Trump's second impeachment trial: Day 4

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Mahtani, Melissa Macaya and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 9:33 PM ET, Fri February 12, 2021
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8:15 p.m. ET, February 12, 2021

How key GOP senators are reacting to today's proceedings

From CNN's Manu Raju, Ryan Nobles, Daniella Diaz, Ted Barrett and Annie Grayer

Sen. Bill Cassidy walks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, February 12.
Sen. Bill Cassidy walks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, February 12. Susan Walsh/AP

Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy said “not really” when asked if he was satisfied with the defense team's response to his question during the Senate impeachment trial of former President Trump.

Cassidy, who joined five other Republican senators in voting that Trump's impeachment trial was constitutional, asked about Trump attacking Pence on Twitter and whether the President knew his vice president was in danger.

Cassidy added that he is undecided on how he will vote.

Sen. John Thune, a Republican from South Dakota, said he thinks Trump’s legal team did better today.

"It was a much better performance than the first day, that the President's counsel had a chance to make arguments and I thought they put it themselves pretty well today. I don't know, at this point, how many minds get changed," he said in response to a question from CNN. 

Thune did not appear to answer if his mind was made up.

Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, said she didn't feel she got a response from Trump's legal team when she and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, asked Trump's legal team to describe when he had learned of the riots and the actions he had taken.

They asked the lawyers to be as specific as possible, but Trump lawyer Michael van der Veen only said that Trump tweeted at 2:38 p.m. before launching into an attack against the House Democrats for lack of due process.

“I didn't really feel that I got a response but I'm not sure if that was the fault of the counsel. One of the problems is that that with the House not having held hearings to establish exactly what happened when, it's difficult to answer a question like that. I was hoping that one side or the other, would have, because I think it's a very important question of when did the President, know that the barricades were breached. And what did he do at what time to stop the rioting. And so, I wish I'd gotten answers today to that,” Collins told CNN.

Collins and Murkowski are still considered to be among the Republicans who are open to convicting the former President. Like Cassidy, they also voted earlier this week that Trump's impeachment trial was constitutional.

Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, said he still plans to vote to acquit because he remains concerned about the constitutional questions related to the process. Rubio said the legal arguments made by the Trump team were not important because the dangerous precedent convicting a former President could present.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, meanwhile, told CNN's Manu Raju he stands by his account that he told Trump that Mike Pence had been evacuated from the Senate.

“He said a few things I said: ‘Mr. President, they've taken the vice president out. They want me to get off the phone, I gotta go," he said.

What we know: A final vote on Trump's conviction or acquittal is expected to happen tomorrow at 3 p.m. ET. This is not locked in yet and can change, but that's the expectation at the moment.

Conviction requires two-thirds of senators present to offer "guilty" votes. Normally, two-thirds is 67 senators, which would require 17 Republican votes.

7:27 p.m. ET, February 12, 2021

Fact check: No, Georgia did not see a "dramatic drop" in ballot rejection rates 

From CNN's Tara Subramaniam

As evidence of former President Trump’s efforts to subvert the certification of the 2020 election results, the article of impeachment cites Trump’s call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger where Trump asked Raffensperger "to 'find' enough votes to overturn the Georgia Presidential election results." 

Bruce Castor, one of Trump's defense lawyers, argued Trump's use of the word “find” was "solely related to his concerns with the inexplicable dramatic drop in Georgia's ballot rejection rates." 

Facts First: The intent of Trump's use of the word "find" aside, Georgia did not experience a "dramatic drop" in ballot rejection rates, according to data from the Georgia Secretary of State's office.   

In fact, the total number of absentee ballot rejections increased in direct proportion to the number of additional votes compared to the most recent past election. But ultimately, the percentage of ballot rejections remained the same. The Georgia Secretary of State's office noted that "the rejection rate for absentee ballots with missing or non-matching signatures in the 2020 General Election was 0.15%, the same rejection rate for signature issues as the 2018 General Election." 

Georgia election official Gabriel Sterling reacted to Castor's claim on Twitter Friday, stating that "shockingly, the disinformation continues."  

