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Feb. 12 updates for impeachment trial Day 4: Defense team rests their case

The House impeached Trump last month for his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
Image: Illustration shows former President Donald Trump on a teal background with a red paper tear showing the Capitol and words like \"insurrection\" and \"high crimes.\"
Watch live: full coverage of Trump's second impeachment trial on NBC News NOW.Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

Former President Donald Trump's defense team rested their case Friday after making less than three hours of arguments in his Senate impeachment trial. House Democrats took up two days, including presentations of harrowing footage of last month's Capitol riot.

The trial then moved into the question and answer phase, with members of the Senate submitted questions for both sides.

Trump's lawyers are arguing that an impeachment trial of a former president is unconstitutional — a point legal experts dispute. They also say the former president's speech at a rally that preceded the violence at the Capitol, in which he riled up the crowd with repeated false claims of election fraud, is protected by the First Amendment.

Democratic House impeachment managers made the case Thursday that the mob of Trump supporters who ransacked the Capitol believed they were doing so at his direction. The managers methodically documented how rioters echoed the exact words of Trump while they stormed the building, and how, once inside, many of them said they were acting at his behest.

Managers went on to play a series of clips of times Trump explicitly called on his supporters to commit violent acts, or expressed support for violent groups, which they said showed a "pattern and practice of inciting violence."

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GOP senators met with Trump legal team to discuss 'strategy'

Trump's legal team met with Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, on Thursday afternoon after the House managers rested their case.

Graham was spotted leaving the meeting, saying, "See you tomorrow." 

Cruz said they were "discussing their legal strategy and sharing our thoughts."

The meeting raised eyebrows, as senators who will be voting on whether to convict Trump were also strategizing with his legal team. But they're just following in the footsteps of Mitch McConnell, who as Senate majority leader during Trump's first impeachment trial said he was "coordinating with the White House counsel."

"There will be no difference between the president's position and our position as to how to handle this," McConnell, R-Ky., said at the time.

Trump defense attorney David Schoen told reporters after the meeting: "I think it's the best practice here in impeachment. There's nothing about this thing that has any semblance of due process whatsoever."

Schoen says Trump defense arguments might take just 3 to 4 hours

Trump's lawyer David Schoen said his team thinks it will need only a few hours to deliver its defense arguments.

Speaking to reporters after the House managers finished their arguments Thursday, Schoen said Trump's team may go for about "three to four hours, something like that," on Friday. 

He also criticized the case made by the House managers, saying they had turned the evidence into "an entertainment piece," which he said was "horrific."

Managers expect 'distraction campaign' from Trump defense team, senior aides say

Senior aides on the House impeachment managers' team told reporters Friday morning that they expect a "distraction campaign" from the Trump's defense team when the trial begins in the afternoon. 

“I have no doubt that there will be very little substantive defense presented today by the defense because there is no defense," an aide said. 

The aides said that they expected to hear legal arguments from Trump's defense team that are “extraordinarily dangerous in a Constitutional republic."

They said they expect the former president's lawyers, for example, to present the Democrats' incitement argument against Trump as limited only to the one speech he gave on Jan. 6, but the managers have made it clear during their two days of presentations that Trump's rhetoric about the election being rigged predated that rally by many months. 

The aides also said they expect the defense team will show clips of Democrats using incendiary rhetoric to try to establish some kind of equivalency. But “like so much of what Trump’s lawyers might say, that’s a gimmick, it’s a parlor game meant to inflame partisan hostility and play on our division," they said.

Here's what comes next in the Senate impeachment trial

With the House managers having wrapped their case on Thursday, the Senate impeachment trial will move into its next phase — the defense's presentation.

Like the prosecution, the defense will have a maximum of 16 hours to present its case, though, like the House managers, they may choose to use less than that allotted time.

Following their presentation, senators will have the opportunity to ask questions of both the House managers and the defense. They could then vote on whether to request additional documents and witnesses, although that is not currently expected.

Should no additional documents and witnesses be requested, a total of four hours will be given so each side can make their closing arguments before the Senate will advance to voting on whether to convict the president.

FIRST READ: The impeachment case against Trump comes down to this one question

The last three days of arguments by the Democratic impeachment managers boil down to this simple question: Is political violence — in support of a president, provoked by a president, never vociferously condemned by a president — ever acceptable in a democracy?

As it turns out, we were asking this very question five years ago during the 2016 GOP presidential race.

And here was our colleague Benjy Sarlin’s story just two days later: “Donald Trump warned on Wednesday that his supporters would respond with ‘riots’ if he fails to secure the nomination at July’s convention in Cleveland. ‘I think you’d have riots,’ Trump told CNN on Wednesday. ‘I think you’d have riots. I’m representing a tremendous many, many millions of people.’”

And it's what Democratic impeachment managers asked yesterday: Is what happened on Jan. 6 — the lead-up to the rally, Donald Trump’s words at the rally, his kind words about the rioters, and his failure to admit he did anything wrong — acceptable to GOP voters and politicians?

Because if it is, there will almost certainly be a next time.

Get more First Read.

GOP Sen. Rounds says Lieu's warning left an impression on Republicans

When Rep. Lieu warned the Senate that Trump, if acquitted, could run for office again and potentially incite more violence if he loses, it made an impression on some Republicans in the chamber.

"Several of us wrote that down," Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., told reporters later Thursday. "I think that was a strong statement on his part."

Lieu had warned earlier in the day: "I'm not afraid of Donald Trump running again in four years. I'm afraid he's going to run again and lose. Because he can do this again."

Still, Rounds said that questions about what the former president might do later are "hypotheticals" and signaled that they wouldn't form the basis of how senators vote.

"What I think right now is that — we're basing everything that we're doing on what's already happened," he said. "And we're not going to try to do hypotheticals about what's happening in the future."

House manager rejects idea that Trump was not given due process

Lieu pre-emptively responded Thursday to an argument that may be raised by Trump's attorneys and one that has been promoted by Trump allies — that the former president wasn't given due process. 

The Democratic manager pointed out that as a former prosecutor, he didn't need to take months to investigate a crime before charging someone. Lieu said that hundreds of rioters have been charged for the violence on Jan. 6. 

"There was no reason for the House to wait to impeach the man at the very top," Lieu said. "The House had a good reason to move quickly." 

Lieu said that this was "not a case where there was hidden conduct or some conspiracy that required months or years of investigating." The case, he said, didn't raise any complicated legal issues. 

There must be "no doubt" that Congress will act decisively against a president that incites violence, Lieu said. 

Trump has no First Amendment right to incite violence, House managers say

House managers sought to cut off Trump's First Amendment defense on Thursday, saying that freedom can't be used to justify the incitement of a deadly riot.

For weeks after Joe Biden won the election, Trump willfully lied about election fraud and set the stage for his supporters to violently attack the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6,  according to Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo. 

"In the middle of that explosive situation," Neguse told senators, "he struck a match and he aimed it straight at this building, at us." 

The former president's power set him apart from an ordinary citizen with no ability to incite mob violence, the House manager argued.

"President Trump just wasn't  some guy with politician opinions," Neguse said. "He was the president of the United States and he spent months, months using his unique power of that office, his bully pulpit to spread that big lie."