Former President Donald Trump’s lawyers mounted an aggressive defense Friday in Trump’s second impeachment trial — and made multiple false and misleading claims to bolster their case.
Arguing that Trump did nothing to incite the insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6, the lawyers distorted the facts about both what happened that day and what happened in the past.
Here is a fact check of some of their claims:
Defense team misleadingly omits Trump remarks defending violence
Trump lawyer Michael van der Veen highlighted comments from Democrats that he suggested had promoted or defended violence. Trump, he argued, is different than these Democrats.
“Contrast the President’s repeated condemnations of violence with the rhetoric from his opponents,” van der Veen said. He then played a video that juxtaposed clips of Trump condemning violence, and calling himself an “ally of all peaceful protesters,” with some selectively edited clips of Democrats.
Facts First: This argument and video were misleading by omission. Trump has indeed condemned violence and called for peaceful protest, but he has also repeatedly applauded or defended violence and aggressive behavior.
Among other things, Trump has done the following since he launched his presidential campaign in 2015: praised a Republican congressman for assaulting a journalist; urged police officers not to worry about injuring the heads of suspects they are arresting; said he would like to punch a protester in the face; urged supporters to “knock the crap out of” any protester they saw holding a tomato; said a kidnapping plot against Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer might not be an actual “problem”; approvingly told a fake story about an early 20th century US general who massacred Muslim terrorists with bullets dipped in the blood of pigs; said it was a “beautiful sight” when the authorities tossed a journalist to the ground during unrest in Minneapolis; mocked a reporter who got shot with a rubber bullet; and applauded the Trump supporters who surrounded a Joe Biden campaign bus on the highway, an incident that prompted an FBI investigation.
Trump’s lawyer falsely claims Trump’s first two tweets during the Capitol attack urged calm
Van der Veen claimed that “the first two messages the President sent via Twitter once the incursion of the Capitol began” urged people to “stay peaceful” and called for “no violence.”
Facts First: This is not true.
Trump’s “stay peaceful” tweet at 2:38 p.m. and “no violence” tweet at 3:13 p.m. were his second and third tweeted messages after the Capitol was breached, not his first. Trump’s first tweet was at 2:24 p.m.: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”
Rioters had already entered the US Capitol building by the time of the Trump tweet about Pence.
No, the media wasn’t lying that there was hacking during the 2016 election
Van der Veen claimed that Washington officials other than Trump are the ones who used reckless and inflammatory rhetoric. He claimed: “The entire Democratic Party and national news media spent the last four years repeating without any evidence that the 2016 election had been hacked.”
Facts First: The Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign were indeed hacked during the 2016 election campaign; this is a fact, not a claim made “without any evidence.” The US intelligence community, special counsel Robert Mueller and the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee all concluded that the Russian government was responsible for stealing and leaking internal documents and emails.
If van der Veen was suggesting that the “entire Democratic Party and national media” spent four years falsely alleging that hackers altered actual votes or vote totals in the 2016 election, that would not be true either. We can’t speak for every word uttered by every Democrat or every journalist since 2016, but it is clearly inaccurate to say that the entire party or entire media spent four years pushing such a claim. The national discussion about hacking during the 2016 election focused on the actual, confirmed hacking that targeted the Democrats’ computer systems.