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Senate votes to advance Trump impeachment, lawyers argue rally was 'political speech'

Bruce Castor Jr., lawyer for former President Donald Trump, arrives for the second impeachment trial of Trump in the Senate at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. Pool Photo by Andrew Harnik/UPI
Bruce Castor Jr., lawyer for former President Donald Trump, arrives for the second impeachment trial of Trump in the Senate at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. Pool Photo by Andrew Harnik/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 9 (UPI) -- The Senate on Tuesday voted to proceed with the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump following opening statements from House impeachment managers and Trump's attorneys.

The chamber voted 56-44 to declare the trial was constitutional after the impeachment managers presented footage from the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, where Trump is accused of inciting a rally that morning.

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His attorneys had argued that the trial was a partisan process intended to prevent Trump from running for office again.

Tuesday's vote was nearly identical to a vote last month in response to a measure by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., with only Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., changing his stance by joining five other Republicans in voting to approve the process.

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Trump's attorneys sought to argue that he should not be punished for "political speech" and that it is not within Congress' constitutional authority to impeach a president who no longer is in office.

Trump attorney Bruce Castor Jr. accused Democrats of using the impeachment process to prevent Trump from running again. Trump faces impeachment for allegedly inciting a riot at the Capitol building on Jan. 6.

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"We are really here because the majority in the House of Representatives does not want to face Donald Trump as a political rival in the future," Castor said. "That's the real reason we're here, and that's why they have to get over the jurisdictional hurdle, which they can't get over."

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During opening remarks, lead impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., showed footage from the Jan. 6 insurrection, in which a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol building.

Five people died as a result of the violence -- Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick and four rioters. The riot footage was interspersed with video of Trump addressing a rally of supporters shortly beforehand.

"We fight like hell," Trump said at the rally, adding during another point, "we're going to the Capitol."

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Raskin said in his opening remarks the case against Trump was "based on cold, hard facts."

He added that Trump has sent his lawyers to the trial to "try to stop the Senate from hearing the facts of this case."

"They want to call the trial over before any evidence is even introduced," Raskin said. "Their argument is that if you commit an impeachable offense in your last few weeks in office, you do it with constitutional impunity. You get away with it."

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RELATED Impeachment: House Democrats call on Trump to testify; he declines

Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., a House impeachment manager, pointed out a Trump tweet Jan. 6 that he said exemplified Trump's feelings on the Capitol riot.

"These are the things that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously and viciously stripped away from great patriots," Trump tweeted, adding for rioters to go home "with love and peace."

"Every time I read that tweet, it chills me to the core," Cicilline said. "The president of the United States sided with the insurrectionists. He celebrated their cause. He validated their attack.

"He told them, 'remember this day forever,' hours after they marched through the halls looking to assassinate Vice President [Mike] Pence, the Speaker of the House and any of us they could find."

Castor said that Trump's remarks were simply "free and robust political speech" not an incitement of an insurrection, adding that people who "commit lawless acts as a result of their beliefs" as a result of the speech "should be locked up."

"This trial is not about trading liberty for security," Castor said. "It's about suggesting that it is a good idea that we give up those liberties that we have so long fought for.

"We have sent armies to other parts of the world to convince those governments to implement the freedoms that we enjoy. This trial is about trading liberty for the security from the mob? Honestly, no. It can't be. We can't be thinking about that."

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Following Castor's statements, fellow Trump attorney David Schoen criticized the decision of the House impeachment managers to show video of the riot during the trial and accused Democrats of "pure, raw, misguided partisanship," likening the division to the Civil War.

"This trial will tear this country apart, perhaps like we have only once seen before in our history," said Schoen.

He also criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for what he described as a "streamlined" impeachment process in the House, stating that Trump had not been given due process although he refused to appear as a witness.

Castor earlier cited the fact that Trump had not been criminally charged or named as a co-conspirator in any of the criminal cases stemming from the insurrection, although an investigation into potential charges is ongoing.

"After he's out of office, you go and arrest him," he said. "There is no opportunity where the president of the United States can run rampant in January at the end of his term and go away Scott-free."

Some Republicans have expressed support for the position that a former president cannot be impeached, but most experts, including some conservative scholars, have argued the Constitution allows a person to be impeached after they leave office, so long as they committed the impeachable offense while in power.

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The trial phase of Trump's historic second impeachment began two weeks ago when House managers delivered the single article to the Senate.

Following Tuesday's vote, nine Democratic House impeachment managers will begin their arguments against Trump on Wednesday.

Under rules established on Monday, each side will have as many as 16 hours over two days to make their case.

In a trial brief last week, the managers, who are acting in the role of the prosecutors, argued that Trump was "unmistakably" and "singularly" responsible for the Capitol attack.

They said a "Save America" rally he held near the White House before the attack used incendiary language, which included Trump telling a group of radical supporters to "fight like hell."

"And if you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore," he added.

The managers argued that Trump relentlessly spread misinformation for months about the 2020 presidential election being "stolen" and literally sent a group of his most radical supporters to the Capitol to disrupt a joint session that was certifying President Joe Biden's electoral victory.

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In their trial brief, filed Monday, Trump's attorneys criticized the impeachment effort as an attempt to silence a political opponent.

"In this country, the Constitution -- not a political party and not politicians -- reigns supreme," the brief said. "But through this latest article of impeachment now before the Senate, Democrat politicians seek to carve out a mechanism by which they can silence a political opponent and a minority party.

"The Senate must summarily reject this brazen political act. This rushed, single article of impeachment ignores the very Constitution from which its power comes and is itself defectively drafted."

Trump's attorneys argued that his command to "fight like hell" was not a literal order, and that the rioters acted on their own.

It seems unlikely that witnesses will be called at the trial, but Democratic managers could ultimately ask the Senate to introduce them, which would require a Senate vote.

To secure a conviction, Democrats need at least 17 Republicans to vote against Trump -- a prospect most experts and observers believe is unlikely.

Many Republican senators, like Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Tommy Tuberville of Alabama and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, already have indicated they would acquit Trump of the impeachment charge.

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Democrats asked Trump himself to testify at trial, but the former president refused. He left office Jan. 20.

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Supporters of President Donald Trump riot against the Electoral College vote count on Wednesday in protest of Trump's loss to President-elect Joe Biden, prompting a lockdown of the Capitol Building. Photo by Leigh Vogel/UPI | License Photo

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