7:16 p.m. ET, February 12, 2021

Fact check: Trump lawyer falsely claims Capitol rioters didn't attend Trump's DC speech 

From CNN's Daniel Dale, Marshall Cohen and Holmes Lybrand

Former President Trump’s impeachment lawyer Bruce Castor claimed that the rioters who stormed the Capitol didn’t attend Trump’s incendiary speech that day, and that this proved the insurrection was a pre-planned attack that wasn’t incited by Trump. 

“Given the timeline of events, the criminals at the Capitol weren’t there at the Ellipse to even hear the President’s words,” Castor said. “They were more than a mile away, engaged in their pre-planned assault on this very building.” “This was a pre-planned assault,” Castor continued, “make no mistake.” 

He also claimed this assertion was “confirmed by the FBI, Department of Justice and even the House managers.”     

Facts First: It’s false that none of the accused Capitol rioters attended Trump’s speech beforehand. And Castor is exaggerating the known facts about whether the assault was pre-planned.   

Ellipse to the Capitol: It’s true that the timeline shows that someone who attended the entirety of the speech at the Ellipse could not have been among the very first people to breach the Capitol grounds. But that's a much narrower claim than the one Trump's lawyers are making. 

Court documents and video footage show that some Trump supporters did make this walk from the Ellipse to the Capitol, undermining Castor’s claims. This includes one woman who allegedly went from the Trump speech to her hotel, and then into the Capitol. And all of this ignores the fact that insurrectionists near the Capitol could have listened to Trump's speech on their phones or could have been inspired by Trump's previous rhetoric.  

Pre-planned?: The Justice Department and FBI have accused some rioters of planning the attacks before coming to Washington, and top prosecutors have said more charges along those lines are expected. But only a handful of the 200-plus criminal cases indicate that rioters had showed up that day intending to breach the Capitol. 

Therefore, Castor cherry-picked a few unrepresentative cases from the pool of more than 215 cases to support his misleading assertion that federal investigators “confirmed” this was a “pre-planned assault.” In interviews with reporters and FBI investigators, some of the rioters said they came to DC for the rally and later got swept up in the crowd as it rushed the Capitol. 

7:11 p.m. ET, February 12, 2021

Jake Tapper: "I have never seen a set of lawyers so outmatched than the Trump defense attorneys"

From CNN's Jason Kurtz

As the fourth day of Donald Trump's second impeachment trial concluded, CNN host Jake Tapper quickly addressed the flaws he saw in the former President's legal counsel.

"I have never seen a set of lawyers so outmatched than the Trump defense attorneys," Tapper said.

Pointing out that Bruce Castor is a former prosecutor from Philadelphia and Michael van der Veen is a personal injury lawyer, Tapper said that Trump's legal team simply wasn't equipped to tangle with the House impeachment managers.

"They do not know the Constitution as well as [Sen.] Jamie Raskin and the others," Tapper said. "They were indignant as if they were trying to appeal to a jury in a Philly courtroom."

Additionally, Tapper suggested that Castor and van der Veen simply lost the plot in regards to the specifics of the proceedings.

"They acted as if the President was up on criminal charges, talking about the standard," he said. "That's not what this is. This is a constitutional proceeding about whether or not President Trump should be penalized according to the obligations under his office — not as if he's going to go to jail."

While Tapper did allow for the fact that legal qualifications likely won't dictate the trial's verdict, saying "ultimately people are not going to vote based on who the better lawyer was," he took one more moment to hammer home the shortcomings of Trump's lawyers.

"They really were outmatched," Tapper said once again, adding "the legal team that Trump had last year with Jay Sekulow and Alan Dershowitz and others, just leaps and bounds better than this one."

6:29 p.m. ET, February 12, 2021

Senate impeachment trial ends for the day. Here's what comes next.

From CNN's Jeremy Herb, Manu Raju, Kaitlan Collins and Pamela Brown

The Senate has adjourned until 10 a.m. ET tomorrow. Senators just wrapped a question-and-answer session where they got their turn to pose written questions to both legal teams — the House impeachment managers and former President Trump's lawyers.

During the Senate questions, the key Republican senators who could vote to find Trump guilty focused on the actions the former President took as the riots unfolded and then Vice President Mike Pence was endangered, a topic that Trump's lawyers did little to address during their argument.

