Nation & World: Trump lawyers: Impeachment based on ‘hatred,’ not facts
photo by: Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump’s impeachment lawyers accused Democrats of waging a campaign of “hatred” against the former president as they sped through their defense of his actions and fiery words before the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, hurtling the Senate toward a final vote in his historic trial.
The defense team vigorously denied on Friday that Trump had incited the deadly riot and said his encouragement of followers to “fight like hell” at a rally that preceded it was routine political speech. They played a montage of out-of-context clips showing Democrats, some of them senators now serving as jurors, also telling supporters to “fight,” aiming to establish a parallel with Trump’s overheated rhetoric.
“This is ordinary political rhetoric that is virtually indistinguishable from the language that has been used by people across the political spectrum for hundreds of years,” declared Trump lawyer Michael van der Veen. “Countless politicians have spoken of fighting for our principles.”
But the presentation blurred the difference between general encouragement to battle for causes and Trump’s fight against officially accepted national election results. The defeated president was telling his supporters to fight on after every state had verified its results, after the Electoral College had affirmed them and after nearly every election lawsuit filed by Trump and his allies had been rejected in court.
The case is speeding toward a vote and likely acquittal, perhaps as soon as today, with the Senate evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans and a two-thirds majority required for conviction. Trump’s lawyers made an abbreviated presentation that used less than three of their allotted 16 hours.
Their quick pivot to the Democrats’ own words deflected from the central question of the trial — whether Trump incited the assault on the Capitol — and instead aimed to place impeachment managers and Trump adversaries on the defensive. His lawyers contended he was merely telling his rally crowd to support primary challenges against his adversaries and to press for sweeping election reform.
After a two-day effort by Democrats to sync up Trump’s words to the violence that followed, including through raw and emotive video footage, defense lawyers suggested that Democrats have typically engaged in the same rhetoric as Trump.
But in trying to draw that equivalency, the defenders minimized Trump’s monthslong efforts to undermine the election results and his urging of followers to do the same. Democrats say that long campaign, rooted in a “big lie,” laid the groundwork for the mob that assembled outside the Capitol and stormed inside. Five people died.
On Friday, as defense lawyers repeated their own videos over and over, some Democrats chuckled and whispered among themselves as many of their faces flashed on the screen. Some passed notes. Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal threw up his hands, apparently amused, when his face appeared. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar rolled her eyes. Most Republicans watched intently.
During a break, some joked about the videos and others said they were a distraction or a “false equivalence” with Trump’s behavior.
“Well, we heard the word ‘fight’ a lot,” said Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats.
Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet said it felt like the lawyers were “erecting straw men to then take them down rather than deal with the facts.”
“We weren’t asking them fight like hell to overthrow an election,” Blumenthal said.
After the arguments ended, senators asked more than 20 questions of the lawyers, read by a clerk after submission in writing, including several from Republicans who are being closely watched for how they will vote.
GOP Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana asked about Trump’s tweet criticizing Pence moments after having been told by another senator that the vice president had just been evacuated. Van der Veen responded that at “no point” was the president informed of any danger. Cassidy told reporters later it was not a very good answer
Trump’s defenders told senators that Trump was entitled to dispute the 2020 election results and that his doing so did not amount to inciting the violence. They sought to turn the tables on prosecutors by likening the Democrats’ questioning of the legitimacy of Trump’s 2016 win to his challenge of his election loss.
The defense team did not dispute the horror of the violence, painstakingly reconstructed by impeachment managers earlier in the week, but said it had been carried out by people who had “hijacked” what was supposed to be a peaceful event and had planned violence before Trump had spoken.
“You can’t incite what was already going to happen,” van der Veen said.
Acknowledging the reality of the January day is meant to blunt the visceral impact of the House Democrats’ case and pivot to what Trump’s defenders see as the core — and more winnable — issue of the trial: whether Trump actually incited the riot. The argument is likely to appeal to Republican senators who want to be seen as condemning the violence but without convicting the president.
Anticipating defense efforts to disentangle Trump’s rhetoric from the rioters’ actions, the impeachment managers spent days trying to fuse them together through a reconstruction of never-been-seen video footage alongside clips of the president’s months of urging his supporters to undo the election results.
On Thursday, they described in stark, personal terms the terror they faced that January day — some of it in the very Senate chamber where senators now are sitting as jurors. They used security video of rioters searching menacingly for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence, smashing into the building and engaging in bloody, hand-to-hand combat with police.
Biden to slowly allow 25,000 people seeking asylum into U.S.
San Diego (ap) — The Biden administration on Friday announced plans for tens of thousands of people who are seeking asylum and have been forced to wait in Mexico under a Trump-era policy to be allowed into the U.S. while their cases wind through immigration courts.
The first wave of an estimated 25,000 asylum-seekers with active cases in the “Remain in Mexico” program will be allowed into the United States on Feb. 19, authorities said. They plan to start slowly, with two border crossings each processing up to 300 people a day and a third crossing taking fewer numbers.
President Joe Biden’s administration declined to publicly identify the three crossings out of fear it may encourage a rush of people, but U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat, said officials told him that they are Brownsville and El Paso in Texas, and San Diego’s San Ysidro crossing.
The move is a major step toward dismantling one of former President Donald Trump’s most consequential policies to deter asylum-seekers from coming to the U.S. About 70,000 asylum-seekers were enrolled in the program officially called Migrant Protection Protocols since it was introduced in January 2019.
