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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Defense Team Presents Case to Acquit Trump. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired February 12, 2021 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRUCE CASTOR, IMPEACHMENT ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: President Trump's words couldn't have incited the riot at the Capitol. The day's events make this clear.
Let's walk through the actual timeline. At 11:15 a.m., police security camera video show crowds forming at the First Street near the Capitol Reflecting Pool. This is a full 45 minutes before President Trump even took the stage on January 6. Let me repeat that. Violent criminals were assembling at the Capitol over a mile away almost an hour before the president uttered a single word on the Ellipse.
You did not hear that fact during the hours and hours of the House managers' presentation, did you?
When the president spoke, what did he call for? He called for rally attendees to peacefully and patriotically make their voices heard, for them to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue to cheer on members of Congress. President Trump went on for more than an hour, ending at 1:11.
Now, why is this important? Because, of all the events that I am about to describe, they all occurred before, before President Trump's remarks concluded.
At 12:49 p.m., the first barriers at the U.S. Capitol grounds were pushed over, and the crowd entered the restricted area. At 11:05 p.m. (sic), acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller received open source reports of demonstrator movements to the U.S. Capitol.
At 1:09 p.m., U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund called the House and Senate sergeant at arms, telling them he wanted an emergency declared and he wanted the National Guard called.
The point? Given the timeline of events, the criminals at the Capitol weren't there at the Ellipse to even hear the president's words. They were more than a mile away engaged in their preplanned assault on this very building.
This was a preplanned assault. Make no mistake. And that's a criminal fact. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D-RI): Does anyone in this chamber honestly believe that, but for the conduct of President Trump, that a charge in the article of impeachment, that that attack at the Capitol would have occurred? Does anybody believe that?
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: It was not some sort of spontaneous decision by a bunch of -- quote -- "protesters" to go up to Capitol Hill and storm Capitol Hill. This was all planned out.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: How many of it was planned? How much of this was strategized ahead of time?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: They are getting indications, some evidence that they're seeing that indicates that there was some level of planning.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There appears to be premeditation.
DAVID MUIR, ABC NEWS: FBI internal report the day before the siege warning of a violent war at the Capitol.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The FBI issued a warning of a -- quote -- "war at the Capitol."
STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": The FBI warned law enforcement agencies about this specific attack.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "Be ready to fight. Congress needs to hear glass breaking, doors being kicked in."
STEVEN D'ANTUONO, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, FBI WASHINGTON FIELD OFFICE: We have developed some intelligence that a number of individuals are planning to travel to the D.C. area with intentions to cause violence. We immediately shared that information.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And they pushed out that information through this JTTF structure.
D'ANTUONO: It was immediately disseminated through a written product and briefed to our command post operations to all levels of law enforcement.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The FBI says two pipe bombs discovered near the Capitol on January 6 were placed there the night before.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: New video appears to show a person suspected of planting pipe bombs near the U.S. Capitol the night before.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The FBI now says the bombs were planted before the night before the Capitol siege between 7:30 and 8:30 p.m.
MUIR: They were planted the day before.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All go to the idea of premeditation and coordination among individuals.
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: This was a planned assault like going after a castle.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CASTOR: So, to answer the question of the House manager, does anybody believe this would have occurred but for the speech from Donald Trump, I do.
All of these facts make clear that the January 6 speech did not cause the riots. The president did not cause the riots. He neither explicitly or implicitly encouraged the use of violence or lawless action, but, in fact, called for peaceful exercise of every American's First Amendment rights to peacefully assemble and petition their government for redress of grievances.
In other words, the Brandenburg standard is not made out. The House managers admitted many facts are unknown. Even Speaker Pelosi admitted not knowing the real cause of the violence when she called for a 9/11- style commission to examine the facts and causes that led to the violence.
On the screen is Speaker Pelosi's call for the 9/11 Commission.
Let's touch now on the second absurd and conflated allegation in the House managers' single article. President Trump's phone call to Georgia secretary of state Ben (sic) Raffensperger, surreptitiously recorded, by the way, included -- and included multiple attorneys and others on the call.
Let me point out the very obvious fact that the House managers ignored. The private call that was made public by others cannot really be the basis to claim that the president intended to incite a riot, because he did not publicly disclose the contents of the call.
How could he have hoped to use this call to invite his followers if he had no intent to make the conversation public, and, indeed, had nothing to do with it being secretly recorded?
The House managers told you that the president demanded that the Georgia secretary of state -- quote -- "find" just over 11,000 votes. The word find, like so many others the House managers highlighted, is taken completely out of context.
