impeachment trial: Highlights so far, what the defense lawyers will say today

7 min read

Trump impeachment

The second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump now shifts to the defense.

James Martin/CNET

On Friday, the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump moves to a new phase. After two days spent making a case with at times disturbing video footage and audio recordings of the assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6, Trump’s lawyers, David Schoen and Bruce Castor, will now mount their defense of his conduct leading up to the violent siege by rioters to overturn the results of the November election.

“Is there any political leader in this room who believes that if he is ever allowed by the Senate to get back into the Oval Office, Donald Trump would stop inciting violence to get his way?” lead impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin asked on Thursday. “Would you bet the lives of more police officers on that? Would you bet the safety of your family on that?”

Raskin argued that Trump be held responsible for the actions on Jan. 6, and that unless the Senate votes to convict, he or another president in the future would be emboldened to encourage violent action again. By showing how relatively easy it was to break into and ransack the Capitol, the rioters provided a blueprint for future attacks on the country. 

How to watch: Trump impeachment trial stream: Defense’s arguments

Trump “utterly failed in his duty to preserve, protect and defend,” Rep. Joaquin Castro said Thursday. “The world watched President Trump tell his big lie … the world watched when he asked his supporters to come here to march to the Capitol,” he added. “The world is now watching to see whether the rule of law will prevail over mob rule.”

The impeachment managers serving as prosecutors argued this week that the violent insurrection was foreseeable and predictable, as Trump continued to fan the flames during his rally speech on Jan. 6, following a pattern of lauding and stoking violence by his supporters since 2016.

Another key point in the case included security footage showing former Vice President Mike Pence being escorted with his family to safety after rioters had breached the Capitol and chanted threats against him. 

Trump’s defense attorneys are expected to argue that as a private citizen, Trump constitutionally can’t be convicted on the impeachment charge; that Democratic leaders have used similar language as Trump and his remarks are protected under the First Amendment; and that the House trial managers established no clear link between Trump’s actions and the Jan. 6 riot. (More on Trump’s defense strategy below.)

With Senate Democrats appearing united in a vote to convict, Trump’s lawyers will be speaking to Republican Senators still weighing the charges.

The trial begins again at 12 p.m. ET (9 a.m. PT), with a vote coming as soon as this weekend (schedule here)

Keep reading for everything you need to know about the most important moments in the trial so far, Trump’s lawyers’ defense strategy and the new trial schedule. We’ll continue to update this story as the trial develops. 

Trump impeachment

All eyes are on the historical impeachment trial this week.

James Martin/CNET

Big moments from Donald Trump’s impeachment trial so far

House impeachment managers, who serve as prosecutors in the Senate impeachment trial, wrapped up their case on Thursday against Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection. Trump’s defense team takes over today.

Here’s the key evidence the House managers presented:

  • Previously unseen riot footage showing the attack on the Capitol, including security footage as well as mocked-up models showing where rioters were in relation to senators.
  • Video and audio clips and social media posts showed Trump repeatedly calling on supporters to storm the Capitol ahead of Jan. 6. Video clips of the siege included chants of threatening violence against Pence and members of Congress, as well as false claims about the election. Trump deliberately used false claims about election fraud, the House managers said, to “trigger an angry base to ‘fight like hell‘” to overturn a legitimate election.
  • Video and social media postings from supporters attending Trump’s rally on Jan. 6 prior to the Capitol riot aim to prove causation between Trump’s remarks at the rally and the rioters’ actions.
  • Footage from Trump rallies from 2016 and 2017, urging supporters to attack protesters at the events and praising the assaults, which they said shows a pattern of supporting violence, they said. They also pointed to Trump tweeting praise when supporters tried to run a Biden-Harris campaign bus off the road in Texas in the lead-up to the 2020 election.
  • Statements made by Trump following the attack demonstrated a lack of remorse and refusal to be held accountable, which sends a message to future presidents there is no consequence to inciting an insurrection, if the Senate doesn’t vote to convict, the case said. At least 16 administration officials resigned in the days following the riot, managers added.
  • Acquitting Trump could lead to political consequences, prosecutors said. The high cost to state and federal governments to prepare for — and recover from — “President Trump’s mob,” and the emotional toll on Congressional members, staff and workers resulting from the riot were also highlighted. 

