What We Learned from Day 4 of the Impeachment Trial


Former President Donald J. Trump’s lawyers opened and closed their impeachment defense in a span of three hours on Friday. They called the House’s charge against Mr. Trump a “preposterous and monstrous lie,” and their arguments drew praise from Republican senators. After the defense rested, senators submitted questions to each side. Closing arguments are set to begin on Saturday, most likely followed by a swift verdict.

Here are takeaways from the fourth day of Mr. Trump’s trial.

Republican senators lauded Mr. Trump’s three-hour defense, during which his lawyers accused House impeachment managers of taking the former president’s words and actions out of context, complained about what they saw as the news media’s unfair coverage of their client and presented many of Mr. Trump’s own talking points and narratives.

It was almost as though Mr. Trump was presenting his defense himself. And lawmakers applauded it as a huge improvement over the rambling and disorganized argument one of his lawyers, Bruce L. Castor Jr., delivered on Tuesday, a performance that was widely panned and infuriated Mr. Trump.

The defense lawyers said the House managers manipulated their client’s words and pointed to Mr. Trump’s call to his supporters in his Jan. 6 speech to “peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.”

Mr. Castor said, “The House managers took from that: ‘Go down to the Capitol and riot.’”

But that is not what Mr. Trump was asking his supporters to do, Mr. Castor said: “He wanted them to support primary challenges.”

The former president stood for law and order, Michael T. van der Veen, one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers, said, picking up a phrase the president has used repeatedly.

“Mr. Trump did the opposite of advocating for lawless action, the opposite,” Mr. van der Veen said. “He expressly advocated for peaceful action at the Save America rally.”

Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin raved about the defense.

“The president’s lawyers blew the House managers’ case out of the water — they just legally eviscerated their case,” he told reporters. Mr. Johnson was among the Republican lawmakers who had planned on Jan. 6 to challenge the Electoral College tally of Mr. Biden’s victory. But his plans changed after the attack.

Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, told reporters that the defense gave “a much stronger presentation” than it did earlier in the week. Ms. Murkowski voted with Democrats to find the Senate trial of a former president constitutional, and Democrats have hoped they could count on her to vote to convict Mr. Trump.

The former president’s lawyers began their defense by attacking the House impeachment managers’ case, taking aim at many of the compelling video presentations the Democrats made throughout the week.

The lawyers produced split screens for senators, juxtaposing footage that House managers showed during the first three days of the trial with what the defense argued really happened. Many were labeled “MANAGERS” and “REALITY.”

“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,” Mr. van der Veen said.

The House managers used video footage to tell the story of Jan. 6 in Mr. Trump’s and the rioters’ own words. They showed scenes of what was happening outside the Senate chamber when the senators — in the same space where the trial has been held — were rushing to safety and played recordings of distress calls from officers who were vastly outnumbered by the violent mob.

Mr. Trump’s defense team delivered a rapid-fire video montage of Democrats saying the word “fight” in their political speeches, challenging a key House argument that Mr. Trump incited the attack on Jan. 6 by telling his supporters to “fight” in a speech just before urging them to march to the Capitol.

Earlier in the week, House managers played video of that speech, including Mr. Trump saying: “We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

Mr. Trump’s lawyers maintain that this figurative language is common among politicians, as evidenced by the video montage, which they asserted included all of the House managers as well as Democratic senators using phrases such as: “You don’t get what you don’t fight for.” “Get in this fight.” “We will fight when we must fight.” “We are in this fight for our lives.”

The final clip on one of the fight reels was of Kamala Harris, a senator at the time, on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” in April 2018.

Ms. DeGeneres asked Ms. Harris: “If you had to be stuck in an elevator with either President Trump, Mike Pence or Jeff Sessions, who would it be?”

Ms. Harris responded, “Does one of us have to come out alive?” drawing laughter from her host and the audience.

Mr. van der Veen let out a deep sigh as the video ended.

One Democratic lawmaker took issue with the montage.

“Yes, all of us at some times have used the word ‘fight,’” Senator Chris Coons of Delaware told reporters during a break. But, he said, Democrats did not tell people to fight right before their supporters launched an attack.

The Trump defense team argued that the Democratic-led House made a “snap” impeachment when it charged Mr. Trump with high crimes and misdemeanors for inciting an insurrection. The former president’s lawyers said the House did not thoroughly investigate the events of Jan. 6, and this robbed their client of due process.

“Jiminy Crickets, there is no due process in this proceeding at all,” Mr. van der Veen said during the question-and-answer portion of the trial on Friday afternoon.

Mr. van der Veen was talking about the House investigation, in which there are no “enforceable rights” to due process. But his point is a reminder that an impeachment trial is very different from the judicial trials people are familiar with in the nation’s court systems. Impeachment trials are political proceedings.

For example, in this trial, Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont is the presiding officer, a witness to the events that are the subject of the trial and a member of the jury. The defense pointed out that that would be a conflict of interest in any other courtroom.

On Thursday, three Republican senators — members of the jury in this trial — met with Mr. Trump’s defense team to discuss strategy, a move that is highly inappropriate in courtrooms outside the Senate chamber.

And many of the jurors in this trial had made up their minds long before the proceedings started, just as they had last year in Mr. Trump’s first impeachment trial.

The verdict then fell almost entirely along party lines, and the same is expected this time and in future impeachment proceedings. As Alexander Hamilton described in one of the Federalist Papers, impeachable crimes are “those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust.”

“They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL,” he continued, “as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.”

Reporting was contributed by Luke Broadwater, Glenn Thrush, Maggie Haberman and Adam Liptak.

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