And the word find did not come out of thin air. Based on an analysis of publicly available voter data that the ballot rejection rate in Georgia in 2016 was approximately 6.42 percent, and even though a tremendous amount of new first-time mail-in ballots were included in the 2020 count, the Georgia rejection rate in 2020 was a mere 0.4 percent, a drop-off from 6.42 percent to 0.4 percent.
President Trump wanted the signature verification to be done in public. How can a request for signature verifications to be done in public be a basis for a charge for inciting a riot?
With that background, it is clear that President Trump's comments and the use of the word find were solely related to his concerns with the inexplicable dramatic drop in Georgia's ballot rejection rates.
Let's examine how the word find was used throughout that conversation.
Mr. Trump's first use of the word find was as follows -- quote -- "We think that if you check the signatures, a real check of the signatures going back in Fulton County, you will find at least a couple hundred thousand of forged signatures of people who have been forged. And we are quite sure that is going to happen."
President Trump also used find as follows -- quote -- "Now, why aren't we doing signature and why can't it be open to the public? And why can't we have professionals do it, instead of rank amateurs, who will never find anything and don't want to find anything? They don't want to find -- you know, they don't want to find anything. Someday, you will tell me the reason why, because I don't understand your reasoning. But, someday, you will tell me the reason why. But why don't you want to find?"
President Trump echoed his previous sentiments again in the context of pursuing a legitimate and robust investigation into the lack of signature verification for mail-in and absentee ballots.
Quote -- "And why can't we have professionals do it, instead of rank amateurs, who will never find anything and don't want to find anything? They don't want to find anything. You know, they don't want to find anything. They don't want to find -- you know, they don't want to find anything. Someday, you will tell me why, because I don't understand your reasoning. But, someday, you will tell me why. Why don't you want to find?
"We can go through signature verification and we will find hundreds of thousands of signatures, and you can let us do it. And the only way you can do that -- do it, as you know, is to go to the past. But you didn't do that in Cobb County. You just looked at one page compared to another. The only way you can do a signature verification is to go from one that it's signed on November whatever, recently, and compare it to two years ago, four years ago, six years ago, you know, or even one.
"And you will find that you have many different signatures. But, in Fulton, where they dumped ballots, you will find that you have many that aren't even signed, and that you have many forgeries" -- end quote.
Mr. Trump continued to use the word find throughout the conversation, each and every other time in the context of his request that Mr. Raffensperger undertake a signature -- a review of signature verifications, and his concerns generally with ballot integrity, and his reported electoral deficit.
Here are a few examples.
Quote: "But why wouldn't you want to find the right answer, Brad, instead of keep saying that the numbers are right, because those numbers are so wrong?"
Another example -- quote -- "We think that, if you check the signatures, a real check of the signatures, going back in Fulton County, you will find at least a couple hundred thousand of forged signatures of people who have been forged. And we are quite sure that is going to happen" -- end quote.
Moreover, there was nothing untoward with President Trump or any other candidate, for that matter, speaking with a lead elections officer of a state. That's why the Georgia secretary of state took a call, along with members of his team, one of whom decided to record it and release it to the press.
The only reason this conversation is being discussed in this chamber is because, once again, the media and their Democratic allies distorted the true conversation to mislead you and the American public.
So, we have a complete lack of evidence for the article of impeachment presented by the House managers. So, why are we here? Politics. Their goal is to eliminate a political opponent, to substitute their judgment for the will of the voters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why bother with the Senate trial of Donald Trump? He is no longer president.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He will be out of office anyway.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is to it keep him from ever running again?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Make sure he can never run for office again.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Keep him from running for office again.
SEN. TIM KAINE (D-VA): Donald Trump would not be able to run for office again.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Barring him from running for office again.
SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): Disqualified from running for office.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Disqualify from ever running from office again.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Disqualified from running for office again.
RAHM EMANUEL (D), FORMER MAYOR OF CHICAGO: It's about focusing that he can never run again.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Remove him from ever running for office again.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Never be able to run for office again.
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN): To ban former President Trump from running again.
REP. AL GREEN (D-TX): If we don't impeach this president, he will get reelected.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CASTOR: The goal is to eliminate a political opponent, to substitute their judgment for the will of the voters.
Members of the Senate, our country needs to get back to work. I know that you know that. But, instead, we are here. The majority party promised to unify and deliver more COVID relief.
But, instead, they did this. We will not take most of our time today, us of the defense, in the hopes that you will take back these hours and use them to get delivery of COVID relief to the American people.
