Trump Lawyers Are More Energetic in Closing Arguments

Former President Donald Trump’s lawyer David Schoen concluded his presentation on Friday by playing a video clip from Bill Clinton’s 1998 impeachment: Democratic Representative Jerry Nadler dismissing the process as an illegitimate effort to “overturn” the will of the people.

When the clip ended, Schoen blew a chef’s kiss to the Senate gallery.

It was a telling moment as the president’s defense lawyers looked to put on a more energetic show on Friday following their widely panned presentation on the opening day of the trial. As they presented closing arguments, Schoen and the rest of Trump’s team offered a vigorous and often emotional defense of the former president’s conduct. They leaned heavily on video footage of Democrats repeatedly using what they called the same kind of incendiary language that House impeachment managers claim Trump used to incite the riot at the U.S. Capitol.

“They’re doing much better,” said Bruce Rogow, a former civil rights lawyer who represented Trump’s ally Roger Stone. “Hoisting the Democrats on the petard of their own words.“

During the first half of the three-hour closing arguments, Schoen and another Trump defense lawyer, Michael van der Veen, played a series of videos showing Democrats using the word “fight” repeatedly in a variety of appearances over a number of years. Van der Veen called it “hypocrisy.“

“All robust speech should be protected, and it should be protected evenly for all of us,” he said.

The sequence of clips prompted eye rolls from Democrats and liberal lawyers, who noted that the fiery comments by politicians like Vice President Kamala Harris and Senator. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts had not led to a mob invading the Capitol. “Some comic relief,” said Joel Hirschhorn, a longtime criminal defense lawyer in Florida.

But the multimedia presentation was a more engaging alternative to the long, meandering speech about the constitutionality of the trial that Bruce Castor, a former district attorney in Pennsylvania, gave on the first day. In a series of cringe-worthy remarks, Castor called the state of Nebraska “quite a judicial thinking place” and held forth on his memories of working in the Capitol four decades ago. “I got lost then and still do,” he said.

“I have no idea what he’s saying,” the Harvard law professor and Trump ally Alan Dershowitz said on Newsmax in response to Castor’s speech. “I have no idea why he’s saying what he’s saying.”

Over the rest of the week, the House impeachment managers unveiled a slickly produced presentation featuring chilling video footage of the siege. They meticulously highlighted Trump’s tweets and speeches, arguing that his campaign to stoke anger about the election inevitably culminated in the riot.

“They did it piece by piece -- organized, methodical, to the point, and without unnecessary histrionics,” Hirschhorn said. “I can tell when someone believes in their cause as opposed to someone who’s a deer in headlights.“

On Friday, Trump’s lawyers claimed that much of the Democrats’ footage was deceptively edited, arguing that Trump had also urged the rioters who descended on the Capitol to behave “peacefully and patriotically.” Making a return appearance, Castor gave a relatively short speech in which he claimed that the goal of the impeachment was simply to “eliminate a political opponent.”

But the crux of the defense team’s case rested on an argument about the First Amendment -- that the Supreme Court ruling in a Ku Klux Klan case from 1969 protects violent political rhetoric. In its landmark decision in Brandenburg v. Ohio, the Supreme Court ruled that the constitutional right to free speech protects inflammatory rhetoric unless it’s intended to incite “imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.”

But that claim ignored some of the key points made by House impeachment managers, said Jennifer Rodgers, a former federal prosecutor in New York. The Democrats argued that Trump should be held to a much higher standard than an ordinary person, given his responsibilities as president and the weight and power of his speech.

Trump’s lawyers “weren’t really wrestling with the core argument on the First Amendment side,” Rodgers said. “The Brandenburg stuff -- it’s not on point.”

Still, it was an improvement. “They’re on script,” Rodgers said. “They’re doing a pretty good job actually, given that they’re working with not very much material.”

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