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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."

This live coverage has ended. Get the latest updates here, or for more politics coverage head to NBCNews.com.

Read the latest updates below:

Fact check: Trump’s 'first two' tweets urged peace

543d ago / 6:16 PM UTC

In his defense of the president, Trump attorney Van der Veen falsely claimed that “the first two messages the president sent via Twitter once the incursion of the Capitol began were 'stay peaceful and no violence, because we are the party of law and order.'”

This is false: the president’s first tweet during the riot outside the Capitol was a video of the morning’s rally.

His second, and first after the Capitol was actually breached, was a post angrily blaming Pence for the ongoing certification.

It was more than a half hour after mobs invaded the Capitol when Trump actually wrote "stay peaceful"; an hour into the riot, Trump wrote "no violence!" 

Trump defense plays heavily edited clip of Democrats saying 'fight'

543d ago / 6:01 PM UTC

As the defense entered the meat of its argument on Friday, the former president's attorneys began playing a selectively edited video of Democrats calling on supporters to "fight" for their objectives after accusing the House managers of selectively editing Trump's words.

The clip, which went on for minutes, featured prominent Democrats talking about the need to "fight" for various policy objectives or against other efforts.

The attorneys highlighted the comments as a defense for the president's heavily scrutinized words from the rally ahead of the Capitol riot, in which he told supporters to "fight like hell."

Schoen begins his defense with some questionable claims

543d ago / 5:59 PM UTC

The former president's defense team began their presentation by accusing the House managers of taking the president out of context and misrepresenting his words, claiming there was "significant reason to doubt the evidence the House managers have put before us."

Attorney David Schoen accused the House managers of having "manipulated evidence and selectively" editing footage, though the president's defense team proceeded to play a number of selectively edited clips of past comments from Democrats.

Schoen also accused the managers of creating a false representation of the president's tweets and lamented that the president's team did not have the chance to review the evidence ahead of time, saying it amounted to a lack of due process afforded to the defense.

In one example, he said Democrats misrepresented a tweet promoted by the president in which Schoen claimed the user, an organizer of the Jan. 6 rally ahead of the Capitol riot, referenced the "calvary" — a representation of the crucifixion of Jesus — and was not simply misspelling "cavalry," which was how the managers interpreted the tweet.

"The calvary is coming, Mr. President," Kylie Jane Kremer wrote.

Schoen tries to argue Dems omitted key lines from 'very fine people on both sides' clip

543d ago / 5:58 PM UTC

Trump lawyer David Schoen tried to make the case that Democrats selectively edited previous remarks made by the former president in their presentation. 

Schoen argued that the clip Democrats played of Trump's infamous "very fine people on both sides" comment in Charlottesville omitted key lines. 

"The Charlottesville lie — very fine people on both sides — except that isn't all he said, and they knew it then, and they know it now," he said. 

He then played a longer clip of Trump when he made the remark during a press conference after Charlottesville. 

"You also had people that were very fine people on both sides. You have people in that group — excuse me, excuse me, I saw the same pictures as you did — you had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of, to them, a very very important statue, and the renaming of a park from Robert E Lee to another name," Trump said at the time. 

Trump went on to say that the Neo-Nazis and white nationalists "should be condemned," but then said suggested the people protesting those groups were just as violent. 

"You had some fine people, but you also had troublemakers, and you see them come with the, with the black outfits and with the helmets and with the baseball bats," Trump said. 

 

Fact check: Did Antifa infiltrate the protests?

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543d ago / 5:57 PM UTC

Trump attorney van der Veen also suggested Antifa was involved in infiltrating Trump supporters in a protest.

“One of the first people arrested was a member of Antifa,” van der Veen said, noting he was "sadly" released early.

In the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, Trump allies quickly began claiming anti-fascist activists had infiltrated the gathered Trump supporters. But there’s no evidence of any widespread Antifa involvement and none of the criminal complaints filed so far accuse anyone of being involved with Antifa.

This appeared to be a reference to a Utah man, John Sullivan, who was arrested on Jan. 13. But there’s nothing to indicate that he’s a follower of Antifa and he’s been denounced by some liberal groups who describe him as a non-ideological rabble-rouser.