Trump’s defense team is up today: Here’s what the defense hinges on

On Day 1, Trump’s legal team relied on dispassionate analysis of the Constitution to suggest that the impeachment trial is without merit. The defense is widely expected to counter the prosecution’s emotional and visual arguments with this different approach. 

Trump’s team will reportedly present for just three to four hours on Friday after Republican senators — who are acting as jurors in this case — held a private meeting with Trump’s lawyers Thursday evening. The former president’s lawyers are expected to argue that Trump exercised his First Amendment right to free speech, and that the Capitol Hill rioters acted on their own.

The First Amendment doesn’t prevent you from facing consequences for your words, Raskin said Thursday, especially when you hold the highest leadership position in the nation. “There’s nothing in the First Amendment … that can excuse your betrayal of your oath of office,” Raskin said. “It’s not a free speech question. [It’s] the greatest betrayal of a presidential oath in the history of America.”

Raskin asked Trump’s team to answer five questions during their arguments Friday:

1. Why didn’t Trump tell his supporters to stop the attack as soon as he heard about it?

2. Why did Trump do nothing to stop the attack for at least two hours after it started?

3. Why did Trump do nothing to send help to under-siege Capitol Police for at least two hours?

4. Why didn’t Trump at any point that day condemn the insurrection and insurrectionists?

5. If a president did incite a violent insurrection against the government, would that be a high crime or misdemeanor?

Trump impeachment vote on Saturday?

Trump’s impeachment trial was originally going to pause from Friday at 5 p.m. ET until Sunday afternoon, if the trial hadn’t wrapped up by then. But through a series of events, a vote to acquit or convict may come as soon as Saturday or Sunday, if no delays arise, such as a call for witnesses or documents. Here’s more information about the current impeachment trial schedule and where to watch on Day 4.

6th Republican senator joined Democrats in test vote

Following the arguments from the two sides, the Senate voted on whether it is constitutional to try a former president. A total of 56 senators voted in favor and 44 against — meaning six Republican senators voted to continue the trial along with the 48 Democrats and two independents. 

“It was disorganized, random,” Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Republican from Louisiana, said following the proceedings. “[Trump’s lawyers] talked about many things but didn’t talk about the issue at hand … Is it constitutional to impeach a president who’s left office? And the House managers made a compelling, cogent case, and the president’s team did not.”

To convict Trump, 17 Republican senators would need to vote in favor, along with the 48 Democrats and two independents, to reach the two-thirds supermajority.

A previous motion on Jan. 27 to declare the trial unconstitutional saw just five Republicans vote with Senate Democrats. On Monday, Republican Sens. Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Pat Toomey were this time joined by Cassidy in voting in favor.

What happens if the Senate convicts or acquits Trump

If the Senate votes to convict the former president, it will hold an additional vote to bar him from running again (per the US Constitution Article 1, Section 3), which would preclude a possible presidential run in 2024. This vote would require only a simple majority, where Vice President Kamala Harris serving as president of the Senate would cast a tie-breaking vote, if required.


Brett Pearce/CNET

Trump could also be disqualified from the benefits given to former presidents by the Post Presidents Act, including a Secret Service security detail, pension and yearly travel allowance.

According to the US Constitution, impeached presidents also can’t be pardoned.

If acquitted, Trump would have access to all the benefits of a former US president, including the option to run for public office.

Read more: Trump’s second Senate impeachment trial: Here’s what could happen

Trump’s first impeachment in 2019

Trump was impeached in December 2019 by the House, but the Republican-majority Senate acquitted him at the beginning of 2020.

His first impeachment involved articles accusing Trump of abusing power and obstructing Congress. The issue was Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, including a July 2019 phone call in which he appeared to be using US military aid as a bargaining chip to pressure Ukraine into investigating alleged ties between his political opponent Biden, Biden’s son Hunter and a Ukrainian gas company. The articles also charged Trump with interfering with a House inquiry into the Ukraine matter.

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