Former president’s lawyers hit out at ‘political theatre’
Donald Trump’s tweets will be used as evidence against him at his impeachment trial as Democrats launched a slick made-for-television production to set out their case.
The former president’s social media posts – calling the election “rigged”, claiming he really won it, and vowing to “stop the steal” – will be spliced with footage of him speaking at rallies and scenes of chaos and violence engulfing the US Capitol building on January 6.
Democrat prosecutors will attempt to directly link the tweets on election fraud to the deadly mob attack on the seat of US democracy in Washington.
Last night, Mr Trump’s lawyers filed a 78-page response accusing Democrats of “political theatre”, calling his trial unconstitutional and saying that he was not responsible for the actions of a “small group of criminals”.
A Gallup poll showed a narrow majority of the American public – 52pc – believed Mr Trump should be convicted in the Senate trial, which was set to begin today and be over within the week.
However, Republican senators rallied around Mr Trump calling the trial unnecessary, and making clear it would end in an acquittal.
A two-thirds majority in the Senate would be needed to convict Mr Trump on a single charge of inciting insurrection. The Senate is currently split 50-50, meaning 17 Republicans would have to join the Democrats in order to convict – an unlikely outcome.
In addition to arguing he was not responsible for the riot, Mr Trump’s legal team is expected to focus on constitutional objections to the trial.
That would allow Republican senators to publicly condemn the former president’s actions while at the same time acquitting him.
In eve-of-trial arguments Mr Trump’s lawyers accused Democrat prosecutors of trying to “exploit” the situation to “silence a political opponent”.
They acknowledged that Mr Trump did tell supporters to “fight like hell” hours before violence erupted but they said that he had meant that in a “figurative sense”.
With the result of the trial in little doubt, the primary audience for Democrat prosecutors will not be the jury of 100 senators but the voting public.
They hope that their visually based case will resonate with television viewers and hopefully “horrify” Republican voters into turning their backs on Mr Trump should he try to re-enter politics in the future.
The video footage, put together by an outside production company, will be played on screens in the Senate chamber and broadcast on television.
Mr Trump’s lawyers also plan to use film footage in their presentation, showing Democrat politicians making incendiary speeches, along with images of mob violence in their areas of the country last summer.
There is a sense of urgency surrounding the proceedings among Democrats who want to hold the former president accountable and Republicans who want it over as fast as possible.
The nine House impeachment managers leading Mr Trump’s prosecution have made clear in an 80-page brief they will argue that his role in inspiring the crowd to action began long before the speech he gave that day.
They assert that the violence was virtually inevitable after Mr Trump spent months falsely claiming that the election had been stolen from him.
“He amplified these lies at every turn, seeking to convince supporters that they were victims of a massive electoral conspiracy that threatened the nation’s continued existence,” the House impeachment managers wrote.
After refusing to take the “honourable path” and admit defeat in the election, they wrote, Mr Trump “summoned a mob to Washington, exhorted them into a frenzy and aimed them like a loaded cannon down Pennsylvania Avenue.”
Evidence to bolster the Democratic case has emerged in federal criminal cases filed against more than 185 people in the aftermath of the insurrection.
Court documents show that more than two dozen people charged in the attack specifically cited Mr Trump and his calls to gather that day in describing on social media or in conversations with others why they decided to take action by coming to Washington. (© Telegraph)
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