Democrats' questions to the managers and most GOP questions to the President's team were intended to help bolster their respective cases. But the most interesting questions came from some of the handful of Republican senators open to conviction: Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah.

Collins and Murkowski jointly asked Trump's legal team to describe when Trump learned of the riots and the actions he took. They asked the lawyers to be as specific as possible, but Trump lawyer Michael van der Veen only said that Trump tweeted at 2:38 p.m. before launching into an attack against the House Democrats for lack of due process.

Trump's legal team wrapped up their presentation in a little more than three hours Friday before the question-and-answer session.

What comes next: Democratic senators told CNN they've been informed that the Senate will reconvene at 10 a.m. ET tomorrow.

A final vote on Trump's conviction or acquittal will be around 3 p.m. ET. This is not locked in yet and can change, but that's the expectation at the moment. Conviction requires two-thirds of senators present to offer "guilty" votes. Normally, two-thirds is 67 senators, which would require 17 Republican votes.

If Trump is convicted, there would be a subsequent vote on whether to bar him from further office. This would require only a simple majority — that's 50 votes.

CNN's Ted Barrett and Ali Zaslav contributed reporting to this post.

7:16 p.m. ET, February 12, 2021

Capitol police Officer Goodman receives standing ovation in Senate

Senate TV
Senate TV

The Senate unanimously passed legislation today to award Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman with the congressional gold medal.

Goodman was in the Senate chamber, and received a standing ovation from the senators.

"In the weeks after the attack on January the 6th the world learned about the incredible, incredible bravery of officer Goodman on that fateful day. Here in this trial we saw new video, powerful video showing calmness under pressure. His courage in the line of duty, his foresight in the midst of chaos, his willingness to make himself a target of the mobs rage so that others might reach safety," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor, while announcing the legislation.

"I think we can all agree that Eugene Goodman deserves the highest honor Congress can bestow," Schumer continued.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell joined Schumer in praising Goodman's actions on Jan. 6.

"Officer Goodman's actions reflect a deeply personal commitment to duty, brought even greater distinction upon all his brave brothers and sisters. I am proud the senator is taking the step forward recognizing his heroism with the highest honor we can bestow," McConnell said.

Schumer also thanked the other law enforcement officials who helped protect the lawmakers during the Capitol riot.

"I want to be clear that he was not alone that day. The nation saw, and has now seen, numerous examples of the heroic conduct of the capital police, the Metropolitan Police, the SWAT teams that were with us on January 6th in the Capitol protecting us. Our heartfelt gratitude extends to each and every one of them," Schumer said.

More on Goodman's actions: New security footage presented during the impeachment trial showed even more heroics from Goodman, including potentially saving Sen. Mitt Romney from the violent mob that breached the US Capitol.

Goodman, now the acting deputy Senate sergeant-at-arms, had already been hailed as a hero after previous video emerged of him guiding the violent mob away from the Senate chamber, where then Vice President Mike Pence had been conducting the ceremonial counting of the 2020 electoral votes.

CNN's Paul LeBlanc contributed reporting to this post.

Watch here:

6:53 p.m. ET, February 12, 2021

Rep. Raskin to Trump's defense team: "Bring your client up here and have him testify under oath"

From CNN's Leinz Vales

Senate TV
Senate TV

Rep. Jamie Raskin, the lead House impeachment manager, called out former President Trump's defense for blaming the prosecution for not having evidence "that's within the sole possession of their client, who we invited to come and testify last week."

"This is about preserving the republic, dear Senate," said Raskin from the Senate floor. "That's what this is about. Setting standards of conduct for the President of the United States so this never happens to us again. So, 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."

Sen. Bill Cassidy, who joined five other Republican senators in voting that Trump's impeachment trial was constitutional, directed his question to Trump's defense team during the question-and-answer session today.

He asked Trump's defense team if Trump tolerated Vice President Mike Pence being intimidated after hearing Pence was evacuated from the Senate floor. The former president tweeted that Pence lacked courage.

Michael van der Veen, Trump's defense lawyer, said "no," but also disputed the premise of the question. 

"I dispute the facts that are 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."