Census dept.: No redistricting data until September
The U.S. Census Bureau said Friday it won’t be delivering data used for redrawing congressional and state legislative districts until the end of September, causing headaches for state lawmakers and redistricting commissions facing deadlines to redraw districts this year.
Officials at the statistical agency blamed operational delays during the 2020 census caused by the pandemic.
“The biggest reason? COVID-19. It’s something beyond the Census Bureau’s control,” said Kathleen Styles, the Census Bureau’s chief of Decennial Communications and Stakeholder Relations, in a call with reporters.
Styles had previously said the redistricting data would be available no earlier than the end of July because of delays caused by the virus. Before the pandemic, the deadline for finishing the redistricting data had been March 31.
The redistricting data includes counts of population by race, Hispanic origin, voting age and housing occupancy status at geographic levels as small as neighborhoods, and they are used for drawing voting districts for Congress and state legislatures. Unlike in past decades when the data were released to states on a flow basis, the 2020 redistricting data will be made available to the states all at once, according to the Census Bureau.
Biden aims to close Guantanamo after ‘robust’ review
Washington (ap) — President Joe Biden will seek to close the prison on the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay following a review process, resuming a project begun under the Obama administration, the White House said Friday.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said it was the “intention” of the Biden administration to close the detention facility, something President Barack Obama pledged to do within a year shortly after he took office in January 2009.
Psaki gave no timeline, telling reporters that the formal review would be “robust” and would require the participation of officials from the Department of Defense, the Justice Department and other agencies who have not yet been appointed under the new administration.
White House aide suspended after reportedly making threat to reporter
Washington (ap) — White House deputy press secretary T.J. Ducklo has been suspended for a week without pay after he reportedly issued a sexist and profane threat to a journalist seeking to cover his relationship with another reporter.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that Ducklo’s conduct was “completely unacceptable.” Psaki said while she had not spoken about the incident with President Joe Biden, Ducklo and aides “at the highest levels” of the White House’s communications team had apologized for the incident.
Psaki said in a statement earlier Friday that Ducklo had been suspended without pay with the approval of White House chief of staff Ron Klain. She said Ducklo “is the first to acknowledge this is not the standard of behavior set out” by Biden, and that Ducklo had sent the reporter in question “a personal note professing his profound regret.”
Ducklo’s personal life came under scrutiny earlier this week when Politico reported on his relationship with a reporter for the news outlet Axios who was assigned to cover the Biden campaign and its transition.
Attacks on older Asians stoke fear as Lunar New Year begins
Oakland, Calif. (ap) — Police are stepping up their patrols and volunteers are increasing their street presence after several violent attacks on older Asians stoked fear in San Francisco Bay Area Chinatowns and subdued the celebratory mood leading up to Lunar New Year.
City officials also have visited Chinatowns in San Francisco and Oakland to address safety concerns and condemn the violence. They vowed to combat a problem that has been simmering since the start of the coronavirus pandemic but sparked new outrage after unprovoked attacks were caught on video and spread widely online.
WHO chief warns of complacency as global virus cases drop
Geneva (ap) — The head of the World Health Organization said Friday that the drop in confirmed COVID-19 infections around the world was encouraging, but cautioned against relaxing restrictions that have helped curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the number of reported infections globally has declined for the fourth week in a row, and the number of deaths also fell for the second consecutive week.
“These declines appear to be due to countries implementing public health measures more stringently,” Tedros said. “We should all be encouraged, but complacency is as dangerous as the virus itself.”
“Now is not the time for any country to relax measures or for any individual to let down their guard,” he added. “Every life that is lost now is all the more tragic as vaccines are beginning to be rolled out.”
UN: Over 2 million Yemeni children may starve in ’21
Cairo (ap) — More than 2 million Yemeni children under the age of 5 are expected to endure acute malnutrition in 2021, four United Nations agencies said Friday, urging stakeholders to end the yearslong conflict that has brought the Arab world’s poorest country to the brink of famine.
The U.N. report warned that nearly one in six of those kids — 400,000 of the 2.3 million — are at risk of death due to severe acute malnutrition this year, a significant increase from last year’s estimates. The report also said a lack of funds was hampering humanitarian programs in Yemen, as donor nations have failed to make good on their commitments.
Compounding the crisis, around 1.2 million pregnant or breastfeeding women in Yemen are also projected to be acutely malnourished this year.
Yemenis have suffered six years of bloodshed, destruction and humanitarian catastrophe. In 2014, the Iran-allied Houthi rebels seized the capital and much of the country’s north. A Saudi-led coalition launched a sweeping military intervention months later to restore the U.N.-backed government. Despite relentless Saudi airstrikes and a blockade of Yemen, the war has ground to a stalemate.
Russia says it’s ready for EU split over sanctions
Moscow (ap) — Russia is prepared for a split with the European Union if the EU imposes new crippling sanctions amid a dispute over the treatment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the nation’s top diplomat warned Friday.
In response to a question about Moscow’s willingness to rupture links with the EU, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in televised remarks that Russia doesn’t want to be isolated but must increase its self-sufficiency to face potential EU sanctions.
He emphasized the importance of economic ties with the 27 EU nations, adding that Russia would continue engaging in mutually beneficial cooperation. At the same time, Lavrov said, Russia must prepare for the worst and increasingly rely on its own resources.