Former president Donald Trump’s defence lawyers tried to shift blame of January 6 riots to the Democrats and accused them of launching a campaign of “hatred” against him during the impeachment trial hearing in the Senate.
However, there were reverberations of a phone call by the former president to House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy when the Capitol was under siege.
According to CNN, the former president and McCarthy shouted at each other. “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are,” the former president said, according to lawmakers who were briefed on the call afterward by McCarthy.
The Republican lawmakers were briefed about the call in which McCarthy insisted that the rioters were “your supporters” and begged him to call them off.
They were of the view that the exchange showed Trump had no intention of calling off the rioters even as lawmakers were pleading with him to intervene.
On January 13, Kevin McCarthy said on the floor of the House that the President bears responsibility and he does.
Trump’s lawyers, however, vigorously denied that he had incited the riot and said his encouragement of followers to “fight like hell” at a rally that preceded it was a routine political speech. They played a number of video clips showing that some Democrats also encouraged them to “fight,” in a bid to hold them equally responsible with Trump of inciting violence.
“This is ordinary political rhetoric that is virtually indistinguishable from the language that has been used by people across the political spectrum for hundreds of years,” said Trump’s lawyer Michael van der Veen.
The speedy trial is heading towards a vote on Saturday and it is highly likely that Trump will be acquitted as the Senate is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans and a two-thirds majority required for conviction. Trump’s lawyers hurried to sum up their arguments — less than three of their allotted 16 hours.
On Friday, as Trump’s lawyers repeated their own videos over and over, some Democrats smiled and whispered among themselves as many of their faces flashed on the screen. Some passed notes. Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal threw up his hands, apparently amused, when his face appeared. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar rolled her eyes. Most Republicans watched intently.
During a break, some joked about the videos and others said they were a distraction or a “false equivalence” with Trump’s behavior.
“Well, we heard the word ‘fight’ a lot,” said Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats.
Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet said it felt like the lawyers were “erecting straw men to then take them down rather than deal with the facts.”
“We weren’t asking them fight like hell to overthrow an election,” Blumenthal said.
After the arguments ended, senators asked more than 20 questions of the lawyers, read by a clerk after submission in writing, including several from Republicans who are being closely watched for how they will vote.
GOP Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana asked about Trump’s tweet criticizing Pence moments after having been told by another senator that the vice president had just been evacuated. Van der Veen responded that at “no point” was the president informed of any danger. Cassidy told reporters later it was not a very good answer
Trump’s lawyers told senators that he was entitled to dispute the election results and that his doing so did not amount to inciting the violence. They sought to turn the tables on prosecutors by likening the Democrats’ questioning of the legitimacy of Trump’s 2016 win to his challenge of his election loss.