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Jamie Raskin: Trump's impeachment defense amounts to 'absurd constitutional arguments'

Posted February 3, 2021 11:27 a.m. EST

— Rep. Jamie Raskin, the lead impeachment manager, told House Democrats on Wednesday that former President Donald Trump's legal filing responding to the House's impeachment amounted to "absurd constitutional arguments being offered by the President," according to a source on the call.

The Maryland Democrat's comments on a caucus call Wednesday offered a preview of how the House impeachment managers plan to poke holes in the former president's defense during next week's trial, while they also make their case that Trump was responsible for inciting the deadly riot at the Capitol on January 6.

Both the House impeachment managers and Trump's legal team submitted pretrial legal briefs on Tuesday ahead of the trial that begins on February 9. Both sides are expected to submit one more round of pretrial briefs on Monday before the trial begins the following day.

Trump's lawyers argued Tuesday that it was unconstitutional for the Senate to hold an impeachment trial for a former president. Trump's team also contended that the former president's speech about election fraud did not incite the rioters and was protected by the First Amendment. "The 45th President exercised his First Amendment right under the Constitution to express his belief that the election results were suspect," Trump's lawyers wrote.

But Raskin argued on the Democratic call that Trump's remarks at a January 6 rally before the rioters attacked the Capitol were not First Amendment-protected speech. His comments weren't like shouting fire in a crowded theater, Raskin said, but like a fire chief sending a mob to the theater, according to the source.

Raskin added on the call that extremist elements in Russia and Germany view the storming of the Capitol as a great victory for 21st Century fascism.

In their legal brief Tuesday, the House impeachment team's pushed back on the constitutional argument that Senate Republicans have coalesced around as reason to acquit Trump, pointing to the Senate's precedent for trying a former official and the fact that House impeached Trump while he was still in office.

It will be one of the key questions during next week's trial, though Senate Republicans have already signaled with a 55-45 procedural vote last week they're highly unlikely to convict Trump.

But House Democrats are preparing a visceral case to detail the events of January 6 and how Trump was "singularly responsible" for the deadly riot, in which one Capitol Police officer was killed and dozens were injured. That includes using video footage from the Capitol riots and showing how the insurrectionists said they were acting on behalf of the President.

Raskin told Democrats on Wednesday that one Capitol Police officer has lost three fingers in the attack, and another is likely to lose his eye.

It's still unclear how long the Senate's trial will last -- as Senate Democrats have hinted they want a speedy trial -- as well as whether House Democrats will call any witnesses, such as someone who could speak to the President's mindset and motivation before and during the Capitol riots. The House's brief accused Trump of "dereliction of duty" for failing to respond to the riots by activating the National Guard or calling off the insurrectionists attacking the Capitol

"No idea," Raskin said about how long the trial will last.

And asked if he believed it would include witnesses, Raskin said, "I think all that remains to be seen in the Senate."

Pressed on his preference, Raskin said, "justice" as he walked into the House chamber.

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