Trump lawyers call impeachment unconstitutional 'vengeance'

"The article of impeachment now before the Senate is an unjust and blatantly unconstitutional act of political vengeance," attorney Michael van der Veen said.

Michael van der Veen, lawyer for former President Donald Trump, walks to the Senate floor on the fourth day of the Senate Impeachment trials for Trump on Capitol Hill on 12 February 2021 in Washington, DC. Picture: Jabin Botsford/Pool/Getty Images/AFP

WASHINGTON - Donald Trump is the target of unconstitutional "vengeance" and senators should reject his impeachment for inciting insurrection, the former president's lawyer told the US Senate at the opening of the defence case Friday.

"The article of impeachment now before the Senate is an unjust and blatantly unconstitutional act of political vengeance," attorney Michael van der Veen said.

"Like every other politically motivated witch hunt the left has engaged in over the past four years, this impeachment is completely divorced from the facts, the evidence and the interests of the American people," he said.

"The Senate should promptly and decisively vote to reject it."

Democratic impeachment managers rested their case Thursday after two days of often emotional presentations anchored by shocking video footage of a January 6 invasion of Congress by Trump's supporters.

But in a sign that they want to get to a Senate vote as quickly as possible, Trump's lawyers say they will use as little as three or four hours to state their own case, when under the rules they are allowed up to 16 hours spread across two days.

The impeachment team argues that Trump deliberately stoked national tension after losing reelection to Joe Biden on November 3 with a campaign of lies claiming there had been mass voter fraud.

On January 6 he staged a fiery rally near the White House, calling on the crowd to march on Congress, which was in the process of certifying Biden's victory.

The mob then charged the Capitol building. Five people, including a police officer and a woman shot during the unrest, died as a result of the mayhem.

Impeachment managers say Trump, who has never expressed remorse for his encouragement of the violent crowd, is so dangerous he should be barred from holding office again.

But the former president's lawyers are arguing that his speech was rhetorical and that he cannot be held responsible for the mob.

They also argue that the trial itself is unconstitutional because Trump is now out of office, although the Senate rejected this claim earlier this week.

It would take a two-thirds majority to convict, meaning 17 Republicans would need to join the Senate's 50 Democrats.

This is highly unlikely.

However, if even a handful of Republicans vote to convict, it would be a historic mark against Trump, fueling civil war within his party over whether to pursue his populist, divisive vision or return to more moderate values.

"I'm just anxious to see what my Republican friends do, if they stand up," Biden said earlier at the White House.

One prominent Republican voice and potential future presidential candidate, former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, told Politico it's time to renounce Trump, saying: "We can't let that ever happen again."

TRUMP 'INFLAMED' AND 'INCITED'

Video footage played by impeachment managers showed the crowd in the Capitol on January 6 hunting down opponents of Trump as senior figures, including then vice president Mike Pence, fled for safety.

Another defence attorney, David Schoen, mocked the video as "an entertainment package" and said Trump could not be held responsible for the actions of the demonstrators.

But lead impeachment manager Jamie Raskin pointed out that the Republican leader had been encouraging extremism even in the lead-up to Election Day by constantly undermining public faith in the election process.

"This pro-Trump insurrection did not spring out of thin air," Raskin said. "This was not the first time Donald Trump had inflamed and incited a mob."

He said it was imperative the Senate convict Trump and bar him from running for the White House again in 2024 or face the risk of the same kind of behavior being repeated.

"Would you bet the future of your democracy on that?"

'NOT GUILTY'

Republican Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana said video evidence shown by House managers was "powerful," but "how that influences final decisions remains to be seen".

Other Republican senators have clearly already made up their minds and do not intend to break with Trump, who has threatened to derail their careers should they back impeachment.

"The 'Not Guilty' vote is growing after today," tweeted Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. "I think most Republicans found the presentation by the House Managers offensive and absurd."

Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri echoed the argument by Trump's defence lawyers that it is unconstitutional to try a former president.

"You're not going to get anything but condemnation from me for what happened with those criminals at the Capitol on January 6," Hawley told Fox News.

"But that doesn't make the trial any more legitimate than it is, which is totally illegitimate."

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