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

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'

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

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

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?

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

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

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

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

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

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.