Former President Donald Trump’s attorneys will highlight Democrats’ hypocrisy in condoning street violence when they present his defense Friday in the Senate impeachment trial on a charge of incitement of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
But with Mr. Trump’s acquittal all but assured as early as this weekend, Democrats are increasingly eyeing a follow-up move to censure Mr. Trump as an easier way to bar him from holding office again.
Trump attorneys David Schoen and Bruce Castor plan to cite examples of prominent Democrats refusing to condemn riots and other lawlessness last summer during Black Lives Matter demonstrations.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and other Democrats advocated “unrest in the streets,” they noted in their pretrial brief.
Mr. Trump’s attorneys have criticized lawmakers for “feigning horror” over Mr. Trump’s words on the day of the U.S. Capitol riot while looking the other way when other Democrats were calling for violence.
Mr. Schoen confirmed Thursday that Democrats’ “hypocrisy” will be part of the defense presentation and warned that “politicians will look bad.” The perceived double standard, with Democrats and news media largely failing to criticize the Black Lives Matter demonstrations and anarchy in cities such as Seattle and Portland, Oregon, has been a major point of contention by Mr. Trump’s allies.
SEE ALSO: David Schoen, Trump’s lawyer, promises short impeachment trial: ‘Tears the country apart’
It’s clear that there aren’t enough Republican votes to convict Mr. Trump with a required two-thirds Senate majority in a final vote, which could be held as early as Saturday. Forty-four of the Senate’s 50 Republicans expressed in a vote this week that the impeachment trial of a former president is unconstitutional, and there is no indication that any of them have changed their minds.
“It’s difficult to vote that it’s unconstitutional and vote to convict,” said Sen. John Boozman, Arkansas Republican.
Facing that failure, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, didn’t rule out further action to ban Mr. Trump from holding office. A censure resolution under the 14th Amendment would require only a simple majority vote.
The 14th Amendment, approved during Reconstruction after the Civil War, authorizes Congress to ban people who “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the U.S. from holding federal office. Mr. Trump is believed to be entertaining another bid for the presidency in 2024.
“We’re first going to finish the impeachment trial, and then Democrats will get together and discuss where we go next,” Mr. Schumer said when asked about the 14th Amendment.
Sen. Martin Heinrich, New Mexico Democrat, sounded open to censuring Mr. Trump but told reporters, “First I want to see … who can stare [images of the riot] in the face and vote to acquit.”
SEE ALSO: Democrats claim Michigan protests, kidnapping plot were Trump’s rehearsal for Capitol riot
Rep. Ted Lieu, California Democrat and House impeachment manager, said on the Senate floor Thursday, “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 [incite a riot] again.”
Mr. Schoen said the Democrats’ case against Mr. Trump has been offensive.
“It’s antithesis [of] the healing process to continue to show the tragedy that happened here that Donald Trump has condemned,” Mr. Schoen told reporters. “And I think it tears at the American people.”
The impeachment managers wrapped up their case by arguing that Mr. Trump incited supporters to storm the Michigan Statehouse last spring as a “dress rehearsal” for the riot at the U.S. Capitol. They said a plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, also was provoked by Mr. Trump.
“The siege of the Michigan Statehouse was effectively a state-level dress rehearsal for the siege of the U.S. Capitol that Trump incited on Jan. 6,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the Democrats’ lead impeachment manager. “It was a preview of the coming insurrection.”
Mr. Raskin told senators that the former president had a record of inciting violence long before the riot in the nation’s capital.
“There the pattern is, staring us in the face,” Mr. Raskin said. “Trump knew exactly what he was doing in inciting the Jan. 6th mob. He had just seen how easily his words and actions inspired violence in Michigan. He sent a clear message to his supporters.”
Mr. Trump was engaged in a long-running public feud with Ms. Whitmer over her handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. The president and many residents of the crucial battleground state considered her restrictions on businesses heavy-handed.
Mr. Raskin said Mr. Trump leveled a series of increasingly critical tweets at Ms. Whitmer.
On April 17, Mr. Trump tweeted, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” Mr. Raskin did not add that Mr. Trump also tweeted on the same day, “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA.”
On April 30, an angry crowd, some armed and many wearing “MAGA” hats, stormed the Michigan Statehouse in Lansing in protest of state lockdown orders. They chanted “Let us in” at the doors to the House chamber and stood in the state Senate gallery with weapons as they watched legislators conduct business below.
At least two of those demonstrators were among 13 men charged by the FBI on Oct. 8 in a plot to kidnap Ms. Whitmer. Authorities said they planned to take the governor out of state and possibly execute her.
“The precise consequences of the president’s incitement of violence were revealed to the whole world,” Mr. Raskin said.
Democrats also argued that Mr. Trump’s supporters believed he had summoned them to Washington to storm the U.S. Capitol to “stop the steal” of the presidential election by Democrat Joseph R. Biden. The attack resulted in the deaths of a Capitol Police officer and four Trump supporters and injured more than 140 police officers. About 200 people have been arrested, and authorities are trying to identify more rioters.
“The attack was done for Donald Trump, at his instructions, and to fulfill his wishes,” said Rep. Diana DeGette, Colorado Democrat. “Donald Trump had sent them there. They said they came here because the president instructed them to do so.”
Mr. Schoen said the impeachment managers “haven’t in any way tied it to Donald Trump.” As if to illustrate his disgust with the prosecutors’ case, Mr. Schoen left the Senate chamber in the middle of Democrats’ arguments Thursday to conduct an interview with Fox News.
“It’s more of the same thing,” he said when asked why he ducked out of the trial. “They’re showing the same repetitive videos. They’re showing points that don’t exist.”
Many Republicans agreed with him.
“Today was not connecting the dots,” said Sen. James Lankford, Oklahoma Republican.
Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, said of the Democratic managers, “To me, they’re losing credibility the longer they talk.”
Asked why he leaned forward in his seat at one point, Sen. Josh Hawley, Missouri Republican, replied, “Mainly because my back was cramping. I thought today was very repetitive.”
As the legal arguments by the nine managers covered old ground, Sen. Rick Scott, Florida Republican, was at his desk filling out a blank map of Asia and Europe with the names of countries. Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent, was slumped at his desk. At one point, at least 15 Republicans were somewhere else in the Capitol, not at their desks listening to the trial.
Rep. Joaquin Castro, Texas Democrat and House impeachment manager, said Mr. Trump must be convicted to send a signal around the world that American democracy still stands.
“Think of the consequences to our diplomats,” he said.
Mr. Castro argued that the attack showed terrorists how vulnerable government buildings could be and led to Russian officials celebrating the fall of democracy in the U.S.
“To convict Donald Trump would mean that America stands for the rule of law,” he said. “Let us show the world that Jan. 6 was not America.”
Mr. Raskin closed the House Democrats’ case by telling senators to use common sense when deliberating whether to convict the former president.
He noted that Mr. Trump was invited to testify but declined, pushing his legal team to answer why their client waited hours before sending help to the Capitol during the riot and failing to condemn the violence that day.
“We need to exercise our common sense about what happened,” he said.