Let us be clear. This trial is about far more than President Trump. It is about silencing and banning the speech the majority does not agree with. It is about canceling 75 million Trump voters and criminalizing political viewpoints.
That's what this trial is really about. It is the only existential issue before us. It asks for constitutional cancel culture to take over in the United States Senate.
Are we going to allow canceling and banning and silencing to be sanctioned in this body? To the Democrats, who view this as a moment of opportunity, I urge you instead to look to the principles of free expression and free speech.
I hope, truly, that the next time you are in the minority, you don't find yourself in this position.
To the Republicans in this chamber, I ask, when you are next in the majority, please resist what will be an overwhelming temptation to do this very same thing to the opposing party.
Members of the Senate, this concludes the formal defense of the 45th president of the United States to the impeachment article filed by the House of Representatives.
I understand that there is a procedure in place for questions. And we await them. Thereafter, we will close on behalf of the President Trump.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, we yield the balance.
SCHUMER: And I ask unanimous consent.
We take a 15-minute recess.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT): Without objection, the Senate will stand in recess. JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our special live coverage. I'm Jake
Tapper in Washington.
Former President Trump's legal team has now completed their presentation, using only a few of their 16 allotted hours to make the case that senators should vote to acquit former President Trump, the defense claiming that Trump's words do not rise to the level of inciting an insurrection, and the lawyers asserting that the attack on the U.S. Capitol was not even an insurrection at all.
Next, we're expecting that senators will be able to ask any questions they have for the Trump team or the House managers. The question-and- answer session, that question-and-answer session could give us some clues about where key Republicans stand on the final vote whether to convict Donald Trump.
And just to go over the math again, it is a 50/50 Senate. Assuming all 50 Democrats vote to convict, there will need to be, assuming all 100 senators are there, 17 Republicans, because it requires a two-thirds majority, 17 Republicans to go along with this.
That is a tall order. Just to go over some of the arguments we just heard with Dana and Abby here. I mean, he said things that just we know not to be true. He said that Donald Trump hates violent mobs. That's not true. He hates violent mobs that are progressive or liberal violent mobs, Antifa are Black Lives Matter or Democratic-affiliated mobs, one way or the other. But he doesn't hate violent mobs.
He said that, because there is evidence that some elements of the insurrectionists had been preplanning the attack, that there's no way that the speech could have incited the attack.
That, of course, ignores two facts, one, that he is -- he stands accused of inciting the attack over months and months and months, and, two, that people who have been arrested and who were there say that they were incited by President Trump that morning.
Nonetheless, keeping in mind that all they have to do is keep 34 out of 50 Republican senators on board, will that be enough?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, very likely.
I'm not going to say with 100 percent certainty, but what you just described was a defense team grasping at straws, but those straws are there, and they got them. And that's really all that Republicans who are looking for a way to explain their no-vote need.
And that's really what it is about for so many of these Republicans. It's not necessarily, for many of them, that they think that the president's actions were good or appropriate or presidential or even not just absolutely disgusting.
But what they are looking for, so many of these Republican senators, most of them, I would even say, is a way out, and a way to vote to acquit. And this defense argument that we heard for the past, I don't know, four hours, certainly gives them a lot of opportunity to do that, particularly for the audience that they're speaking to.
And for most of them, it is the FOX News audience that has heard a lot of this before.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: But I was actually surprised that, toward the end there, he was litigating the lie, the election fraud lie.
It just seemed like a step too far and, frankly, seemed unnecessary. I mean, he had made some arguments about whether the attack was preplanned, about whether Trump's words constituted incitement, whether even this was an insurrection, although that's also not true.
But the idea that then they would throw that -- the call with the secretary of state of Georgia, Brad Raffensperger, into the mix and then start talking about Trump looking for fraudulent ballots and signatures that don't match, it seemed to go into territory that I think many Republican senators, frankly, did not want to delve into.
Nobody really wants to talk about the underlying problem here, which is that Trump believes something that is not true, that he called Raffensperger to pressure him to find votes based on lies and misinformation. That whole call has been debunked.
And yet we saw the president's lawyers litigating it on the Senate floor. It was kind of baffling to me, frankly.
TAPPER: Well, not only that but the lie that Mr. Castor just put forward, that what Donald Trump was saying when he was encouraging people to fight was, he wanted legislators to fight for him at the counting of the electoral votes, and if they did not do what was right, then they would be primaried.
Now, a couple points on that. One, obviously, what he was doing was, he wanted the crown to go to Capitol Hill to demonstrate, at the very least, to demonstrate, at the very worst, to intimidate people, including Vice President Pence. We know that. That's what he wanted them to do.
BASH: That's what he said.
