Senate Acquits Donald Trump Amid Evidentiary Controversies in Impeachment

By Author: Neil Campbell
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Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) joins House impeachment managers at a press conference after the conclusion of former President Donald Trump's second impeachment trial

Closing arguments in Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial completed Saturday, Feb. 13. Attorneys for both the House and the former president were to be given two hours each to complete their presentations. However, the day opened with controversy, as the Senate convened ahead of schedule to hear a motion by Lead House Manager Jamie Raskin (D-MD) seeking to subpoena Rep. Jamie Herrera Beutler (R-WA) to depose the congresswoman via Zoom about her knowledge of an alleged conversation between House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and President Donald Trump during the Jan. 6 riots.

Trump’s attorney Michael van der Veen, who was the star of the defense’s opening Arguments, was irate because, according to him, the Defense and the House had agreed to a stipulation to not call any witnesses. 

Van der Veen said Democrats made the move as a last ditch effort to save their case, “But after what happened here in this chamber yesterday the House Managers realized they did not investigate this case before bringing the Impeachment. They did not give the proper consideration and work, they didn’t put the work in that was necessary to impeach the former President,” he said. 

Members of former President Donald Trump's defense team Bruce Castor and Michael van der Veen
Members of former President Donald Trump’s defense team Bruce Castor and Michael van der Veen arrive at the U.S. Capitol on February 13, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Image: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

He continued, “But, if they want to have witnesses, I’m going to need at least over 100 depositions. Not just one. The real issue is incitement. They put into their case over a hundred witnesses; people who have been charged with crimes by the federal government, and each one of those they said that Mr. Trump was a co-conspirator with.” 

“I have a right to defend that. The only thing that I ask if you vote for witnesses, do not handcuff me by limiting the number of witnesses that I can have.”

The Defense evoked laughter from the Senate when van der Veen said there are a lot of depositions that need to be taken, and they should not be done by Zoom, “None of these depositions should be done by Zoom. We didn’t do this hearing by Zoom. These depositions should be done in person in my office in Philadelphia.”

He said that’s the way it works in the American legal system: attorneys send a notice of deposition and the person to be deposed appears at the place where the notice says, “That’s civil process. I don’t know why you’re laughing. It is civil process. That is the way lawyers do it.”

The Senate voted 55-45 to allow witnesses to be subpoenaed before the chamber recessed. 

Further false evidence presented

However, when the Senate reconvened, lead Defense attorney Bruce Castor announced that President Trump would agree to allow Herrera Beutler’s statement to be read into evidence so long as it was consistent with what she said the day before, on Feb. 12, in an interview with CNN.

Screenshot of a story by CNN produced on Feb. 12, the previous day, containing hearsay from Rep. Jamie Herrera Beutler (R-WA) about an alleged conversation which took place between House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) the day of the riots.
Screenshot of a story by CNN produced on Feb. 12, the previous day, containing hearsay from Rep. Jamie Herrera Beutler (R-WA) about an alleged conversation which took place between House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) the day of the riots. The story was entered into the record in place of calling Herrera Beutler as a witness. (Source: NTD Livestream)

The event in question alleges that Donald Trump called Rep. McCarthy during the siege on the Capitol, claiming the anarcho-communist revolutionary group Antifa was behind the attacks. It is alleged that McCarthy retorted and blamed Trump for the attacks, in which Trump responded “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.”

The CNN article, which constitutes hearsay on the part of Herrera Beutler because it is not first hand information from Rep. McCarthy himself, reads: “‘You have to look at what he did during the insurrection to confirm where his mind was at,’ Herrera Beutler, one of 10 House Republicans who voted last month to impeach Trump, told CNN. ‘That line right there demonstrates to me that either he didn’t care, which is impeachable, because you cannot allow an attack on your soil, or he wanted it to happen and was OK with it, which makes me so angry.’”

During closing arguments, Michael van der Veen, who completed the entire portion for his team, said “The proponents of that conversation, the real ones, have denied its content, its veracity.” 

“What we did today was stipulate to an article that was published in a magazine…apparently they’ve had for weeks, according to the documents they produced today, but for some reason this morning popped up with it.” 

