Trump’s Impeachment Lawyers Try To Deconstruct the Link Between What He Said and What His Followers Did
The House members who are prosecuting Donald Trump on the charge that he incited last month’s Capitol riot opened their case yesterday with a dramatic video that intersperses scenes of the violence with the former president’s words that day. It clearly shows that Trump supporters inspired by his oft-repeated fantasy of a stolen presidential election broke down security barriers, attacked police officers, smashed windows and doors, stormed the building, and forced the members of Congress who were about to ratify Joe Biden’s victory to run for their lives instead.
Since the Senate voted yesterday to proceed with the impeachment trial, rejecting the argument that it has no authority to try a former president, the task for Trump’s lawyers is to deconstruct the connection between what he said and what his followers did. Judging from their trial memorandum, they will attempt to do that by arguing that Trump never advocated violence, that some of his supporters planned to attack the Capitol even before his inflammatory pre-riot speech, and that he cannot reasonably be held responsible for the behavior of individuals who interpreted his demand that they “fight like hell” to “stop the steal” in a more literal way than he intended.
That strategy would make sense if Trump faced a criminal charge of incitement to riot or a lawsuit seeking compensation for the deaths, injuries, and property damage caused by the attack. But it fundamentally misconstrues the basis of his impeachment, which alleges that he abused his power, violated his oath to uphold the Constitution, neglected his duties as president, and undermined democracy by using extralegal means to overturn the election results. To defend against those charges, it is not enough to argue that Trump could not be held accountable for the riot in a criminal case or civil lawsuit.
“The Federal Bureau of Investigation has confirmed that the breach at the Capitol was planned several days in advance of the rally, and therefore had nothing to do with the President’s speech on January 6th at the Ellipse,” Trump’s lawyers say. The fact that some of Trump’s supporters talked about attacking the Capitol before they arrived in Washington, of course, does not mean that none of the rioters were moved by his fiery rhetoric that day. More to the point, Trump had been persistently promoting his delusion that he actually won the election by a landslide for months, and the protesters came to D.C. at his behest to stop Biden from taking office. He invented the grievance that motivated the rioters, including those who planned ahead as well as those who acted in the heat of the moment.
As Trump urged his followers to “walk down to the Capitol,” the House managers’ video shows, Trump supporters reacted with cries of “Take the Capitol!” While Trump was still speaking, a group of his supporters peeled away from the crowd to begin the march. When they arrived at the Capitol, they started dismantling the security barriers around it, brawling with police officers, and heading up the steps.
Quoting from a Gateway Pundit post, Trump’s lawyers note that it takes about half an hour to walk the 1.6 miles between Ellipse Park, the site of the “Save America” rally, and the Capitol. Trump began spe
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