The second Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump is underway and it’s unlikely the former president is thrilled with how it’s going.
The Democrats gave their opening remarks on Tuesday (local time) and played a more than 10-minute-long video timeline of events on January 6 when Trump supporters stormed the Capitol following his “fight like hell” speech.
The footage included some of the more well-known pieces of video from the day: Trump saying “We will stop the steal”, Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman confronting the insurrectionists and leading them away from Senate chambers, as well as graphic footage of another officer being crushed between two doors.
Democrats said the argument by the defence team that the Senate doesn’t have jurisdiction to try Trump because he is no longer in office rests on a “purely fictional” legal premise. The framers of the Constitution would not have intended for presidents to be let off the hook for conduct committed in their final weeks in office, they said.
Jamie Raskin, the lead House impeachment manager, grew emotional as he concluded the Democrats’ first round of arguments, recalling how his family members who were with him on the day were forced to hide in the Capitol building as the siege unfolded.
‘No idea what he’s doing’: Trump lawyer bemuses
Then it was time for Trump’s team to make their case, and things got a little weird.
The original defence team deserted the former president over his preference to continue peddling lies about election fraud. As a result, the two new lawyers who took up the task, David Schoen and personal injury lawyer Bruce Castor, have only had a week to prepare – and it showed.
In opening remarks that would have rankled his client, Castor said: “The American people are smart enough to pick a new administration if they don’t like the old one. And they just did.”
In contrast to Trump’s repeated false claims, his lawyer admitted; “He was removed by the voters.”
In what was reported to be a deliberate tactic to reduce the emotion in the room after the Democrats opening statements, the meandering remarks of Castor were plodding and often failed to make a cogent legal argument.
He was flattering of Senators and at times tried to frame the issue as one of free speech, also arguing against the constitutionality while reminding Senators Trump got 74 million votes.
At one point he admitted to the Senate he and Schoen changed their plan in the moment because they were surprised by how good the Democrats’ opening gambit was.
“I’ll be quite frank with you, we changed what we were going to do on account that we thought the House manager’s presentation was well done,” he told the Senate.
How bad is Bruce Castor's presentation in defense of Trump so far? Newsmax cuts into it so Alan Dershowitz can trash it.
"There is no argument. I have no idea what he's doing. I have no idea why he's saying what he's saying!" pic.twitter.com/3tVD9V3UcZ
— Justin Baragona (@justinbaragona) February 9, 2021
Alan Dershowitz, who served on Trump’s impeachment team for his first Senate trial was among those to criticise the legal defence.
“There is no argument. I have no idea what he’s doing. I have no idea why he’s saying what he’s saying ... The American people are entitled to an argument,” he said in a TV interview with right-wing broadcaster NewsMax.
“I just don’t understand it. Maybe he'll bring it home, but right now, it does not appear to me to be effective advocacy.”
Viewers and Senators perplexed by ‘bizarre’ speech
Castor’s deferential and plodding speech was reportedly designed to “reduce the temperature in the room” Trump aides told journalists on background, but it didn’t seem to hit the mark.
Many watching expressed bemusement as social media was typically biting in its appraisal of the defence effort.
At this point, Castor has already established that he is not exactly a lawyer of national quality. Horribly condescending to Senators and other Americans watching and listening.
— Michael Beschloss (@BeschlossDC) February 9, 2021
Did Rudy Giuliani suggest Bruce Castor to make his legal skills look sharper by comparison?
— Jon Favreau (@jonfavs) February 9, 2021
Trump’s “lawyer” just spent 20 minutes arguing that Trump should not be held accountable because the American people are smart enough not to vote for Trump again in 2024. Castor really is not good at this lawyering thing.
— Glenn Kirschner (@glennkirschner2) February 9, 2021
Castor winds down his very bizarre speech by daring the DOJ to arrest Trump pic.twitter.com/jmoxdIU6Pm
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 9, 2021
David Schoen then followed and argued the trial should be dismissed both because it is unconstitutional and because it will “tear this country apart.”
He accused Democrats of being fuelled by a “hatred” of Trump and fear that they will lose power. He said if the trial moves forward, it will make “everyone” look bad and other countries that wish the US harm will watch with “glee.”
As he tried to make the case for the trial to be deemed unconstitutional, his argument largely fell flat.
In a subsequent vote Senators voted 56-44 on the question of whether the Senate has jurisdiction and could proceed. Interestingly, that’s one more Republican than in a recent vote of the same nature after Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy was unmoved by Trump’s defence team.
Trump’s lawyer is now arguing against the constitutionality of... the constitution.
— John Barron (@JohnBarronUSA) February 9, 2021
Schoen now making the case that the impeachment clause of the Constitution is, um, unconstitutional.
— David Rothkopf (@djrothkopf) February 9, 2021
Bruce Castor conducted a brilliant experiment to determine how many Republican senators would turn against Donald Trump based on an almost completely empty defense presentation. The answer is one.
— Will Saletan (@saletan) February 9, 2021
Trump ‘screaming’ during opening defence remarks
According to CNN’s Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins, Trump was less than impressed with those defending him on Tuesday (local time).
Speaking on air in wake of the testimony, Collins said Trump was “borderline screaming” as he spoke to aides while watching the trial.
“I’m now being told by two people familiar with former president Trump’s reaction ... He was deeply unhappy with that performance, he was borderline screaming,” she said of his reaction to Castor’s speech.
“The president still believes he will be acquitted but this was not a good showing for his legal team, he knows that.”
Multiple people tell me Trump was basically screaming as Castor made a meandering opening argument that struggled to get at the heart of the defense team's argument.
— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) February 9, 2021
Republicans call defence ‘random’ and ‘unusual’
While a conviction remains highly unlikely, the poor showing by the Trump defence team – which was broadcast on TV for viewers to watch at home – opens the door ever so slightly for more Republicans to decide to convict.
At the very least, some were more than willing to share their criticism.
Republican Senator from Louisiana, Bill Cassidy, who voted with Democrats to move forward with the trial after voting against them in a similar vote two weeks ago, said Trump’s team did a “terrible job” and was “disorganised, random” and “did everything they could but to talk about the question at hand.
“And when they talked about it they glided over it, almost as if they were embarrassed by their own arguments.”
CASSIDY: "President Trump’s team was disorganized....if I'm an impartial juror, and one side is doing a great job, and the other side is doing a terrible job, on the issue at hand, as an impartial juror, I'm going to vote for the side that did the good job." pic.twitter.com/PxNh2lRGBC
— Alan He (@alanhe) February 9, 2021
Maine Senator Susan Collins, also a Republican who voted with Democrats, said she was “perplexed” by Castor, “who did not seem to make any arguments at all, which was an unusual approach to take.”
Texas Senator Ted Cruz, one of Trump’s staunchest allies, said he didn’t think the lawyers did “the most effective job,” while praising the Democrats’ lead prosecutor Jamie Raskin as “impressive.”
Perhaps Alan Dershowitz, who taught Raskin at Harvard Law School, put it best when he invoked the legal maxim: “We know hard cases make bad law”.
The trial continues.
Do you have a story tip? Email: email@example.com.