 

 

Fact check: Van der Veen incorrectly describes clearing of Lafayette Square

543d ago / 5:37 PM UTC

Fact check: What Trump's attorney says he said, and what he actually said

543d ago / 5:36 PM UTC

Trump attorney Michael van der Veen claimed on Friday that the president was not in fact trying to derail the certification of the 2020 election results on Jan. 6.

“The entire premise of his remarks was that the democratic process would and should play out according to the letter of the law, including both the Constitution and the Electoral Count Act,” van der Veen said.

But here’s what Trump actually said in his Jan. 6 speech:

“All of us here today do not want to see our election victory stolen by emboldening radical left Democrats which is what they're doing and stolen by the fake news media," Trump said.

He continued: “Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore, and that's what this is all about. And to use a favorite term that all of you people really came up with, we will stop the steal.”

Later, Trump told gathered attendees that he would march on the Capitol with them, where he said it was "up to Congress to confront this egregious assault on our democracy."

Van der Veen went on to claim that Trump was simply advocating for future voting restrictions. 

Here’s what Trump said, at the very end of his address: “In addition to challenging the certification of the election, I'm calling on Congress and the state legislatures to quickly pass sweeping election reforms, and you better do it before we have no country left."

 

Analysis: What Hillary Clinton didn’t do

543d ago / 5:32 PM UTC

Trump lawyer Michael van der Veen argued that Trump just did what Democrats did when Hillary Clinton lost: challenge the results, seek recounts and push to reject the certification of electors.

What Hillary Clinton did not do is rally her supporters in Washington, ask them to go to the Capitol, tell them to “stop the steal” and praise them after they stormed the Capitol and looked to kill or otherwise harm elected officials. The reason that she didn’t offer that encouragement is twofold. First, she, at every turn, starting from her concession speech the day after the 2016 election — Trump never gave one — made a point of embracing the rule of law. Second, her supporters didn’t storm the Capitol or threaten elected officials during a riot at the Capitol.

“I still believe in America and I always will. And if you do, then we must accept this result and then look to the future. Donald Trump is going to be our president,” she said on Nov. 9, 2016. “Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power and we don’t just respect that — we cherish it."

The whole point of the managers' arguments this week was to demonstrate the difference between legal political discourse and a president inciting his supporters to attack Congress and his vice president.

Lawyer Michael van der Veen argues Trump did not incite violence on Jan. 6

543d ago / 5:25 PM UTC

Trump defense lawyer Michael van der Veen began his team's opening arguments declaring that Trump's Jan. 6 speech on the White House ellipse was not an incitement to violence. 

"No thinking person could seriously believe that the president's January 6 speech on the ellipse was in any way an incitement to violence or insurrection. This suggestion is patently absurd on its face," he told senators. 

Van der Veen said that Trump instead encouraged his supporters at his rally "to exercise their rights peacefully and patriotically." He said that the president laid out a series of legislative steps that should be taken such as passing voter ID legislation, banning ballot harvesting and requiring proof of citizenship and "turning out strong in the next primaries."

"These are not the words of someone inciting a violent insurrection," the lawyer said. "His entire challenge to the election results was squarely focused on how the proper civic process could address any concerns to the established legal and constitutional system."

House managers have argued that Trump clearly incited the attack on the Capitol when he told his supporters that they needed to "fight" back.

The trial resumes

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543d ago / 5:08 PM UTC

The Senate impeachment trial got underway just after noon on Friday with the former president's legal team beginning its defense presentation.

Michael van der Veen began the arguments for the defense. They have up to 16 hours to speak, but the defense team said they only expected to speak for three to four hours.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said there will be short breaks about every two hours and a longer dinner break at around 5pm.

543d ago / 4:58 PM UTC

Shattered glass from doors of Capitol's East Front to be 'preserved'

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543d ago / 4:49 PM UTC

Laura Condeluci, a spokeswoman for the Architect of the Capitol, says the shattered windows in the East Front doors, which were repaired Thursday, would be saved.

“The broken panes of glass removed today from the historic Columbus Doors at the east entrance of the Rotunda were preserved," Condeluci said Thursday in response to a question from NBC News. "The broken panes were replaced with new glass.”

Asked what they will do with the glass, she said, “Moving forward, we are looking at options to display a collection from January 6.”

Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Mo., told NBC News that he and Rep. Andy Kim, D-N.J., are drafting a letter today to “encourage that it be enshrined in a display next to the door from which it came.” 

Phillips said he has notified House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of his letter, and she “seems very amenable.”

