On February 13, 2021, President Trump’s attorney, Michael Van Der Veen, makes closing arguments in the 2021 impeachment trial of Donald Trump over the Capitol breach.
Chuck Schumer: Proceed.
Michael van der Veen: I’m talking and it will not be so long. And before I start my prepared closing, I really want to clean up a few things from the mess that was the closing of the house managers. I do not want to ruin my closing because I think the ending’s pretty good. What they didn’t … They started off by misstating the law and they started off by misstating the intent of our stipulation. What we did today was stipulate to an article that was published in a magazine, apparently they’ve had for weeks, according to the documents they produced today, but for some reason this morning popped up with it. The stipulation was that they can put that in. We did not stipulate to its contents for truthfulness, and they tried to portray that in their closing, as the stipulation, the stipulation was read into the record. The proponents of that conversation, the real ones, have denied its content, its veracity. With respect to, and I’m not going to talk much about the tortured analysis of our arson lores that started off or the truly sideways analogies that were used with fires.
Michael van der Veen: What I do want to talk about though is the doctoring of evidence. First of all, they sent us their evidence on Tuesday, the 9th at 2:32 PM by email. I was in this room trying the case already when they sent their evidence, due process. They used evidence that was flat wrong two or three nights ago with Senator Lee and had to withdraw it. They tried to use it again today. They tried to use evidence that they had never presented in the case in their closing argument. That is a very desperate attempt by a prosecuting team, nine of them. By a prosecuting team that knew that their case has collapsed. Their closing did not mention one piece of law. They didn’t talk about the Constitution once, they didn’t talk about the first amendment and its application, they didn’t talk about due process and how it applies to this proceeding for my client.
Michael van der Veen: Basic rule of any court is that when you close a case out, you close on the facts that were admitted in the trial, it’s a basic fundamental principle of due process and fairness and that was violently breached today on multiple occasions. And you have to ask yourself, “Why? Why did they resort to those tactics at this moment in time?”
Michael van der Veen: Senators, good afternoon. Mr. President.
Michael van der Veen: What took place here at the US Capitol on January 6 was a grave tragedy. Over the course of this trial, you have heard no one on either side of this debate argue that the infiltration of the Capitol was anything less than a heinous act on the home of American democracy. All of us, starting with my client, are deeply disturbed by the graphic videos of the Capitol attack that have been shown in recent days. The entire team condemned and have repeatedly condemned the violence and law breaking that occurred on January 6th in the strongest possible terms. We’ve advocated that everybody be found, punished to the maximum extent of the law. Yet the question before us is not whether there was a violent insurrection of the Capitol, on that point everyone agrees.
Michael van der Veen: Based on the explicit texts of the House impeachment article, this trial is about whether Mr. Trump willfully engaged in incitement of violence and even insurrection against the United States and that question they have posed in their article impeachment has to be set up against the law of this country. No matter how much truly horrifying footage we see of the conduct of the rioters and how much emotion has been injected this trial, that does not change the fact that Mr. Trump is innocent of the charges against him. Despite all of the video played, at no point in their presentation did you hear the house managers play a single example of Mr. Trump urging anyone to engage in violence of any kind. At no point did you hear anything that could ever possibly be construed as Mr. Trump encouraging or sanctioning an insurrection.
Michael van der Veen: Senators, you did not hear those tapes because they do not exist, because the act of incitement never happened. He engaged in no language of incitement whatsoever on January 6th or any other day following the election. No unbiased person honestly reviewing the transcript of Mr. Trump’s speech on the ellipse could possibly believe that he was suggesting violence. He explicitly told the crowd that he expected the protest outside the Capitol to be peaceful and patriotic. They claim that’s not enough. His entire premise was that the proceedings of the joint session should continue. He spent nearly the entire speech talking about how he believes the senators and members of Congress should vote on the matter.
Michael van der Veen: It’s the words. The Supreme Court ruled in Brandenburg that there is a very clear standard for incitement. In short, you have to look at the words themselves. The words have to either explicitly or implicitly call for, the words, call for lawlessness or violence. You have to determine whether the speech was intended to provoke the lawlessness and whether the violence was the likely result of the word itself. They fail on all three prongs. The false and defamatory claim that Mr. Trump gave a speech encouraging his supporters to go attack the Capitol has been repeated so often, uncritically, without any examination of the underlying facts that the Americans listening at home were probably surprised to learn it’s not true.