Van der Veen went on to say that the evidence that the House impeachment mangers have bought forth has been "hearsay," citing reports of comments made by Republican lawmakers during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

"I have a problem with the facts in the question, because I have no idea, and nobody from the House has given us any opportunity to have any idea, but Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence have had a very good relationship for a long time," van der Veen said. "And I'm sure Mr. Trump very much is concerned and was concerned for the safety and well-being of Mr. Pence and everybody else that was over here."

6:23 p.m. ET, February 12, 2021

Sen. Sanders exclaims "no it isn't" responding to defense claim that his question was "irrelevant"

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

Senate TV
Senate TV

Sen. Bernie Sanders responded audibly to former President Trump's defense's attempt to dismiss his question this afternoon, drawing a rebuke from the presiding officer. 

"No it isn't," exclaimed Sanders, when Trump attorney Michael van der Veen called the Vermont senator's question "irrelevant."

Van der Veen was responding to Sanders' question, "Are the prosecutors right when they claim Trump was telling a big lie, or, in your judgment, did Trump actually win the election?" 

"My judgment? Who asked that?" asked van der Veen.

Sanders replied, "I did."

"My judgment is irrelevant in this proceeding," continued van der Veen. "It absolutely is."

Sanders could then be heard saying, "no, it isn't." He the shook his head when the defense asked for the question to be reread.  

The exchange caused an audible stir from some senators present prompting Sen. Patrick Leahy, the presiding officer, to pound his gavel, saying, "the Senate will be in order."

"The senators under the rules cannot challenge the content of the response," Leahy instructed.

Van der Veen then persisted, saying again that his own judgment was "irrelevant to the question before this body."

"What's relevant in this impeachment article is were Mr. Trump's words inciteful to the point of violence and riot," he said. "That's the charge. That's the question. And the answer is no, he did not have speech that was inciteful to violence or riot."

Watch the moment:

5:21 p.m. ET, February 12, 2021

Trump's lawyer offers false answer about whether Trump knew Pence was in danger

From CNN's Jim Acosta and Kristin Wilson

Senate TV
Senate TV

Former President Trump's lawyer Michael van der Veen said during the Q&A period that "at no point" was Trump aware that Vice President Mike Pence was in danger.  

But Sen. Tommy Tuberville, a Republican from Alabama, told reporters this week that he spoke to Trump on Jan. 6 and told him that Pence had just been rushed away from the rioters by US Secret Service.

Tuberville told reporters:

"I said 'Mr. President, hey, they just took the Vice President out, I’ve got to go.'"

CNN has previously reported that Trump called the personal cell phone of Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah, shortly after 2 p.m. ET on Jan. 6. At that time the senators had been evacuated from the Senate floor and were in a temporary holding room, as a pro-Trump mob began breaching the Capitol.

Lee picked up the phone and Trump identified himself, and it became clear he was looking for Tuberville and had been given the wrong number. Lee, keeping the President on hold, went to find his colleague and handed Tuberville his phone, telling him the President was on the line and had been trying to reach him.

Tuberville spoke with Trump for less than 10 minutes, with the President trying to convince him to make additional objections to the Electoral College vote in a futile effort to block Congress' certification of then President-elect Joe Biden's win, according to a source familiar with the call. The call was cut off because senators were asked to move to a secure location. In that call, Sen. Tuberville said he told Trump that Pence had been evacuated.

The timeline of that call puts it before Trump tweeted about Pence. 

Trump's tweet at 2:24 p.m. ET said: "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!"

On Tuesday – the first day of Trump's second impeachment trial – both Sens. Tuberville and Lee briefly addressed a last minute objection that was made by Lee on the Senate floor regarding the phone call.

Lee said that the House managers “made statements attributed to me, which they repeatedly characterized – consisted of statements that I did not make.”

Lead impeachment manager Jamie Raskin withdrew the remarks, and Lee withdrew his objection.  

Tuberville, calling the moment “unusual” said that he “wishes that it had been correct.” But when asked what was incorrect about House impeachment manager Rep. David Cicilline’s remarks about the call, Tuberville said “I don’t know, you know President Trump, you don’t get many words in, but he didn’t get a chance to say a whole lot because, I said, ‘Mr. President, they just took the vice president out, I’ve got to go.’ That’s what it was.”