Donald Trump’s lawyers have begun laying out their case for why the former president should be acquitted of inciting last month’s deadly riot at the US Capitol, arguing the impeachment trial is an act of “political vengeance” by Democrats.
The defence is expected to take three to four hours to argue that Trump was not responsible for inciting the January 6 riot, which sent lawmakers scrambling for safety and resulted in the deaths of five people, including a police officer.
Trump’s lawyers have said his rhetoric was protected by the US Constitution’s free speech guarantee and that prosecutors had not directly connected the actions of the rioters to Trump.
“The article of impeachment before the Senate is an unjust and blatantly unconstitutional act of political vengeance,” Trump lawyer Michael van der Veen said in his opening argument, adding that it was a “politically-motivated witch hunt” by Democrats.
Democratic prosecutors wrapped up their case on Thursday, arguing that Trump knew what would happen when he exhorted supporters on January 6 to march on the Capitol and “fight like hell” as Congress gathered to certify Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the November 3 election, and that the Republican former president should be held accountable.
Trump has claimed that Biden’s victory in November was the result of widespread fraud.
Van der Veen said the entire premise of Trump’s remarks to his supporters was that the democratic process would and should play out according to the letter of the law.
“These are not the words of someone inciting a violent insurrection,” he said.
The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives charged Trump on January 13 with inciting the insurrection but Democrats are unlikely to get a conviction in the evenly-divided Senate or to bar Trump from running for office again.