Michael van der Veen: Furthermore, some of the people in this room followed Mr. Trump’s statements and tweets in the weeks leading up to January 6th very closely. We know that he was not trying to foment an insurrection during the time because no one from the Speaker of the House to the mayor of Washington, DC behaved in a fashion consistent with the belief that violence was being advocated for. Mr. Trump did not spend the weeks prior to January 6th inciting violence, he spent those weeks pursuing his election challenge through the court system and other legal procedures exactly as the constitution and the Congress prescribe.
Michael van der Veen: To believe based on the evidence you have seen that Mr. Trump actually wanted, and indeed willfully incited, an armed insurrection to overthrow the US government would be absurd. The gathering on January 6th was supposed to be an entirely peaceful event. Thousands and thousands of people, including Mr. Trump, showed up that day with that intention. A small percentage, a small fraction of those people then engaged in truly horrible behavior but as we now know that those actors were preplanned and premeditated and acted even before the speech was completed to which is the basis of the article of impeachment. It was
Michael van der Veen: …ment. It was preplanned and premeditated by fringe left and right groups. They hijacked the event for their own purposes. The house manager’s false narrative is a brazenly dishonest attempt to smear, to cancel constitutional canceled culture, their number one, political opponent, taking neutral statements, commonplace political rhetoric, removing words and facts from context and ascribing to them the most sinister and malevolent intentions possible. Their story was based not on evidence, but on the sheer personal and political animus.
Michael van der Veen: The flimsy theory of incitement you heard from the house managers could be used to impeach, indict or expel countless other political leaders. Many leading figures in other parties have engaged in far more incendiary and dangerous rhetoric, and we played some of them. I’m not going to replay it. I’m not going to replay the words. Y’all saw the evidence. I’m not going to replay mob scenes. I don’t want to give those people another platform, any more view from the American people as to what they did.
Michael van der Veen: They should be canceled. Democrat politicians spent months prior to January 6th attacking the very legitimacy of our nation’s most cherished institutions and traditions. They didn’t just question the integrity of one election. They challenged the integrity of our entire nation. Everything from our founding fathers, our Constitution, Declaration of Independence, law enforcement officers and United States military.
Michael van der Veen: They said that our society was rooted in hatred. They even said that America deserved and I’ll quote, “a reckoning.” As you heard yesterday, throughout the summer, Democrat leaders, including the current president and vice president, repeatedly made comments that provided moral comfort to mobs attacking police officers. During that time, many officers across the country were injured. As we all know, two Sheriff’s deputies in Los Angeles were ambushed and shot at point blank range. Members of this very body have been in danger. Senators from Maine to Kentucky, and most points in between, have been harassed by mobs.
Michael van der Veen: Last August, a menacing left wing mob swarmed Senator Rand Paul and his wife as they left the White House and they had to be rescued by police. For months our federal courthouse in Portland was placed under siege by violent anarchists who attacked law enforcement officers daily and repeatedly, and tried to set fire to the building.
Michael van der Veen: Speaker Pelosi did not call the violent siege of the federal building an insurrection. She called the federal agents protecting the courthouse stormtroopers. The White House complex was besieged by mobs that threw bricks, rocks, and bottles at secret service agents, set fire to an historic structure, and breached a security fence to infiltrate the treasury grounds.
Michael van der Veen: When my client’s administration sent in the National Guard to secure the nation’s Capitol city amidst the violence, Democrat leaders demanded that the forces be withdrawn. The Washington, DC mayor said the presence of the National Guard was an afront to the safety of the district.
Michael van der Veen: It must be fully investigated whether political leadership here in Washington, DC took an inadequate and irresponsible force posture on January 6th because of their commitment to the false narrative of what happened last June. Hopefully we can all, now, agree that the administration acted properly by taking action to stop a riotous mob, establishing an appropriate security perimeter, and prevent the White House from potentially being overrun.
