After two days of House impeachment managers making their case for the conviction of Donald Trump on a charge of incitement, the former President's legal team got its chance today.
The core of the Trump team's defense was that his words at the Jan. 6 "Stop the Steal" rally were just that: words. And that those words were far from an incitement that led to the violent insurrection at the Capitol.
In case you missed it, here are some of the key takeaways from today's proceedings:
- Words matter. Except when they don't: Trump's lawyers tried to make two diametrically opposed arguments to dispel the idea that the former President was culpable for the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. On the one hand, Trump attorney Michael van der Veen suggested that the President using the phrase "peaceful and patriotic" regarding the protests during his speech at the "Stop the Steal" rally, was proof-positive that he had told them to not engage in a violent manner. On the other hand, Trump's lawyers dismissed his repeated use of the words "fight" during that same speech by playing a long smash cut of Democratic politicians saying the word "fight." The message was muddled: Do words — whether from the President or anyone else — matter, or don't they? It seemed as though Trump's lawyers were making the case that words mattered when it bolstered their argument that Trump didn't incite a riot but not so much in other circumstances.
- Jan. 6 was NOT inevitable: At the core of the defense team's case were these twin notions: a) What happened on Jan. 6 was an isolated incident with zero prologue and b) these bad actors were going to behave badly no matter what Trump said or did that day. "You can't incite what was already going to happen," said van der Veen at one point. What those arguments are aimed at doing is removing any blame for Trump in, well, any of this. The facts, however, are not on the side of Trump's lawyers on this one.
- The "fight" video: As we know from reporting after the airing of a 13-minute video detailing the events of Jan. 6 by the impeachment managers on the second day of the trial, the Trump team was scrambling to make more videos of their own to counter the impact it had on the jury of senators. And come up with videos they did! The most notable one was a mashup of Democrats – from Joe Biden to Kamala Harris to virtually every Democratic senator – saying the word "fight." The point, as I noted above, was to make the case that Trump telling his supporters to "fight like hell" shouldn't be taken as a serious incitement to violence because, well, Democratic politicians say the word "fight" as well. But to believe that and be convinced by it, you have to be willing to ignore any sort of context.
- It's all about the "hate": The main reason that Democrats in the House impeached Trump, according to his lawyers, was not because of his action (and lack of action) on Jan. 6 but rather because they simply hate him – and that hate has blinded them to due process and the rule of law. But this argument is also a bit of a red herring. After all, this isn't an either/or choice. You can hate Trump and still believe he didn't incite a riot. And vice versa. Trump's legal team was simply not willing to engage on the merits of what Trump said and did. And so they fell back on the everyone-is-so-partisan argument. It undoubtedly will resonate with many Republican senators looking for a justification to vote to acquit Trump. But that doesn't make it true.
What happens next: The impeachment trial is expected to resume at 10 a.m. ET tomorrow.
A final vote on Trump's conviction or acquittal will be around 3 p.m. ET. This is not locked in yet and can change, but that's the expectation at the moment. Conviction requires two-thirds of senators present to offer "guilty" votes. Normally, two-thirds is 67 senators, which would require 17 Republican votes.
If Trump is convicted, there would be a subsequent vote on whether to bar him from further office. This would require only a simple majority — that's 50 votes.