“We did not stipulate to its contents to truthfulness, and they tried to portray that [it was truthful] in their closing as the stipulation. The stipulation was read into the record.”

Raskin calls defense ‘propaganda’

During closing arguments, neither side went beyond the previous hours of their opening arguments. Manager Raskin held tight to the narrative his side presented: Trump had incited violence and was at fault for not immediately taking action to stop it. Of Trump’s alleged interaction with Kevin McCarthy as reported by Rep. Hererra Beutler, Raskin said “This uncontradicted statement that has just been stipulated as part of the evidentiary record…that conduct is obviously part and parcel of the Constitutional offense that [Trump] was impeached for, namely incitement of insurrection, that is continuing incitement to the insurrection.” 

Lead House impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) speaks at a press conference alongside the House impeachment managers
Lead House impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) speaks at a press conference alongside the House impeachment managers at the U.S. Capitol on February 13, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Image: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

Raskin, whose team was accused during the defense’s opening arguments of doctoring evidence, called van der Veen’s presentation, which showed Trump’s full unredacted and unaltered words at the Jan. 6 rallies, “propaganda reels” as he attempted to sell the 11 or 12 Republican senators he needed to convince to cross party lines to convict the most popular President in GOP history. 

“The evidence, the video documentary, eye witnesses have only grown stronger and stronger and more detailed right up until today, right up until ten minutes ago, over the course of the Senate trial. And I have no doubt that you all noticed that despite the various propaganda reels and so on, President Trump’s lawyers have said almost nothing to contest or overcome the actual evidence of former President Trump’s conduct that we have presented.”

Raskin, who complained about how Trump declined to testify during the trial, quoted Benjamin Franklin’s advice on not allowing leaders to get away with wrongdoing: “If you make yourself a sheep, the wolves will eat you.”

Retracted and new evidence introduced

Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), during his portion of closing arguments, brought controversy to the trial when he presented a Feb. 12 tweet consisting of further hearsay from Josh Dawsey, a Washington Post reporter, who claimed Mike Pence’s team “does not agree with the Trump lawyer’s assessment that Trump was concerned about Pence’s safety.”

Screenshot of House Manager David Cicilline (D-RI)’s closing arguments. Cicilline attempted to cite a tweet composed of hearsay by Josh Dawsey, a Washington Post reporter, which claimed Mike Pence’s team was in disagreement with a statement made by the Defense the prior day that Trump was concerned about the Vice President’s safety during the riot. The Defense was not allowed to object.
Screenshot of House Manager David Cicilline (D-RI)’s closing arguments. Cicilline attempted to cite a tweet composed of hearsay by Josh Dawsey, a Washington Post reporter, which claimed Mike Pence’s team was in disagreement with a statement made by the Defense the prior day that Trump was concerned about the Vice President’s safety during the riot. The Defense was not allowed to object. (Source: NTD Livestream)

Under the Senate’s rules for the Impeachment Trial, there are to be no objections or interruptions brought during each side’s presentation, unlike in a conventional courtroom where opposing counsel may object to the judge. Van der Veen attempted to object when this was presented because the tweet, which was made at 5:40 p.m. the previous day, was not in evidence. Van der Veen was told by Sen. Leahy (D-VT), who preceded over the trial in place of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts,  to sit down. 

Van der Veen was heard shouting off mic “This is not in evidence. If he wanted a stipulation for this…” said Van der Veen before being cut off. “The counsel will sit down,” said Leahy before saying “the Chair will consider the issue” and let Cicilline proceed.

During the second day of the trial, Cicilline had presented what appeared to be evidence that Trump attempted to call Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) during the riots to ask for his help in postponing the Electoral College vote count, but by accident called Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) instead. At the end of the 7-hour-long session, as interruption was strictly forbidden, Lee objected, because the conversation never happened, and asked it to be stricken from the record. 

House Managers voluntarily retracted the matter from the record that day. However, today, during closing arguments, Cicilline brought back the exact same story.

Sen. Lee objected, but Leahy wouldn’t let him speak, saying, “Debate is not allowed.” After some internal debate in the Senate, Lee withdrew his appeal. 

Leahy reminded the House Managers, “The Chair would advise everybody the evidentiary record is closed. New evidence is not permitted in closing arguments. References to such new evidence will be stricken.”