Michael van der Veen: The house managers argued this week that an alleged brief delay in issuing a public statement from Mr. Trump on January 6th was somehow evidence that he committed incitement or supported the violence. Yet for months last year, Joe Biden, Vice President Harris, and countless of other Democrats repeatedly refused to condemn the extreme as riots were occurring daily as businesses were being ramshackled, as neighborhoods were being burned, as bombs were exploding. They repeatedly refuse to tell their violent supporters to stand down. Some even suggested that the mob’s actions were justified. Vice President Harris literally urged her followers to donate money to a fund to bail out the violent, extreme rioters so that they could get out and continue to do it over and over again. She later said that those folks were not going to let up and that they should not.
Michael van der Veen: All of this was far closer to what the actual definition of incitement than anything President Trump has ever said or done, never nevermind what he said on the 6th. It’s a hypocrisy. It’s a hypocrisy that the house managers have laid at the feet of this chamber.
Michael van der Veen: The house managers suggested in this recent, that this recent history is irrelevant to the current proceedings. But not only is Democrats behavior surrounding last year’s riots, highly relevant as precedent, and not only does it reveal the dishonesty in insincerity of this entire endeavor, it also provides crucial context that should inform our understanding of the events that took place on January 6th. Many of the people who infiltrated the Capitol took pictures of themselves and posted them on social media. To some, it seems, they thought that it was all a game. They apparently believed that violent mobs, destruction of property, rioting, assaulting police, and vandalizing historic treasures was somehow now acceptable in the United States. Where might they got have gotten that idea?
Michael van der Veen: I would suggest to you that it was not from Mr. Trump. It was not Mr. Trump. It was not anyone in the Republican party that spent the six months immediately prior to the Capitol assault giving rhetorical aid and comfort to mobs, making excuses for rioters, celebrating radicalism, and explaining that angry, frustrated, and marginalized people were entitled to blow off steam like that. Let me be very clear, there can be no excuse for the depraved actions of the rioters here at the Capitol, or anywhere else across this country. 100% of those guilty of committing crimes deserve lengthy prison sentences for their shameful and depraved conduct. But this trial has raised the question about words, actions, and consequences.
Michael van der Veen: As a nation, we must ask ourselves, how did we arrive at this place where rioting and pillaging would become commonplace? I submit to you that it was month after month of political leaders and media personalities, blood thirsty for ratings, glorifying civil unrest, and condemning the reasonable law enforcement measures that are required to quell violent mobs. Hopefully we can all leave this chamber in uniform agreement that all rioting, all rioting is bad and that law enforcement deserves our respect and support. That has been Mr. Trump’s position from the very beginning. The real question in this case is who is ultimately responsible for such acts of mayhem and violence when they are committed? The house Democrats want two different standards, one for themselves, and one-
Michael van der Veen: Different standards, one for themselves and one for their political opposition. They have carried out a grossly unconstitutional effort to punish Mr. Trump for protected First Amendment speech. It’s an egregious violation of his constitutional rights. Since he uttered not a single word encouraging violence, this action can only be seen as an effort to censor disfavored political speech and discriminate against a disapproved viewpoint. It is an unprecedented action with the potential to do grave and lasting damage to both the presidency and the separation of powers and the future of democratic self-government.
Michael van der Veen: Yesterday, we played you a video of countless Democrat members of the Senate urging their supporters to fight. We showed you those videos not because we think you should be forcibly removed from office for saying those things but because we know you should not be forcibly removed from office for saying those things. But recognize the hypocrisy.
Michael van der Veen: Yesterday in questioning, House Manager Raskin admitted that the House Democrats had invented an entirely new legal standard. In fact, they’ve created a new legal theory, the Raskin doctrine. The Raskin doctrine is based on nothing more than determining protected speech based on the party label next to your name. Regardless of what you have heard or what you have seen from the House managers, if you pay close attention, you will see that any speech made by Democrat elected officials is protected speech, while any speech made by Republican elected officials is not protected. The creation of the Raskin doctrine actually reveals the weakness of the House managers’ case.
Michael van der Veen: Elected officials, and we reviewed this in depth yesterday, under Supreme Court precedent, Wood and Bond … And by the way, Bond didn’t burn his draft card. He actually still had it. It was part of his defense. But in Bond and in Wood, the court clearly directed all to know that elected officials hold the highest protections of speech, the highest protections. And I remind you why. Because you all need to be free to have robust political discussion because your discussion is about how our lives are going to go, and that shouldn’t be squelched by any political party on either side of the aisle, no matter who’s the majority party at the time.