In addition to preservation, they ask that the panels be “prominently displayed for future generations to bear witness to the events of that day and the fragility of our democracy.”

In their letter, the congressmen list a number of other examples of “impressions of our history” that can be found around the Capitol including a bullet hole from the 1954 attack by Puerto Rican nationalists. 

“We believe these items must be preserved as a symbol to those who remain, and to educate future Americans about the fragility of our union and the preciousness of our democracy." the wrote in their letter. 

Sen. Whitehouse rejects rhetorical equivalence argument

543d ago / 4:35 PM UTC

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said Friday that he rejects the idea that there's no difference between Trump's rhetoric preceding the Jan. 6 attack and the comments of Democratic leaders last year after the death of George Floyd. 

Asked about his response to the defense's expected equivalency argument in an interview with CNN, Whitehouse said, "It's false and the obvious differentiation is the events of January 6. We actually had a mob that was, in fact, incited and that came up to the Capitol and that looted and ransacked the place with the intention of disrupting the constitutional process of transfer of power, and did so at the behest of and at the direction of Donald Trump."

"It's really impossible to compare that to anything else," Whitehouse continued. "There's a lot of, you know, political rhetoric out there. This was different and the prosecution showed it."

Whitehouse said the Trump defense team is "trying to hang on for dear life" and that "they can still blow this."

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

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543d ago / 4:15 PM UTC

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

543d ago / 4:00 PM UTC

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."

543d ago / 3:45 PM UTC

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

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543d ago / 3:29 PM UTC

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

543d ago / 3:12 PM UTC

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

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544d ago / 2:36 PM UTC

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.

544d ago / 2:13 PM UTC

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

544d ago / 1:48 PM UTC

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."

544d ago / 12:56 PM UTC

House manager rejects idea that Trump was not given due process

544d ago / 12:26 PM UTC

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

544d ago / 11:57 AM UTC

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."

544d ago / 11:27 AM UTC

Rep. DeGette: 'Trump made it clear this was only the beginning'

544d ago / 11:22 AM UTC

Extremists were emboldened by last month's riot to plot more violence and former President Trump must be held accountable, Rep. DeGette said Thursday.

"President Trump made it clear this was only the beginning," she said.

DeGette focused on a Jan. 7 statement by Trump when the then-president seemed to stop short of completely disavowing violence a day earlier while telling supporters, "our incredible journey is only just beginning." 

"And he was right. Unless we take action, the violence is only just beginning," DeGette said. "Violence is never patriotic and it's never American. It's not the Democratic way and it's not the Republican way."

Raskin plays clips of Trump endorsing violence before Jan. 6

544d ago / 11:21 AM UTC

Raskin argued Thursday that Jan. 6 was a "culmination of the president's actions, not an aberration from them."

"His encouragement of violence against other public officials who he thought had crossed him long predates the 2020 campaign," Raskin said. 

Raskin said that white supremacist and extremist groups "have spread like wildfire" across the country under Trump, and he played a number of video clips showing Trump encouraging or praising violence. 

At an October 2015 rally in Miami, Trump told his supporters to "knock the crap out of" a protester who was in the audience. 

"I promise you I will pay for the legal fees," Trump said on stage. 

Trump was also seen at a March 2016 press conference describing an incident that took place at one of his campaign rallies. He said that someone in the audience began swinging at his supporters. 

"He was hitting people and the audience hit back," Trump said at the time, adding that the audience's reaction was "very, very appropriate."

Another video clip showed the incident in which Greg Gianforte, while running for Congress, body-slammed a reporter at a campaign event and broke the reporter's glasses. Trump later joked about the incident at a campaign rally, saying, "Greg is smart — never wrestle him."

Raskin also played video of Neo-Nazis chanting in Charlottesville, "Jews will not replace us!" and repeating that there were "very fine people on both sides." 

'Damage' control: Key takeaways from Day 3

544d ago / 11:14 AM UTC

House managers rested their case against former President Donald Trump on Thursday by focusing on the damage his supporters caused at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and the harm that could come if he isn't held accountable, while many Republican senators — and even one of Trump's attorneys — seemed to tune the proceedings out.

Impeachment managers rested their case on the third day of Trump's trial. Trump's attorneys will offer his defense Friday.

Here are key takeaways from Day Three.

544d ago / 11:11 AM UTC