National Post (National Edition)
TRUMP IMPEACHMENT TRIAL HAS HOLLYWOOD FEEL
Slick video to be used as part of case evidence
Donald Trump's tweets will be used as evidence against him at his impeachment trial as Democrats launched a slick made-for-television production to set out their case.
The former president's social media posts — calling the election “rigged,” claiming he really won it, and vowing to “stop the steal” — will be spliced with footage of him speaking at rallies and scenes of chaos and violence engulfing the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6.
Democrat prosecutors will attempt to directly link the tweets on election fraud to the deadly mob attack on the seat of U.S. democracy in Washington.
On Monday, Trump's lawyers filed a 78-page response accusing Democrats of “political theatre,” calling his trial unconstitutional and saying that he was not responsible for the actions of a “small group of criminals.” A Gallup poll showed a narrow majority of the American public — 52 per cent — believed Trump should be convicted in the Senate trial, which is set to begin Wednesday and be over within the week.
However, Republican senators rallied around Trump calling the trial unnecessary, and making clear it would end in an acquittal.
A two-thirds majority in the Senate would be needed to convict Trump on a single charge of inciting insurrection. The Senate is currently split 50-50, meaning 17 Republicans would have to join the Democrats in order to convict — an unlikely outcome.
In addition to arguing he was not responsible for the riot, Trump's legal team is expected to focus on constitutional objections to the trial.
That would allow Republican senators to publicly condemn the former president's actions while at the same time acquitting him.
In eve-of-trial arguments Trump's lawyers accused Democrat prosecutors of trying to “exploit” the situation to “silence a political opponent.”
Trump's lawyers said he was speaking only in a “figurative sense” when he told followers to go to the Capitol and “fight like hell” as Congress was formally certifying Democrat Joe Biden's election victory. Trump's use of the word “fight,” the defence said, “could not be construed to encourage acts of violence.”
“Notably absent from his speech was any reference to or encouragement of an insurrection, a riot, criminal action, or any acts of physical violence whatsoever,” they wrote.
Trump's lawyers said he could not be held responsible for the actions of “a small group of criminals — who had come to the capital of their own accord armed and ready for a fight.”
Several of the roughly 200 people charged following the riot have tried to shift at least some blame onto Trump as they defend themselves in court or in the court of public opinion.
The impeachment, Trump's lawyers wrote, “was only ever a selfish attempt by Democratic leadership in the House to prey upon the feelings of horror and confusion that fell upon all Americans across the entire political spectrum” on Jan. 6.
The Democratic managers ridiculed Trump's defence argument that he was simply exercising his free speech rights under the Constitution's First Amendment.
“The House did not impeach President Trump because he expressed an unpopular political opinion,” the Democrats wrote. “It impeached him because he wilfully incited violent insurrection against the government.”
Defence lawyers Bruce Castor, David Schoen and Michael van der Veen said the Constitution “does not provide for the impeachment of a private citizen who is not in office.” A failed Jan. 26 bid to dismiss the case on that basis drew support from 45 of the 50 Senate Republicans.
A U.S. law professor and impeachment expert whose research Trump's lawyers cited said they misrepresented his work in Tuesday's brief.
A source familiar with trial discussions said it will open on Tuesday with a fourhour debate and then a vote on whether the proceedings are unconstitutional because Trump is no longer president. Beginning on Wednesday at noon, there will be up to 32 hours of trial debate, and the Senate would vote on whether to allow witnesses if House prosecutors want any, the source said.
The Senate will pause from Friday evening to Saturday evening to honour a request by Schoen, who observes the Jewish Sabbath, and resume on Sunday.
With the result of the trial in little doubt, the primary audience for Democrat prosecutors will not be the jury of 100 senators but the voting public. They hope that their visually based case will resonate with television viewers and hopefully “horrify” Republican voters into turning their backs on Trump should he try to re-enter politics in the future.
The video footage, put together by an outside production company, will be played on screens in the Senate chamber and broadcast on television.
Trump's lawyers also plan to use film footage in their presentation, showing Democrat politicians making incendiary speeches, along with images of mob violence in their areas of the country last summer.
A TWO-THIRDS MAJORITY IN THE SENATE WOULD BE NEEDED.