The attorneys for Donald Trump have sixteen hours to rebut House impeachment managers and present the former president’s defense. According to CNN, they might not even use half of that allocation. Their new plan involves wrapping up their presentations tomorrow night, the same day on which they begin, and handing the case off to the Senate jury to decide.
This new strategy probably results from two obvious truths. First, there are clearly not enough Senate Republicans to convict at the end of the House presentation. And second, the shorter that the Trump legal team talks, the better:
Former President Donald Trump’s defense team expects to finish its arguments in the Senate’s impeachment trial by Friday night, two sources tell CNN.
His lawyers will take the Senate floor on Friday after impeachment managers wrap up on Thursday, but they are not currently expected to use all of their allotted time. Each side gets 16 hours for presentations.
Attorneys David Schoen, Bruce Castor, Michael van der Veen and William Brennan are all expected to speak during Friday’s arguments, according to a person familiar with the latest plan. Using videos of Democratic lawmakers, they plan to argue that Democrats glorified violence by recreating the January 6 riot, will claim the trial is unconstitutional and stress Trump’s First Amendment rights.
The second and third parts of that strategy are well enough known. The first part seems like throwing water onto a grease fire, and it will be very difficult to stick the landing. If they plan to accuse House Democrats of “glorifying violence” for the impeachment itself, what violence resulted from the Democrats’ presentation? Have there been any riots during this trial, at least so far? That’s a bizarre defense, essentially arguing against evidentiary presentations at all.
Perhaps they’ll think better of that and just stick to the latter two arguments. Those appear to still be resonating amongst enough of the Senate Republican caucus to ensure an acquittal. In fact, Lindsey Graham tweeted out last night that the acquittal caucus is actually growing rather than shrinking, and repeated the tweet this morning while attaching his interview with Sean Hannity:
The 'Not Guilty' vote is growing after today.
I think most Republicans found the presentation by the House Managers offensive and absurd.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) February 11, 2021
“The ‘Not Guilty’ vote is growing after today,” Graham wrote in a Wednesday evening tweet. “I think most Republicans found the presentation by the House Managers offensive and absurd.”
“We all know what happened in the Capitol was terrible. I hope everybody involved that broke into the Capitol goes to jail,” the senator added in an appearance on Fox News’ Hannity. …
“The managers have got this cockamamie idea, an absurd theory that Donald Trump was monitoring the Proud Boys website and other far-right websites and he and [former White House Deputy Chief of Staff] Dan Scavino knew this was going to happen and they encouraged it. That is Looney Tunes,” Graham said.
Graham also said that Democrats’ beliefs that Trump incited the insurrection with his January 6 speech and that the insurrection was organized for weeks before it occurred were contradictory.
I … don’t think that contradicts the House Democrats’ case, although it does make for a good talking point. Their presentation has included Donald Trump’s tweets and remarks going back through the entire “stop the steal” campaign asking for escalating responses from voters to keep him in office. The January 6th speech contains those elements too, but their argument in the impeachment presentation is that Trump has worked up these rioters for weeks, which means that the organization that took place in that time is arguably the intended result of Trump’s rhetoric.
The political-speech argument is a better defense than the “pre-planned” rebuttal. If Trump’s legal team focuses on that point, they’re more likely to score some points, especially if they can find House and Senate Democrats who have used similar language in the past. That’s not to say that they will win any converts, but they will supply the acquitters with better rhetorical defenses of their votes than the straw-man argument over pre-planning.
But the strongest argument is still procedural, as CNN acknowledged a little earlier. Democrats have not convinced most Republicans that a trial for an officeholder whose term has naturally expired is a healthy precedent to set:
The comments are the latest indication of the high hurdles Democrats face in getting the 67 votes needed to convict Trump — with 17 Republicans needed to break ranks if all 50 Democrats vote to convict the former President and then bar him from ever serving in office again.
“It was reliving a horrible day, a horrible day. That’s not easy,” said Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican who is retiring at the end of next year. But asked if he’s more likely to convict, Portman said: “Well from the start I’ve said that I think this is about removal. And I think it’s a bad precedent, to be convicting former presidents, private citizens.”
The sentiment was echoed by most Senate Republicans. “I think you get at best six Republicans — probably five and maybe six,” GOP Sen. Tim Scott told CNN when asked if the video and footage changed his mind on convicting Trump. Asked if he considers himself an impartial juror, the South Carolina Republican said: “I think I’m as impartial as the other 99.”
That’s the best reason for Trump’s legal team to hew to brevity tomorrow. If you’re already ahead, there’s no need to extend the game.