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Trump's impeachment defense team rests, arguing his words before riot were 'ordinary political rhetoric'

A final vote on whether to convict the ex-president for inciting the Capitol riot could happen on Saturday.

The Senate adjourned Friday evening after lawyers for Donald Trump’s defense rested their case in the former president's second impeachment trial.

Trump's lawyers used under three hours of their allotted time for arguments to echo their client in calling the impeachment case built by Democratic House managers an act of "political vengeance" and alleged that Trump's speech preceding the Capitol riot was merely "ordinary political rhetoric."

The defense lawyers said that Trump's words at the Jan. 6 "Stop the Steal" rally that preceded the violent storming of the Capitol was protected free speech and that convicting him for it would amount to "canceling" him and his supporters.

"This trial is about far more than President Trump. It is about silencing and banning the speech the majority does not agree with," said Bruce Castor, one of Trump's lawyers. "It is about canceling 75 million Trump voters and criminalizing political viewpoints. It's the only existential issue before us. It asks for constitutional cancel culture to take over in the United States Senate."

Once Trump's defense concluded, senators were able to pose written questions to representatives of both sides.

The defense needs only to prevent 17 or more Republican senators from voting to convict. And so far, most GOP senators still appear ready to acquit Trump. "President’s lawyers blew the House Manager’s case out of the water," Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., said on Twitter.

But several Republican senators seen as swing voters in the trial — including Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana — asked tough questions of Trump's lawyers, suggesting they were not entirely convinced.

The former president's attorneys focused mainly on process and lawyerly arguments about the Senate trial and the prosecution's case, as well as political arguments equating common Democratic rhetoric with Trump's rally speech.

They did not address some of the prosecution's core arguments, such as offering a complete explanation of Trump's actions during the violence at the Capitol and a defense of why he didn't do more to stop it once it was underway.

They refused to answer questions seeking details about when Trump learned of the Capitol breach and what he Trump did to stop it, saying they didn't know the actions of their own clients because Democrats had rushed the process.

"That's the problem with this entire proceeding," said Michael Van der Veen, one of Trump's lawyers. "The House managers did zero investigation and the American people deserve a lot better."

They said Trump was not aware former Vice President Mike Pence was in danger when he sent a tweet while the riot was underway that said Pence "didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution."

But Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., a staunch Trump ally, has repeatedly told reporters he had told Trump that Pence had just been evacuated from the Senate chamber.

Van der Veen seemed to grow increasingly frustrated with senators' questions, refusing to say whether Trump lost the presidential election — "my judgment is irrelevant" — and declaring the trial "about the most miserable experience I've had down here in Washington, D.C."

Senators, who rarely sit at their desks for long periods of time during the Senate's regular business, mostly sat in silence and watched during the day's proceedings, acting as the rough equivalent of jurors in the trial. Some took notes or whispered with colleagues, filing in and out at various moments. Others looked tired after days of marathon testimony.

Cassidy, who surprised many by siding with Democrats on a procedural vote earlier this week, was seen at one point pacing back and forth in the back of the chamber with his hand on his forehead.

Earlier in the day, Trump's lawyers argued that Trump could not have incited an assault on the Capitol because it had been preplanned by extremists.

"You can't incite what was already going to happen," Van der Veen said. They attempted to equate the influence that Democrats argued Trump has with right-wing extremist groups to the support by some Democrats for largely peaceful racial justice protesters over the summer.

Van der Veen said this was not an exercise in "whatabout-ism," but rather, that he was making the case that "all political speech should be protected."

And van der Veen said that extremists "of various different persuasions" had "hijacked" the Jan. 6 protest "for their own purposes," including members of Antifa. Multiple news outlets, including NBC News, have said there is no evidence that any members of Antifa were involved in the riots. On the contrary, as Democratic House managers said during their arguments, rioters were overwhelmingly tied to right-wing extremist groups like the Proud Boys.

Trump's lawyers also repeatedly argued Trump was merely encouraging supporters to make sure their lawmakers were faithfully conducting a proper certification of the Electoral College vote count.

"Far from promoting insurrection," Van der Veen said, "the president’s remarks...explicitly encouraged those in attendance [at the rally] to exercise their rights peacefully and patriotically."

Echoing language that was once frequently used by Trump, he blasted Democrats' impeachment case against as an "unjust and blatantly unconstitutional act of political vengeance" and a "politically motivated witch hunt."

The defense played a dizzying and lengthy video montage of various Democrats using the word "fight," arguing that no one had ever construed those words as literal encouragement to physically fight.

Some Democrats murmurs, whispered, and laughed as the video wore on.

Trump's lawyers also said the impeachment fell short of the high legal standards expected in a criminal case. But the impeachment managers reminded senators that this is not a criminal case nor a court of law, since impeachment is a political process, not a legal one.

"They're already treating their client like he's a criminal defendant," said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., Democrats' lead impeachment manger. "Rather than yelling at us and screaming about, 'we didn't have time to get all of the facts about what your client did,' bring your client up here and have him testify under oath."

Raskin said the defense was asking senators not to believe their own experiences on Jan. 6, which every senator witnessed first-hand, and to set aside everything they know about Trump from his years in public life.

"Get real. We know that this is what happened," Raskin said. "How gullible do you think we are?"

Friday's session concluded with something on which both sides could agree: praise for Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman, whose actions during the riot have been widely praised.

The entire Senate rose for a standing ovation as it was announced that he would receive the Congressional Gold Medal, the body's top honor.

Goodman was stoic as he stood in the back of the chamber, but joined in the applause for other officers and was then surrounded by appreciative senators, who exchanged fist and elbow bumps with the man who has now been promoted to acting Deputy Sergeant at Arms.

He was swarmed by appreciative senators as they left, exchanging fist bumps and elbow bumps. He exchanged salutes with Sen. Duckworth and Ernst (and Ernst also gave him a hug.)

The trial will resume at 10 a.m. Saturday, beginning with closing arguments from both sides. The final vote on conviction is likely to happen later in the day.

Late Friday, after details of Trump's fiery call with House Leader Kevin McCarthy while the riot was still unfolding emerged, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D, R.I., said on Twitter that the trial should be suspended in order to depose witnesses.

Trump's defense came one day after Democratic House impeachment managers rested their case against Trump by focusing on the damage his supporters caused at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and warning that he could incite further violence if he is not convicted.

That marked the end of two days of methodical and at times emotionally wrenching arguments from Democrats that included the showing of graphic and devastating never-before-seen footage from inside the Capitol during the riot.

It would take 67 senators — including at least 17 Republicans — to convict Trump.

Already this week, 44 of the 50 Republicans in the Senate have voted to declare the entire proceedings unconstitutional because Trump is no longer president, making it unlikely that any evidence would persuade them.

Trump is the first president to have been impeached twice by the House, and he is the first former president to be put on trial in the Senate. He was impeached Jan. 13 on an article charging him with "incitement of insurrection" for his role in the riot.