We’re at the question-and-answer portion of the trial already because Trump’s defense took just three of the 16 hours it was allotted to present its case. And that “case” consisted mostly of showing video clips of Democratic politicians using the word “fight,” as if that’s morally comparable to a sitting president spending two months brainwashing his supporters into believing that the election had been stolen and they needed to unsteal it for him. “There is broad agreement among Republicans and Trump’s team to end the impeachment trial as early as possible, given the beating they’re taking from the media and the strength of the Democrats’ presentation,” Axios reported this morning.
If you know you’re going to win, why drag out the defense?
Anyway. The most notable question asked so far as of 4:30 ET was from the centrists, Collins and Murkowski, both of whom are likely to vote to convict. They noticed a major flaw in the Democrats’ presentation: For all the emotional video of the attack itself and the endless “stop the steal” rhetoric from Trump that preceded it, there was scarcely anything on what the president did once he was back at the White House after the riot had begun. News reports since January 6 have cited sources saying he was disengaged from what was happening initially and took no action to stop it. Infamously, his first substantive tweet after the Capitol was besieged was a complaint about Mike Pence, who was under threat at that moment and whom Trump may have known was under threat when he sent it. What was Trump up to while senators were running for their lives, Collins and Murkowski asked the ex-president’s defense team?
And you know what? Their response was a fair one.
Question: "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."
The Trump defense team response: pic.twitter.com/Fs4tTPgMmL
— NBC News (@NBCNews) February 12, 2021
Reporters are attacking Trump’s lawyers for not having an answer to that but it’s not the defense’s job to prove the prosecution’s case. Nor is it the duty of Trump’s lawyers to volunteer incriminating evidence about him. If Democrats had taken this trial seriously by launching a proper investigation and calling witnesses, they could provide Collins and Murkowski with an answer. But they’re not taking it seriously:
Initial interest by House impeachment managers in seeking live testimony for the trial quickly foundered, though they have yet to rule out the possibility entirely, according to people familiar with their deliberations, who like others in this report spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly describe private discussions. Trump rejected a request to testify himself, and calling administration officials — or even nonpolitical White House staff — could spark messy legal battles that could add weeks to the trial.
Many Democrats have concluded that calling witnesses to the violence itself — such as law enforcement officers who battled the mob at the Capitol — could extend the trial indefinitely with little hope changing the outcome, given that 44 of 50 Republican senators voted Tuesday to question the constitutionality of the trial. At least 17 would have to join the 50 Democratic senators to convict Trump and set a potential vote on barring him from future office.
Biden signaled his own desire to move past the trial on Thursday, telling reporters in the Oval Office that he was paying more attention to pursuing his policy agenda.
Dems think they’ve already proved their case against Trump even without witnesses, and that may be true when you remember that they’re aiming to convince the public of Trump’s guilt, not the Senate. But their interest in wrapping up the trial ASAP and getting back to business for Biden means that Trump’s actions after the riot began will remain a mystery apart from the anonymously sourced news reporting about it. If they want to do this thoroughly and really turn up the heat on Republicans about how indifferent Trump was to what they and Mike Pence were going through at the Capitol, they should subpoena his aides. Or subpoena Pence himself to testify whether he was in touch with Trump that day and whether he had any information about whether the president was directing any effort to rescue members of Congress.
Another question was asked at this afternoon’s session about what Trump was up to after the riot began. Mitt Romney wanted to know whether the president knew that Mike Pence was in danger when he sent this tweet at 2:24 p.m.:
Here’s the full Q&A but the key part comes at 4:25 when Trump’s lawyer says, “The answer is no. At no point was the president informed that the vice president was in danger.” But that’s almost certainly false, as I explained in this post yesterday about Tommy Tuberville admitting that he told Trump while they were on the phone around 2:15 p.m. ET that Pence was being evacuated from the Senate chamber. The Secret Service may have informed Trump separately at around that time that they were moving Pence for his own safety, as that would obviously be a matter of urgent national security. One or more witnesses might be able to establish what Trump knew and whether he knew it before he nudged a rampaging mob to focus on Pence’s betrayal via his Twitter account, but Democrats don’t seem interested in it. So why should Trump’s lawyers do their work for them?
Question from @SenatorRomney: "When President Trump sent the disparaging tweet at 2:24pm regarding Vice President Pence, was he aware that the Vice President had been removed from the Senate by the Secret Service for his safety?"
Michael van der Veen: "The answer is no." pic.twitter.com/3eMubOOt3H
— CSPAN (@cspan) February 12, 2021