TAPPER: That's why he said, we're going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue to go to the Capitol.
And, in addition to that, I would just say that the invocation of primarying Republicans, and he said, it's the last thing that anybody in that room wanted, was an interesting one for him to make. I think that the threshold for the Republican senators in that room to be insulted by anybody on the Trump team is pretty high.
But, Anderson, had I been a Republican senator in that room, I might have heard that as something of a threat, in line with the idea that, if you don't vote the right way, Donald Trump will work to primary you, because that is already a preexisting threat. ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: And it's a threat that was made even the
morning of the attempted insurrection.
I think it was Donald Trump Jr. One of the things he was saying was that this is the party of Trump and talked about going after anybody in the party who was not on board with that.
Let's talk with our legal folks and political folks
Ross Garber, a lot to digest. What do you make of their case?
ROSS GARBER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, so I didn't think Castor's presentation was as strong as the one that we saw earlier, as the two presentations we saw earlier.
But I think it probably did its job. Again, the audience here are the Republican senators in the room and the Trump voters outside the room, so you got to look at it in that perspective. And I think it gave those audiences enough to hang their hats on.
He took on the Brandenburg case, essentially saying that, if the First Amendment applies, and that they advocate that it does, the standard wasn't met. And the House managers sort of took that standard on also, and they said that it was meant. So, it seems like the battle is joined on the field of Brandenburg, on that case.
The stuff about the Georgia secretary of the state phone call, I think that was there in part because the former president's worried about it.
GARBER: Yes, I mean, there's a criminal investigation going on, and it's sort of the elephant in the room. So, I think that's why they probably took that on.
One final thing is, they also took on this factual dispute about what the president was doing as the riots -- as the occupation of the Capitol Building was happening. They took right on. They said, he responded quickly, as quickly as possible. The House managers say, not so much.
We have seen press reports from anonymous sources saying, not so much. And that's maybe a key factual dispute.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: To me, more than anybody else we have heard today, he was channeling Donald Trump, completely channeling Donald Trump, saying that he was -- immediately called for calm, without mentioning the tweet about Mike Pence, which was read over a bullhorn by the insurrectionists, saying this was no insurrection, then deconstructing the word find in that Raffensperger phone call-- GARBER: Yes.
BORGER: -- which reminded me of Bill Clinton, depends on what the meaning of is, is. Well, it depends on what the meaning of find is, as in find votes.
And, again, I think it's because Donald Trump may be worried about that particular phone call. And then talking about the constitutional cancel culture, which is sort of a buzz phrase for Donald Trump and for the Republicans.
And I think that -- and then again pushing the election fraud, as Jake was talking about before, talking about an inexplicable drop in Georgia mail-in ballots. These are Donald Trump's talking points. Donald Trump was angry at this attorney, as we know. And I think, today, he probably made up for it with the former president.
COOPER: Laura, what did you think?
LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: For me, the lingering question is still, what was then President Trump doing?
I mean, the second that Castor raised this question and said, essentially, he was misunderstood, just think about what Congressman Raskin said yesterday. Use your common sense.
Everyone out there, if you were misunderstood at your place of employment, say, or in a general conversation, and you made an off- color remark that didn't touch home or lost in translation, you would contort yourself into a contrite pretzel, trying to make sure that you were clearly understood.
Instead, a long amount of time elapses, and it's just out there, and not just because you wonder if somebody if watercooler might have misunderstood you. There's actually zombie-like behavior, scaling the walls of the Capitol.
At what point do you think it was incumbent upon then President Trump to act swiftly, in the way that others would have? And I think that question is still out there. If he was truly understood, why not act sooner, and why not address that claim?
And to say or suggest that it was constitutional cancel culture, no, it wasn't censorship on the outside. It was him, for some reason, imposing a gag order on himself and not telling specifically to the world, stop, do not fly a flag in my honor and scale the walls of the Capitol and threaten a branch of my government.
He didn't do that. They still haven't said why.
NORMAN EISEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Anderson, of the three presentations we heard today, the third one from Mr. Castor was the closest to Trump's own incitement that triggered the riot.
I think it signals -- I agree with Ross. The somewhat gratuitous mention of Raffensperger signals that Trump is attempting to regroup his core for the battles that lie ahead.
The vote that we're going to get very shortly is just chapter one. Accountability is going to unfold over years. He's chosen. He has a minority. He is going to keep the minority with him. That was today.
COOPER: We're standing by for the Trump impeachment trial to resume.
The former president's lawyers and House managers will respond to questions posed by senators.
We're going to get a quick break. Stay with us.