During the closing arguments, Michael van der Veen jumped on Cicilline’s mistake, “They used evidence that was flat wrong two or three nights ago with Senator Lee and had to withdraw it. They tried to use it again today. They tried to use evidence that they had never presented in the case in their closing argument.” 

“That is a very desperate attempt by a prosecuting team. Nine of them. By a prosecuting team that knew their case has collapsed.”

However, during Rep. Madeline Dean’s (D-PA) portion of the closing arguments, she attempted to show a clip of Katrina Pierson’s, a Tea Party activist and communications consultant, speech at the Save America Rally on Jan. 6. In the clip that had not been previously shown, Pierson stated “Even if they think for a second that they’re going to get away with it today, they got another thing coming. Because today is just a day. And today is just the beginning. They haven’t seen a resistance until they have seen a patriot fight for their country.”

Screenshot of Rep. Madeline Dean’s (D-PA) closing arguments. Dean attempted to show a new video clip of Tea Party activist and communications director, Katrina Pierson
Screenshot of Rep. Madeline Dean’s (D-PA) closing arguments. Dean attempted to show a new video clip of Tea Party activist and communications director, Katrina Pierson, saying “They haven’t seen a resistance until they have seen a patriot fight for their country.” Trump’s Defense objected vehemently, but the House claimed the video was part of their submitted evidence. (Source: NTD Livestream

Van der Veen quickly objected and was heard shouting off mic “This is crooked!” 

Leahy reminded the House Managers that new evidence was not allowed and new evidence would be stricken. 

Defense steers back to due process and the Constitution

Michael van der Veen, before he began his closing arguments in defense of Donald Trump, said he wanted to address some housekeeping issues. 

Van der Veen said House Managers had not sent their portion of the evidence they would present until “Tuesday the 9th at 2:32 pm by email…I was in this room trying the case already when they sent their evidence. Due process.”

“Their closing did not mention one piece of law. They didn’t talk about the Constitution once. They didn’t talk about the First Amendment and its application. They didn’t talk about due process and how it applies to this proceeding for my client.”

House Impeachment Lead Manager Representative Jamie Raskin (2nd R) and Impeachment Managers Representatives David Cicilline (L) Eric Swalwell (2nd L) and Joe Neguse (3rd L) depart after the Senate voted to acquit former U.S. president Donald Trump.
House Impeachment Lead Manager Representative Jamie Raskin (2nd R) and Impeachment Managers Representatives David Cicilline (L) Eric Swalwell (2nd L) and Joe Neguse (3rd L) depart after the Senate voted to acquit former U.S. president Donald Trump in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on February 13, 2021. (Image: MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Van der Veen was flabbergasted at how the Senate was running a trial of enormous Constitutional precedent and significance, compared with how a courtroom is normally administered, “The basic of any court is that when you close a case out, you close on the facts that were admitted in the trial. It’s a basic fundamental principle of due process and fairness, and that was violently breached today on multiple occasions. And you have to ask yourself, why? Why did they resort to those tactics at this moment in time?”

He said that the question of whether the breach of the Capitol was “anything less than a heinous act on the home of American Democracy” was not in dispute, and all parties feel those responsible should be charged. “Yet the question before us is not whether there was a violent insurrection of the Capitol,” he said.

“Based on the explicit text of the House Impeachment Article, this trial is about whether Mr, Trump willfully engaged in an incitement of violence and even insurrection against the United States. And that question they have posed in their Article of Impeachment has to be set up against the law of this country.”

In House Resolution 24, the single Article of Impeachment against Trump, the only claim of wrongdoing Democrats made against Trump is that his speech at the Ellipse “willfully made statements that, in context, encouraged—and foreseeably resulted in—lawless action at the Capitol, such as: ‘if you don’t fight like hell you’re not going to have a country anymore.’ Thus incited by President Trump, members of the crowd he had addressed, in an attempt to, among other objectives, interfere with the Joint Session’s solemn constitutional duty to certify the results of the 2020 Presidential election, unlawfully breached and vandalized the Capitol, injured and killed law enforcement personnel, menaced Members of Congress, the Vice President, and Congressional personnel, and engaged in other violent, deadly, destructive, and seditious acts.”

