Trump lawyers indignant in brief on eve of impeachment trial

Legal team accuses Democrats of having ‘Trump Derangement Syndrome’

House Clerk Cheryl Johnson and acting House Sergeant at Arms Tim Blodgett, followed by the House Impeachment managers, walk through the Capitol Rotunda as they walk the articles of impeachment against former President Donald Trump from the House to the Senate floor in Washington on Jan. 25.  (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
House Clerk Cheryl Johnson and acting House Sergeant at Arms Tim Blodgett, followed by the House Impeachment managers, walk through the Capitol Rotunda as they walk the articles of impeachment against former President Donald Trump from the House to the Senate floor in Washington on Jan. 25. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted February 8, 2021 at 1:19pm

Former President Donald Trump’s impeachment defense team strung together harsh descriptions of House Democrats in a brief filed Monday, setting a politically combative tone for a Senate trial set to start Tuesday on a charge that he incited the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

House Democrats have a “fevered hatred for Citizen Trump” that is “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” the brief states.

Trump’s lawyers also argue that Democrats ignored the Constitution, defectively drafted the impeachment charge, debased their power, committed political opportunism, wielded “intellectual dishonesty and factual vacuity,” are “selfish” to “prey upon the feelings of horror and confusion” on Jan. 6 of all Americans “for their own political gain,” glorified the violence, and have shown a “compulsion to obfuscate the truth.”

That’s in just the first five paragraphs of a 78-page defense brief that has Trump’s arguments against impeachment — that the Senate has no jurisdiction to convict a former president, that the article of impeachment violates Trump’s free speech rights and that the allegations in it are false, among them — peppered with sharp words for his political opponents.

The brief gives the fullest look yet at Trump’s planned defense, which seeks to narrow the focus to just the words in Trump’s speech near the White House on Jan. 6, before a violent mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol in an insurrection at the moment Congress met to confirm Trump’s election loss.

The House impeachment managers in their brief last week took a wider look at Trump’s actions and words running up to that Jan. 6 speech, and argued that “it was obvious and entirely foreseeable that the furious crowd assembled before President Trump at the ‘Save America Rally’ on January 6 was primed (and prepared) for violence if he lit a spark.”

Content ‘cherry-picked’

In response, Trump’s brief calls out what it dubs the “sheer deceptiveness” of House Democrats who “played shamefully fast and loose with the truth as they cherry-picked its content” to back the impeachment charge.

Trump’s legal team repeats the former president’s line that he told the crowd to “peacefully and patriotically” use their voices — and puts that phrase in bold at least three times. Trump’s team calls the House managers’ claim of incitement “simply absurd” because the words in Trump’s speech “speak for themselves.”

“President Trump did not direct anyone to commit lawless actions, and the claim that he could be responsible if a small group of criminals (who had come to the capital of their own accord armed and ready for a fight) completely misunderstood him, were so enamored with him and inspired by his words that they left his speech early, and then walked a mile and a half away to ‘imminently’ do the opposite of what he had just asked for, is simply absurd,” the brief states.

And the brief also argues that the FBI has said the violence was planned days ahead of the attack and had nothing to do with Trump’s speech Jan. 6 — and that Democrats have also said that the attack was preplanned and accused some fellow House members of coordinating and planning the attack with co-conspirators.

“The problem with that claim of course is that while the House Managers are clearly eager to make the most of this tragedy for their own purely personal political gain, House Leadership simply cannot have it both ways,” the brief states. “Either the President incited the riots, like the Article claims, or the riots were pre-planned by a small group of criminals who deserve punishment to the fullest extent of the law.”

Trump’s defense team also sticks closely to the text of the Jan. 6 speech in a 28-page section that argues a conviction would trample on the former president’s free speech rights under the First Amendment.

‘At the mercy of the unhinged’

The brief states that a conviction based on what the crowd did later, and not on the words Trump used, would mean Trump and other political speakers “would be put at the mercy of the unhinged reactions of their most unreasonable audience members.”

“That is exactly what happened on January 6th, but the Senate, composed of reasonable and erudite members, can take a few minutes and read the speech themselves,” the brief states.

Last week, the House impeachment managers, in their brief, wrote that they will argue that “President Trump’s responsibility for the events of January 6 is unmistakable” in part because for weeks he improperly pressured state officials, the Justice Department and members of Congress to overturn the electoral outcome and “sharply escalated his public statements” with more incendiary and violent language.

They highlighted how Trump “insisted that the election had been ‘rigged’ and ‘stolen,’ and that his followers had to ‘fight like hell’ and ‘fight to the death’ against this ‘act of war,’ since they ‘can’t let it happen’ and ‘won’t take it anymore!’”

Trump’s brief also takes issue with House Democrats leaning on the word “fight” in Trump’s speech, and calls out comments from Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Rep. Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts related to civil unrest in cities nationwide in the summer of 2020.

“Accountability does matter, according to the House Managers, unless you are a Democrat,” Trump’s brief states.

And in a section detailing an argument about the House’s rush to impeach, Trump’s brief points to “a crocodile-tear-stained letter,” from Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, “herself no stranger to extremist rhetoric,” in which she urged immediate action against Trump because the country, democracy and national security were in danger.

“Of course, President Trump’s term came to an end without the apocalyptic predictions of the all-seeing Rep. Omar coming to pass,” the brief states.

House responds

The House managers filed a response Monday to similar arguments Trump’s legal team made last week, writing that to call some of Trump’s responses to the impeachment charge “implausible would be an act of charity.”

On the free speech claim, the House said that’s not what the impeachment is about and his reliance on that argument is “utterly baseless.”

“The House did not impeach President Trump because he expressed an unpopular political opinion,” the House response states. “It impeached him because he willfully incited violent insurrection against the government.”

And they wrote that Trump took numerous steps on Jan. 6 that further incited the insurgents to escalate their violence and siege of the Capitol, such as a “tweet attacking the Vice President while insurrectionists sought to assassinate him.”

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