Donald Trump has never much cared if his words get him in trouble. On the third day of his second impeachment trial, his political rivals are desperately trying to change that.
As Democrats concluded their case in the Senate on Thursday (local time), three little words the former president was fond of using came back to haunt him – at least that was the prosecution's case.
Democrats drew a direct line from his repeated comments condoning and even celebrating violence in the past, saying it emboldened his supporters to commit acts of violence during the siege on the Capitol building.
Playing clips from a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 that ended in the death of one protester, Democrats recalled an infamous three-word response from Trump who said there were "very fine people" among the white supremacist group.
After a Trump supporter attacked a protester at a rally in 2016, again it was just three words uttered by the now former president which the Democrats sought to invoke, recalling how he said such acts of violence were "very, very appropriate".
In another incident the Democrats pointed to, Trump praised armed militia members who stormed the Capitol building in Michigan earlier this year, describing them to the media as "very good people".
Impeachment managers trying to show Trump has condoned violence throughout his political career:
- Calling Gianforte "my kind of guy"
- Saying violence at his rally is "very, very appropriate"
- "very fine people" comment
- Calling Michigan Capitol stormers "very good people"
— Andrew Solender (@AndrewSolender) February 11, 2021
Congresswoman Diana DeGette of Colorado implored Republicans to make the unlikely choice of convicting Trump, arguing it was the only way to prevent such incitements in the future.
"Impeachment is not to punish, but to prevent. We are not here to punish Donald Trump. We are here to prevent the seeds of hatred that he planted from bearing any more fruit," she said.
Rep. Diana DeGette says rioters "truly believed that the whole intrusion was at the president's orders. And we know that because they said so"
"Folks, this was not a hidden crime. The president told them to be there, and so they actually believed they would face no punishment" pic.twitter.com/czmkhwSI6u
— CBS News (@CBSNews) February 11, 2021
Fellow Democratic Representative Ted Lieu told the senators he worries about what would happen if Trump runs in 2024 and loses.
“I’m not afraid of Donald Trump running again in four years. I’m afraid he’s going to run again and lose, because he can do this again,” Lieu said.
Trump rioter: 'We love you, bro!'
While trying to use Trump's own words against him, the prosecutors did the same with those who stormed the Capitol on his behalf.
Over two days of testimony, the Democrats asserted that Trump deliberately ordered his supporters to “fight like hell” and “go by very different rules” or they “wouldn’t have a country anymore.” They bolstered their case with accounts from the rioters themselves, some of whom said they were acting on Trump’s orders.
Democrats focused intently on words offered by rioters to rationalise their storming of the Capitol building.
Prosecutors used the rioters’ own videos from that day to pin responsibility on Trump. “We were invited here,” said one. “Trump sent us,” said another. “He’ll be happy. We’re fighting for Trump.”
To underscore their point, Democrats showed videos using rioters own words. Among them was Jennifer Ryan, a Texas real estate agent who was criminally charged but insists she was just “following my president.”
One video showed a man in the Capitol during the siege, who suggested to his friends that they pick up an office phone and call Trump to say, “We love you, bro!”
Another captured a man shouting at police: “We were invited here.”
“They truly believed that the whole intrusion was at the president’s orders,” Ms DeGette said. “The president told them to be there.”
Wrapping up the Democrats arguments after their allotted 16 hours of testimony, lead impeachment manager Representative Jamie Raskin told the Senate a precedent must be established to condemn the use of lies to inspire political violence.
“If he gets back into office and it happens again, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves,” he said.
Trump lawyers get second chance, but it will be brief
After an opening effort which saw them widely derided across the political spectrum earlier this week, the Trump defence team will now have their chance to refute the case put forward by the Democrats.
Trump lawyer David Schoen said on Thursday (local time) that the defence’s case should go quickly on Friday, making clear they have no intention of using the 16 hours available to them.
“There’s no reason for us to be out there a long time,” mr Schoen said during an appearance on Fox News before blasting Democrats for the “harm this is causing to the American people.”
Mr Schoen told reporters that the Democrats’ video presentations during the trial were “offensive” and that they “haven’t tied it in any way to Trump.” He said he believed Democrats were effectively making the public relive the tragedy in a way that “tears at the American people” and impedes efforts at unity in the country.
Trump senior adviser Jason Miller said he expects the defence will wrap up in less than a day, meaning the proceedings could finish with a vote this weekend.
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