Van der Veen said that even amid more than 14 hours of video reels played by the Democrats, “at no point in their presentation did you hear the House Managers play a single example of Mr. Trump urging anyone to engage in violence of any kind. At no point did you hear anything that could ever possibly be construed as Mr. Trump encouraging or sanctioning an insurrection.”

“Senators, you did not hear those tapes because they do not exist,” van der Veen said with confidence, as his team had shown Trump’s Jan. 6 speech and tweets in their full unedited and unredacted context the previous day.

“The false and defamatory claim that Mr. Trump gave a speech to his supporters to go attack the Capitol has been repeated so often, uncritically, without any examination of the underlying facts, that the Americans listening at home were probably surprised to learn it’s not true.”

Van der Veen argued “The gathering on January 6 was supposed to be an entirely peaceful event,” and that only a small percentage of the more than half million people who attended the protest were involved in violence, which he called “pre-planned and premeditated by fringe left and right groups” who “hijacked the event for their own purposes.” 

“[The Democrats’] story was based not on evidence, but on the sheer personal and political animus.”

“This is not only intellectually dishonest, folks. It’s downright scary. What type of precedent [would be set] if the Senate did vote to convict? Can Congress now ignore Supreme Court precedent on the contours of protected free speech. Will Congress be permitted to continually make up their own legal standards and apply those standards to elected officials’ speech?” asked van der Veen.

“This would allow Congress to use the awesome Impeachment power as a weapon to Impeach their fellow colleagues in the opposing Party. This is not a precedent that this Senate can set here today.”

“Now they have conducted a phony Impeachment show trial when he is a private citizen out of office.”

Ultimately, the Republican Senate showed that the Democrat House Managers were not able to compel 11 additional members to cross party lines. The Senate voted 57 guilty and 43 not guilty, resulting in Trump being acquitted for the second time. Conviction in a Senate Impeachment Trial requires a two thirds supermajority, or 67 guilty votes. 

Michael van der Veen, former President Donald Trump's defense lawyer, reacts with a colleague following the conclusion of the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump.
Michael van der Veen (C), former President Donald Trump’s defense lawyer, reacts with a colleague following the conclusion of the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol on February 13, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Image: Joshua Roberts/Getty Images)

All 50 Democrats voted to convict. Republicans who joined them were Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC), Susan Collins (R-ME), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Ben Sasse (R-NE), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Pat Toomey (R-PA). 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) told reporters earlier Saturday, that Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had decided to vote to acquit Trump.

Sen. Burr was the only additional Republican to vote against Trump after the day one motion as to whether the Senate had jurisdiction to try a non-sitting President for Impeachment. 

Post acquittal statements

Burr said in a statement after the trial, “When this process started, I believed that it was unconstitutional to impeach a president who was no longer in office. I still believe that to be the case,” but that he felt he now had to consider the case on its merits. 

After hearing all the evidence, Sen. Burr found that his opinion was unchanged from the day of the riots, “As I said on January 6th, the President bears responsibility for these tragic events. The evidence is compelling that President Trump is guilty of inciting an insurrection against a coequal branch of government and that the charge rises to the level of high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

“I do not make this decision lightly, but I believe it is necessary.”

Donald Trump sent a statement via an email blast after the trial, thanking his attorneys and all the Senators and House Members who “stood proudly for the Constitution.” He said, “It is a sad commentary on our times that one political party in America is given a free pass to denigrate the rule of law, defame law enforcement, cheer mobs, excuse rioters, and transform justice into a tool of political vengeance, and persecute, blacklist, cancel and suppress all people and viewpoints with whom or which they disagree.”

President Joe Biden released a statement of his own, highlighting that seven Republicans voted against Trump, saying “While the final vote did not lead to a conviction, the substance of the charge is not in dispute.”

“This sad chapter in our history has reminded us that democracy is fragile. That it must always be defended. That we must be ever vigilant. That violence and extremism has no place in America. And that each of us has a duty and responsibility as Americans, and especially as leaders, to defend the truth and to defeat the lies.

“That is how we end this uncivil war and heal the very soul of our nation. That is the task ahead. And it’s a task we must undertake together. As the United States of America,” concluded President Biden. 

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