Michael van der Veen: Why would the House managers make up their own legal standard? I’ll tell you why. Because they know they can not satisfy the existing constitutional standard set forth by the United States Supreme Court that has existed for more than half a century. They argue Mr. Trump, as an elected official, has no First Amendment rights. It’s the complete opposite of the law. We’ve shown you without contradiction that is wrong. They also know that they cannot satisfy the three-part test of Brandenburg, as elucidated in the Bible Believers case. There was absolutely no evidence that Mr. Trump’s words were directed to inciting imminent lawless action. There was no evidence that Mr. Trump intended his words to incite violence, and the violence was preplanned and premeditated by a group of lawless actors who must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, but it proves that his words weren’t what set this into motion. What was the incitement?
Michael van der Veen: With no ability and no evidence to satisfy the existing constitutional standards, what are the House managers to do? They had to make up their own law. This is not only intellectually dishonest. Folks, it’s downright scary. What type of precedent would be set if the Senate did vote to convict? Can Congress now ignore Supreme Court precedent on the contours of protected free speech? Will Congress be permitted to continually make up their own legal standards and apply those new standards to elected officials’ speech? This would allow Congress to use the awesome impeachment power as a weapon to impeach their fellow colleagues in the opposing party. This is not a precedent that this Senate can set here today. If the Senate endorses the House Democrats’ absurd new theory, you will set a precedent that will trouble leaders from both parties, literally for centuries to come.
Michael van der Veen: But that will not be the only disgraceful precedent to come from this case. This has been perhaps the most unfair and flagrantly unconstitutional proceeding in the history of the United States Senate. For the first time in history, Congress has asserted the right to try and punish a former president who is a private citizen. Nowhere in the Constitution is the power enumerated or implied. Congress has no authority, no right, and no business holding a trial of citizen Trump, let alone a trial to deprive him of some fundamental civil rights.
Michael van der Veen: There was mention of a January exception argument. The January exception argument is a creation of the House managers’ own conduct by delaying. They sat on the article. They could have tried the president while he was still in office if they really believed he was an imminent threat. They didn’t. The January exception is a red herring. It’s nonsense because federal, state, and local authorities can investigate. Their January exception always expires on January 20th.
Michael van der Veen: House Democrats and this deeply unfair trial have shamefully trampled every tradition, norm, and standard of due process in a way I’ve never ever seen before. Mr. Trump was given no right to review the so-called evidence against him at trial. He was given no opportunity to question question his propriety. He was given no chance to engage in fact-finding. Much of what was introduced by the House was unverified second- or third-hand reporting cribbed from a biased news media, including stories based on anonymous sources whose identities aren’t even known to them, nevermind my client.
Michael van der Veen: They manufactured and doctored evidence, so much so that they had to withdraw it. We had the evidence after we started the trial. They went on for two days. So in the evening, I was able to go back and take a really close look at the stuff. Myself and Mr. Castor and Ms. Bateman and Mr. Brennan, we all worked hard and looked at the evidence. Four volumes of books in little tiny print. And we started … Literally had me out 12, 14 hours to really look at the evidence before we had to go on.
Michael van der Veen: And just in that short time of looking at the evidence, we saw them fabricating Twitter accounts. We saw the masked man sitting at his desk with the New York Times there. And when we looked closely, we found that the date was wrong, the check had been added. They fabricated evidence. They made it up. They never addressed that in their closing, as though it were acceptable, as though it were all right.
Michael van der Veen: As though we’re we’re all right. As though that’s the way it should be done here in the Senate of the United States of America. Fraud. Flat out. Fraud. Where I come from, in the courts that I practice in, they’re very harsh repercussions for what they pulled in this trial.
Michael van der Veen: As we have shown, the house managers were caught creating false representations of tweets, manipulating videos, and introducing into the record, completely discredited lies such as the fine people hoax, as factual evidence. Most of what the house managers have said and shown you would be inadmissible in any respectable court of law. They were not trying a case. They were telling a political tale, a fable, and a patently false one at that.
