Defence lawyers argued in Donald Trump's impeachment trial that the former president bore no responsibility for the deadly attack on the US Capitol while accusing Democrats of “hatred” and “hypocrisy.”

Michael van der Veen, an attorney for former President Donald Trump, answers a question from Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., during the second impeachment trial of former President Trump in the Senate at the US Capitol in Washington, February 12, 2021.
Michael van der Veen, an attorney for former President Donald Trump, answers a question from Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., during the second impeachment trial of former President Trump in the Senate at the US Capitol in Washington, February 12, 2021. (AP)

Donald Trump’s impeachment lawyers have accused Democrats of waging a campaign of “hatred” against the former president as they have sped through their defence of his actions and fiery words before the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol, hurtling the Senate toward a final vote in his historic trial.

Trump's lawyers say that the goal only underscores the “hatred” Democrats feel for Trump.

“Hatred is at the heart of the house managers’ fruitless attempts to blame Donald Trump for the criminal acts of the rioters – based on double hearsay statements of fringe right-wing groups, based on no real evidence other than rank speculation," van der Veen said.

'Political vengeance'

Defence lawyers also argued the impeachment trial was an act of "political vengeance" by Democrats.

The defence on Friday is expected to take three to four hours to argue that Trump was not responsible for inciting the January 6 riot, which sent lawmakers scrambling for safety and resulted in the deaths of five people, including a police officer.

Trump's lawyers have said his rhetoric was protected by the US Constitution's free speech guarantee and that prosecutors had not directly connected the actions of the rioters to Trump.

"The article of impeachment before the Senate is an unjust and blatantly unconstitutional act of political vengeance," Trump lawyer Michael van der Veen said in his opening argument, adding that it was a "politically motivated witch hunt" by Democrats.

They played dozens of clips showing Democrats, some of them senators now serving as jurors, using the same word to energise supporters in speeches railing against Trump.

“You didn't do anything wrong" in using the word, Trump attorney David Schoen told the senators. “But, please, stop the hypocrisy.”

The Trump defence team left out that what Trump was doing in telling his supporters to “fight like hell” was to undermine an election that the states and Congress declared was free and fair, basing his exhortations on false attacks on the integrity of voting systems.

Instead, they said, he was simply telling his supporters to press Congress for reforms to the election process – something he was entitled to do.

READ MORE: Impeachment trial: US Senate urged to bar Trump from holding office again

Letter of the law

Democratic prosecutors wrapped up their case on Thursday, arguing that Trump knew what would happen when he exhorted supporters on January 6 to march on the Capitol and "fight like hell" as Congress gathered to certify Democrat Joe Biden's victory in the November 3 election, and that the Republican former president should be held accountable.

Trump has falsely claimed that Biden's victory in November was the result of widespread fraud.

Van der Veen said the entire premise of Trump's remarks to his supporters was that the democratic process would and should play out according to the letter of the law. 

"These are not the words of someone inciting a violent insurrection," he said.

READ MORE: Democrats say Capitol attackers acted on Trump's 'orders'

Unlikely conviction

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives charged Trump on January 13 with inciting the insurrection, but Democrats are unlikely to get a conviction in the evenly divided Senate or to bar Trump from running for office again.

Conviction requires a two-thirds majority in the 100-member Senate, which means at least 17 Republicans would have to defy Trump despite his continued popularity among Republican voters.

"I'm anxious to see what my Republican friends do," Biden told reporters at the White House on Friday.

If Trump is acquitted, the Senate could decide to censure him or even vote to bar him from holding public office again. Asked on Thursday about pursuing the latter option, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that decision would have to wait until the end of the trial.

READ MORE: Trump's own words highlighted in impeachment trial day two

Impeachment voting

On Tuesday, the Senate voted largely along party lines that the impeachment trial was constitutional even though Trump's term ended on January 20. 

Six Republican senators sided with Democrats.

In their arguments, the Democratic prosecutors provided numerous examples of Trump's actions prior to the rampage to illustrate what he intended when he told his supporters to go to the Capitol on January 6.

READ MORE: Disturbing Capitol attack footage dominates Trump impeachment trial

Neither side has so far announced an intention to call witnesses, leaving senators on track for final arguments and a vote as soon as Saturday.

Trump is the first US president to be impeached twice and the first to face trial after leaving office. 

His first impeachment trial, which stemmed from his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden, ended in an acquittal a year ago in what was then a Republican-controlled Senate.

READ MORE: Trump will not testify in impeachment trial – adviser

Source: Reuters