Trump lawyers refuse to answer repeated questions on when he knew about Capitol riots

Griffin Connolly and Andrew BuncombeSat, 13 February 2021, 1:41 am

Ex-president’s lawyers say Mr Trump should not be impeached  (Getty Images)
Ex-president’s lawyers say Mr Trump should not be impeached (Getty Images)

Donald Trump’s lawyers repeatedly refused to say when the former president knew about violence that erupted during the 6 January attack on the US Capitol during questioning on Friday in the Senate.

As his attorneys wrapped up their defence of the ex-president against an article of impeachment that now looks as though it could be decided as early as Saturday, they were asked more than once when he learned of the nature of the violence, and the physical threat to his vice president and members of both houses of Congress.

In questions asked of Mr Trump’s lawyers after they had completed their presentation, Republican senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski asked “exactly when did president Trump learn of the breach of the Capitol, and what specific actions did he take to bring the rioting to an end?”

Rather than providing an answer, lawyer Michael van der Veen sought to blame the Democratic prosecutors for failing to provide any evidence “one way or the other onto that question”.

“We’re able to piece together a timeline and it goes all the way back to December 31st, January 2nd, there is a lot of interaction between the authorities and getting folks beforehand,” he said.

“We have a tweet at 2.38pm so it was certainly some time before then, with the rush to bring this impeachment there’s been no investigation into that. That’s the problem with this entire proceeding.”

He said Democrats had instead relied on “hearsay, on top of hearsay, on top of reports that are of hearsay”. He added: “Due process is required here and that was denied.”

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The questions from Ms Collins and Ms Murkowski, who were among the six Republicans who on Tuesday voted for the trial in the Senate to proceed, came as the two sides sought to draw a line under their cases to the senators – from Democrats that Mr Trump should be convicted by the upper chamber, and from his lawyers that they should acquit.

They came as the mood of the hearing became increasingly acerbic and heated, and the seven Democratic members of the House who are acting as prosecutors traded verbal jabs with the lawyers.

The issue of what Mr Trump knew and when has become important, after it emerged that while Mr Pence and members of the Senate and House were forced to evacuate the chamber on 6 January as rioters penetrated the building, Mr Trump was tweeting that his vice president “didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done”, and refuse to oversee the Joint Session of Congress that was affirming the electoral college votes of Joe Biden.

Congressman Jamie Raskin, the lead prosecutor, said he was startled why Mr Trump’s lawyers were seeking to blame the Democrats for not having information about the former president’s actions that day.

He said Mr Trump had been invited to attend and testify but had declined to do so.

He added: “So rather than yelling and screaming about how we didn’t have time to get all of the facts about your client, 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’.”

Earlier on Friday, Mr Trump’s lawyers sought to insist the former president was no different to any other impassioned politician, and played a compilation of video clips of a number of Democrats using the word “fight” during speeches and rallies.

“Hatred and anger has led House managers to ignore their own words and actions and set a dangerous double standard,” said lawyer David Schoen.

But their efforts were rapidly condemned by commentators who pointed out the lawyers were not equating like with like.

One of the videos played by Mr Schoen showed Democratic senator Chuck Schumer talking about “fighting the health crisis of Covid”.

CNN anchor Jake Tapper said Elizabeth Warren talking to a crowd of “tote bag clutching supporters in Massachusetts”, about fighting for healthcare, was not the same as Mr Trump’s remarks to a “Stop the Steal” rally on the National Mall. The rally was held as a joint session of Congress voted to affirm the electoral college tallies of Mr Biden.

Yet Mr Trump’s lawyers said the impeachment was an “unjust and blatantly unconstitutional act of political vengeance” that amounted to a witch hunt.

“This appalling abuse of the constitution only further divides our nation when we should be trying to come together around shared priorities,” said Mr Van der Veen. “Like every other politically motivated witch hunt, the left has engaged in over the past four years, this impeachment is completely divorced from the facts, the evidence, and the interests of the American people. The Senate should promptly and decisively vote to reject it.”

Mr Schoen claimed Democrats had “reconstructed” some of Mr Trump’s tweets without informing senators they had done so. He said the appearance of “blue ticks” on the Twitter accounts of individuals who do not have one was proof of something underhand.

Many on social media argued that the Democrats’ condensing of some of the former president’s claims into a package did not equate to manipulation.

“This trial is about far more than President Trump. It is about silencing and banning the speech the majority does not agree with,” said Bruce Castor, another of Mr Trump’s lawyers. “I urge you instead to look to the principles of free expression and free speech.”

Last month, days before he left office, Mr Trump was impeached by the House, which accused him of “inciting an insurrection” in his speech to a crowd of supporters on the morning of 6 January, when he repeated his false claim the election had been rigged, and urged them to “fight like hell”.

Moments after the trial was paused for the day, CNN reported that Mr Trump and House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy became embroiled in a fiery phone call on 6 January.

Mr McCarthy had phoned the ex-president to beg him to call off his supporters, but was told by Mr Trump that it was Antifa who were to blame.

The House minority leader reportedly told Mr Trump it was in fact a Maga mob that had breached the building.

“Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are,” Mr Trump said, according to lawmakers briefed later by Mr McCarthy.

The California congressman lost his cool and told the president that rioters were trying to break into his office, and asked him, “Who the f*** do you think you’re talking to?”

The Senate has been hearing evidence and will reconvene to decide whether or not to convict Mr Trump on Saturday. Most observers believe it is unlikely Mr Trump will be found guilty.