Michael van der Veen: House democrats have denied due process and rushed the impeachment because they know that a fair trial would reveal Mr. Trump’s innocence of the charges against him. The more actual evidence that comes out, the clearer it is that this was a preplanned and premeditated attack, which is language in no way incited. Because their case is so weak, the house managers have taken a kitchen sink approach to the supposedly single article of impeachment. They allege that Mr. Trump incited the January 6th violence. They allege that he abused power by attempting to pressure Georgia Secretary of State Raffensperger, to undermine the results of the 2020 election and they alleged that he gravely and endangered the democratic system by interfering with the peaceful transition of power; at least three things there.
Michael van der Veen: Under the Senate rules, each of these allegations must have been alleged in a separate article of impeachment. I need not remind this chamber, that Rule 23 of the Rules of Procedure and Practice in the Senate when sitting on impeachment trials provides, in pertinent part, that an article of impeachment shall not be divisible thereon. Why is that? Because the article at issue here, alleges multiple wrongs in the single article, it would be impossible to know if two-thirds of the members agreed on the entire article or just on parts of it, as the basis for a vote to convict. Based on this alone, the Senate must vote to acquit Mr. Trump. You got to at least obey your own rules, if it’s not the Constitution you’re going to obey.
Michael van der Veen: In short, this impeachment has been a complete charade from beginning to end. The entire spectacle has been nothing but the unhinge pursuit of a longstanding political vendetta against Mr. Trump by the opposition party. As we have shown, Democrats were obsessed with impeaching Mr. Trump, from the very beginning of his term. The House Democrats tried to impeach him in his first year. They tried to impeach him in his second year. They did impeach him in his third year and they impeached him again in his fourth year. And now they have conducted a phony impeachment show trial, when he is a private citizen out of office. This hastily orchestrated an unconstitutional circus, is the House Democrats final, desperate attempt to accomplish their obsessive desire of the last five years.
Michael van der Veen: Since the moment he stepped into the political arena, my client… Since my client stepped in, they have been possessed by an overwhelming zeal to vanquish an independent [inaudible 00:34:56] outsider from the myths and to shame, demean, silence, and demonize his supporters, in the desperate hope that they will never ever pose an electoral challenge. We heard of the congressmen on the screen. If you don’t impeach him, he might be elected again. That’s the fear. That’s what’s driving this impeachment.
Michael van der Veen: When you deliberate over your decision, there are four distinct grounds under which you must acquit my client. First is jurisdiction. There is no jurisdiction and if you believe that, you still get to say it.
Michael van der Veen: Two, Rule 23. It had to be divisible. Each allegation had to be singularly set out in front of you, so it could be voted on and to see if two-thirds of you think that they proved that case or not. They didn’t do that. You got to ask yourself why. They know the Senate rules. They got them and so did I. Why’d they do it? Because they hadn’t investigated, first of all, but also what they found out as they were preparing all of this, they couldn’t do it. So, if they threw as much in as they could, and made as many bold, bald allegations as they could, then maybe two-thirds of you would fall for it. That’s why the rules don’t allow it to go that way.
Michael van der Veen: Due process. I’ve exhausted that subject. It’s a really good reason for all of you, all of you in this chamber, to stop the politics, to read the Constitution and apply it to this proceeding and acknowledge that the lack of due process, way over the top. Shocking. And you must not stand for it.
Michael van der Veen: And of course, the First Amendment, the actual facts of this case. There were no words of incitement. Four grounds. Nobody gets to tell you which ground to pick and nobody gets to tell you how many grounds to consider.
Michael van der Veen: Senators, do not let House Democrats take this manacle crusade any further. The Senate does not have to go down this dark path of anonymity and division. You do not have to indulge the impeachment lust, the dishonesty and the hypocrisy. It is time to bring this unconstitutional political theater to an end. It is time to allow our nation to move forward. It is time to address the real business, pressing this nation; the pandemic, our economy, racial inequality, economic and social inequality.
Michael van der Veen: These are the things that you need to be thinking and working on for all of us in America. All of us. With your vote, you can defend the Constitution. You can protect due process and you can allow America’s healing to begin.
Michael van der Veen: I urge the Senate to acquit and vindicate the Constitution of this great Republic. Thank you.