It was a disgrace, like the man it failed to defend.
It was a political screed, fit for One America News, and certainly welcomed by the audience of one in Palm Beach. The impeachment article “slanderously” attacked Trump. The impeachment was another “politically motivated witch hunt” that “divides our nation,” stands in the way of “unity and healing,” “cool temperatures” and “calm passions,” and renders the nation unable to “rise above partisan lines.”
This from the lawyers whose client has to this day never conceded an election he lost by 7,060,115 votes, and who mendaciously claimed on Jan. 6 that his “election victory” had been “stolen by emboldened radical left Democrats.”
The “defense,” such as it was, rested on a single principal factual assertion: that Trump had spoken, exactly once, of “peaceful and patriotic protest” — during an 11,000-word speech. Never mind the rest of the speech. Never mind the weeks of “Stop the Steal” incitement that preceded it. Never mind Trump’s summoning his followers to the capital for a “wild” time on Jan. 6. Never mind the years-long record of Trump’s incendiary rhetoric.
There were falsehoods, befitting the client they represented. What happened on Jan. 6 actually wasn’t an insurrection, said one Trump lawyer who apparently lacks a dictionary, which defines the word as “an act or instance of revolting against civil authority or an established government.”
False equivalences? There were almost too many to count. Others have used over-the-top rhetoric in the past, trumpeted Trump’s lawyers, who played the goods on tape: not just Democratic politicians, but — here’s a killer argument for you — Madonna and Johnny Depp. Democrats, including lead House manager Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), objected to the counting of some electoral votes in 2016! Some Democrats brought lawsuits! Never mind that Hillary Clinton conceded the morning after the election, wasn’t president and didn’t sic a mob on Capitol Hill.
The same whataboutist clips were played, over and over again, to the point of tedium and farce. They might as well have been Sean Hannity mixtapes, as Jake Tapper aptly put it on CNN. Black Lives Matter protests! Antifa! The president’s lawyers decried the managers’ supposedly misleading video-editing; then they spliced individual words together, dozens upon dozens, all out of context. You see, Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Vice President Harris, sometimes use the word “fight”! A lot, it turns out. Just like Trump! Maybe I missed something, but were any of those Democrats speaking to a throng that then attacked Congress to overturn a free and fair vote?
To any thinking person, the Trump lawyers didn’t make a dent in the managers’ case. And they couldn’t. Because the managers presented three overwhelming cases in one. The first is the pre-Jan. 6 case: How Trump relentlessly peddled the Big Lie: that he won the election, by a lot. How he tried to pressure election officials to manufacture votes for him. Those, by themselves, could have sufficed as impeachable offenses, given the president’s sworn duty to uphold the law and the Constitution.
The second is Trump’s Jan. 6 speech. Viewed in the context of all that preceded and surrounded it, this likewise warrants conviction beyond any doubt.
The third, equally damning, is Trump’s dereliction of duty later that day. Instead of vigorously condemning the violence the way he condemned the supposed “steal,” Trump enjoyed the televised spectacle, trashed his vice president, issued half-hearted tweets, expressed “love” for the insurrectionists, and exclaimed, “Remember this day forever!”
And as to each of these offenses, Trump’s lawyers ignored the law. Yes, it’s the Constitution that applies here, but not the First Amendment, as they repeatedly asserted. It’s the president’s constitutional duty under Article II, which first and foremost is to sustain democracy, not destroy it. As Raskin put it on Thursday, “What is impeachable conduct, if not this?”
The Trump lawyers offered no answer, because there is none.