WASHINGTON — Donald Trump’s lawyers could not or would not say Friday when the former president learned that a violent mob of his supporters had broken into the US Capitol — or what he did about it and when.
Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, who are viewed as potential votes to convict Trump, asked his lawyers during Friday’s impeachment trial for details about his response to the insurrection. “Exactly when did President Trump learn of the breach of the Capitol and what specific actions did he take to bring the rioting to an end and when did he take them? Please be as detailed as possible,” they asked in a written question read by Senate staff.
In response, Trump’s lawyers said they didn’t know. Instead, they confusingly blamed House Democrats, saying the impeachment managers had not presented evidence of when their client found out that insurrection was underway or what he did about it.
“We have a [Trump] tweet at 2:38 so it was certainly sometime before then. With the rush to this impeachment, there’s been absolutely no investigation into that. And that’s the problem with this entire proceeding,” Trump’s lawyer Michael van der Veen said, reverting to their argument that the impeachment moved too quickly (no House committee did an investigation of the Capitol riots before impeaching Trump for a second time), but also that it moved too slowly (House Democrats didn’t send over the article of impeachment until after Trump left office).
Later, Collins and Sen. Mitt Romney asked both the House Democratic impeachment managers and Trump’s team whether Trump knew when he tweeted criticism of then–vice president Mike Pence in the midst of the insurrection that Pence had been in danger and the Secret Service had to evacuate him.
“The answer is no,” van der Veen said. “At no point was the president informed the vice president was in any danger. Because the House rushed through this impeachment in seven days with no evidence there is nothing at all in the record on this point.”
But Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville has also told reporters that he was on the phone with Trump when Pence was whisked away and that he told the Trump himself. Trump’s tweet at 2:24 p.m. came as news of the riots was dominating television coverage and multiple Trump supporters were recorded that afternoon chanting “Hang Mike Pence!” Others erected gallows.
Trump’s team went on to argue that whether Trump knew Pence was in danger was irrelevant anyway. “To be clear, this is an article of impeachment for incitement! This not an article of impeachment for anything else,” van der Veen said. “It’s one count, they could’ve charged anything they wanted. They chose to charge incitement. … So the question although answered directly: No. It’s not really relevant to the charges for the impeachment in this case.”
Democrats have repeatedly highlighted not only Trump’s words at a rally before the insurrection but also the fact that he did not respond publicly for hours to rioters breaking into the Capitol where his own vice president was overseeing the Electoral College count. The impeachment managers have also cited reporting at the time that Trump enjoyed watching the spectacle of the riots on television as the mob broke in and that he called Tuberville during the chaos to ask the senator to object to the election results.
Democrats also released new video as part of their case, which shows that rioters came shockingly close to Pence, Romney, and other lawmakers.
Trump’s lawyers repeatedly dodged questions on Friday about Trump’s conduct, saying that House Democrats had rushed the trial too quickly and not investigated. At one point, lead impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin responded, saying that Democrats had invited Trump himself to testify and clear up the record. “The counsel for the president keep blaming the House for not having the evidence that is in the sole possessions of their client,” he said.
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