What Trump’s Defense Team Refused To Answer

Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump listen during a conference call with the International Space Station on October 18, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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February 12, 2021 6:06 p.m.

Attorneys for former President Trump refused multiple times on Friday to say what Trump knew about the breach of the Capitol and when.

Instead, Trump’s lawyers dumped the answer on the impeachment managers in a stunning fashion. It’s up to the prosecutors to investigate what our client did and answer, they implausibly claimed.

Trump’s attorneys refused to answer questions relating to two key areas: when Trump first learned of the attack on the Capitol and the nature of his response, and whether Joe Biden, in fact, won the 2020 presidential election.

In the first instance, Trump himself could address the matter with clarity. In the second, the answer is obvious.

Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Susan Collins (R-ME) posed the first question regarding what Trump knew about the attack as it was happening, and what actions he took to bring it to an end.

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“Exactly when did President Trump learn of the breach of the Capitol?” the question read. “And what specific actions did he take to bring the rioting to an end? And when did he take them? Please be as detailed as possible.”

Shockingly, Trump attorney Michael van der Veen replied by saying that it was up to the House managers — the prosecution — to answer that question.

“With the rush to bring this impeachment, there’s been absolutely no investigation into that,” he said. “And that’s the problem with this entire proceeding.”

It was a stunning response in part because Trump is van der Veen’s client; asking the person who hired him is, in theory, all it would have taken to elicit a response about a question that’s become key to the Senate trial.

But it also put the onus for answering the incredibly important question in the court of Trump’s adversaries.

Other senators followed up, asking Trump’s defense, in one instance, about evidence suggesting that Trump knew that Vice President Mike Pence specifically had been evacuated when he sent a tweet that criticized Pence for lacking the “courage” to overturn Biden’s victory.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Collins asked whether Trump knew that Pence was in danger when he sent the tweet.

This time, van der Veen had a reply: “The answer is no, at no point was the President informed the vice president was in any danger.” He then pivoted to saying that the reason we don’t know is because the House failed to investigate.

Van der Veen notably did not address what Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) revealed on Wednesday: that he had spoken to Trump over the phone before the tweet and told the President that Pence had been evacuated from the Senate chamber.

Van der Veen also provided no positive, potentially exculpatory reason for Trump sending the tweet. Instead, what we got was blame on the House for not figuring it out.

But it was Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) who followed up with a question that cited Tuberville directly. Sen. Cassidy noted that, per Tuberville, he had told Trump that Pence had been evacuated over the phone minutes before the President sent the angry tweet,

“Even after hearing of this, at 2:24 p.m., President Trump tweeted that Mike Pence lacked courage,” Cassidy said. “The tweet and lack of response suggest that President Trump did not care that Vice President Pence was endangered, or that law enforcement was overwhelmed.”

“Does this show that President Trump was tolerant of the intimidation of Vice President Pence?” Cassidy asked.

Van der Veen replied by suggesting that Tuberville was incorrect while, once again, blaming the House for the supposed confusion.

“I dispute the facts that were laid out in that question,” he said. “And unfortunately, we’re not going to know the answer to the facts in this proceeding, because the House did nothing to investigate what went on.”

“But Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence have had a very good relationship for a long time,” van der Veen added.

Rep. Raskin noted that he had invited President Trump to testify at the hearing, which could have cleared up all of the questions about which van der Veen purported to be mystified.

“Rather than yelling at us and screaming about how we didn’t have time to get all of the facts about what your client did, bring your client up here and have him testify under oath about why he was sending out tweets denouncing he vice president of the United States while the vice president was being hunted down by a mob that wanted to hang him,” Raskin said.

At another point, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) asked both the managers and the defense who won the 2020 election.

“In my judgment — who asked that?” Van der Veen retorted.

“I did!” Sen. Sanders yelled.

“My judgment is irrelevant in this proceeding,” van der Veen replied, to groans from the Senate and a response from Sen. Sanders: “You represent the President of the United States!”

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) called the Senate to order, before van der Veen continued without addressing the question or affirming that Biden won. Sanders stood up and left the chamber as the Trump lawyer responded.

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