Trial just score-settling: Trump lawyers

·3-min read

Donald Trump's lawyers says Democrats have provided no evidence the former president incited last month's deadly US Capitol riot and have used his second impeachment trial to settle political scores.

Trump is on trial in the US Senate on a charge of inciting the January 6 insurrection by supporters who stormed the seat of Congress in Washington to stop lawmakers from certifying Democratic President Joe Biden's election victory, resulting in the deaths of five people, including a police officer.

Trump's lawyers argued that his remarks, including a fiery speech that day urging supporters to "fight like hell" to stop the certification, were protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which ensures the right to free speech.

"To claim that the president in any way wished, desired or encouraged lawless or violent behaviour is a preposterous and monstrous lie," said Michael van der Veen, one of Trump's lawyers.

The Senate wrapped up its session on Friday night. A final up-or-down vote to convict could come as soon as Saturday.

In arguments this week, Democratic members of the House of Representatives showed videos and shared tweets they said made clear Trump had set the stage for the violence by falsely claiming the election results were fraudulent and egging on his supporters with his rhetoric long before January 6.

They said he summoned the mob to Washington, gave the crowd its marching orders and did nothing to stop the violence as it played out on television. His one request to act peacefully did not absolve him, they said.

"You rob the bank, and on the way out the door you yell, 'Respect private property!' That's not a defence to robbing the bank," said Democratic Representative Jamie Raskin.

The Democrats are unlikely to gain a conviction, as few Republican senators have come out against Trump, who remains popular among Republican voters.

Trump's team played a roughly 10-minute video showing prominent Democrats using the word "fight" in political speeches.

"You didn't do anything wrong," Trump lawyer David Schoen said, addressing Democrats.

"It's a word people use, but please stop the hypocrisy."

Trump's defence team also portrayed the impeachment trial as little more than the result of a political witch hunt by Democrats who had been trying to get Trump for four years.

Senators sought to confirm whether Trump knew Vice-President Mike Pence, who was presiding over the certification, was endangered by the Capitol attack when he sent a Twitter message criticising him.

Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville said he had told Trump over the phone that Pence had already been evacuated from the Senate for his safety.

Trump's lawyers gave conflicting answers.

"I'm sure Trump was concerned," van der Veen said.

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

They showed videos of the Republican former president cheering violence at his rallies, repeating his election fraud claims and urging his supporters to gather in Washington on January 6 for a rally he said would be "wild".

The Democratic-controlled House impeached Trump on January 13. Conviction in the 100-member Senate requires a two-thirds majority, which means at least 17 Republicans would have to defy the former president.

"I'm anxious to see what my Republican friends do," Biden told reporters at the White House on Friday.

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.

If Trump is acquitted, the Senate could decide to censure him or even vote to bar him from holding public office again.

Trump is the first US president to be impeached twice and the first to face trial after leaving office. He was acquitted in his first trial, which stemmed from his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden, in what was then a Republican-controlled Senate.