Final Arguments Begin in Trump Impeachment Trial

Washington, Feb 13 (AFP/APP): The US Senate heard closing arguments Saturday in Donald Trump’s impeachment trial after Democrats reversed their call for witnesses, avoiding a potentially lengthy delay and setting up a vote that will likely acquit the former president.

Democrats described how Trump “willfully betrayed” members of Congress and the American people by refusing to call a halt to the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol that left then-vice president Mike Pence and lawmakers in mortal danger. But the defense team repeatedly proclaimed Trump’s innocence, insisting “the act of incitement never happened” and rioters acted alone.

With influential Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell revealing he will vote against convicting Trump on the impeachment charge of incitement of insurrection for his role in fueling the deadly violence, the case tilted even more solidly toward acquittal. Before moving to final arguments, the proceedings were interrupted for a few hours when House impeachment managers, in a surprise move, said they wanted to call witnesses at the trial.

Lead manager Jamie Raskin, a Democratic congressman, said he wanted to call a Republican lawmaker as a witness but eventually agreed with Trump’s defense lawyers just to have a statement of hers entered into evidence. Trump’s lawyers had threatened in response to call witnesses of their own, including Vice President Kamala Harris, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and others in a process that could have prolonged the trial for days if not weeks.

With the impasse resolved, the Senate began hearing four hours of closing arguments, evenly divided. A vote on whether to acquit or convict the 74-year-old former Republican president is expected later Saturday. Raskin had wanted Representative Jamie Herrera Beutler, a Republican who voted to impeach Trump last month, to testify after she released a statement about a notable exchange on January 6.

In her statement entered into the record, she said Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had made a frantic call to Trump while the attack was ongoing and implored him to call off the rioters. Instead Trump falsely blamed other groups, not his own supporters, for breaching the Capitol, Herrera Beutler said.

“McCarthy refuted that and told the president that these were Trump supporters,” the congresswoman said. “That’s when, according to McCarthy, the president said: ‘Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are,'” she said.

A close call

Democrats pounced on her statement. “There can be no doubt that at the moment we most needed a president to preserve, protect and defend us, president Trump instead willfully betrayed us,” impeachment manager David Cicilline told the Senate, adding Trump “violated his oath” of office. Trump was impeached by the Democratic-controlled House on January 13 for inciting the attack by his supporters, who were seeking to block congressional certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s November 3 election victory.

A conviction in the 100-member Senate — which is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans — would require a two-thirds majority and appears highly unlikely after McConnell said he would vote to acquit.

“While a close call, I am persuaded that impeachments are a tool primarily of removal and therefore we lack jurisdiction,” McConnell emailed to his Republican colleagues.

Seventeen Republicans would need to break ranks and join all Democrats in order to gain a conviction. Votes are not locked in yet, but between four and six Republicans have signalled they are prepared to vote to convict. If those numbers hold, it would be the most bipartisan impeachment trial vote ever, a dark and permanent stain on a former president who may yet seek to run for office again.

Trump’s defense lawyers argued on Friday that the ex-president bears no responsibility for the attack on Congress and wrapped up their presentation in just three hours. This followed two days of evidence from Democrats centered around harrowing video footage of the mob assault on the Capitol. Trump’s defense lawyers called the impeachment unconstitutional and an “act of political vengeance.”

They argued that Trump’s January 6 rally speech near the White House that preceded the attack, when he told supporters to “fight like hell,” was merely rhetorical. Seeking to turn the table on the Democrats’ powerful use of video evidence, defense lawyers played their own compilations showing Democratic lawmakers using the word “fight” hundreds of times. House impeachment managers charge that after losing to Biden, Trump deliberately stoked tension with a campaign of lies claiming there had been mass voter fraud. In his closing arguments, Trump attorney Michael van der Veen stressed the former president never advocated violence.

“No matter how much truly horrifying footage we see of the conduct of the rioters, and how much emotion has been injected into this trial, that does not change the fact that Mr. Trump is innocent of the charges against him,” van der Veen said.

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