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Fact-checking impeachment trial claims by the Philly-area lawyers who played big roles

Philadelphia Inquirer logo Philadelphia Inquirer 2/17/2021 Jessica Calefati, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Lawyers from the Philadelphia region played starring roles in the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump, who was acquitted of inciting the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean, a second-term Montgomery County Democrat, was one of the House impeachment managers who prosecuted the case against Trump. Bruce L. Castor Jr., a former Montgomery County commissioner and district attorney, was one of Trump’s attorneys. And Michael van der Veen, another Trump lawyer, lives in Chester County and has a law office in Center City.

We fact-checked some of the claims they made during the trial.

This is accurate but needs additional context. When Castor addressed the Senate on the first day of the trial, he argued the process was not about accountability for the former president, but rather about politics.

“We are really here because the majority of the House of Representatives does not want to face Donald Trump as a political rival in the future,” Castor said.

There is no doubt that the House wanted to hold Trump accountable for the insurrection. The impeachment managers said so repeatedly throughout the trial. Castor is right that Democrats also hoped to disqualify Trump from running for office again.

In an interview with CBS News a few days after the attack, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said preventing Trump from running for president again was part of the reason to impeach him a second time. Had the necessary two-thirds of the Senate voted to convict Trump, he could have been barred from seeking future office by a separate, simple-majority vote.

“There is a possibility that after all of this, there’s no punishment, no consequence, and he could run again for president,” CBS correspondent Lesley Stahl said.

“And that’s one of the motivations that people have for advocating for impeachment,” Pelosi replied.

That same day, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said she felt the same way.

“Our main priority is to ensure the removal of Donald Trump as president of the United States,” Ocasio-Cortez told ABC News. “We’re also talking about complete barring of the president, or rather of Donald Trump, from running for office ever again.”

And U.S. Rep. Ted Liu, D-Calif., another impeachment manager, addressed Castor’s statement directly during the trial. He said he was not fearful of a Trump candidacy. Rather, he worried Trump might incite more violence if he ran again and lost.

Dean spoke on the second day of the trial and addressed Trump’s repeated false claims of a stolen election by noting his record in court.

“Of the 62 post-election legal challenges, he lost 61,” Dean said. “Only one was successful. And that case involved ballot curing in Pennsylvania and had no impact on President Biden’s 80,555 vote victory in our Commonwealth.”

She’s right. Trump and his allies filed 62 election-related lawsuits in state and federal courts after the election. The 60th and 61st losses came just a few days before the Capitol riot.

Fact-checking a top Pa. Republican who said false election claims didn’t play ‘any role’ in the Capitol attackThose final two lawsuits argued that then-Vice President Mike Pence had the power to decide which states’ Electoral College votes to count, and that state legislatures should have met after the election to certify votes. Both were dismissed by federal judges.

The Trump campaign’s lone legal victory came when a Pennsylvania judge ruled that voters could not go back and “cure” technical flaws with their mail ballots after Election Day. The ruling affected few votes and did not change the outcome.

Dean later argued that Trump’s whole speech at the “Save America” rally in Washington on the day of the attack was a call for violence.

There was only one line, she explained, about 20 minutes in, that referenced peace and nonviolence.

“In a speech spanning almost 11,000 words — yes, we did check — that was the one time, the only time President Trump used the word peaceful, or any suggestion of non-violence.”

Trump’s Philly lawyers won the impeachment trial. But they’re facing a backlash at home.Dean is right. A transcript of Trump’s hour-long Jan. 6 speech shows he uttered the word “peaceful” just once, while he used the word “fight” or its derivatives 20 times.

“I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard,” Trump said at the rally. “Today we will see whether Republicans stand strong for integrity of our elections.”

Trump’s lawyer argued that the former president didn’t incite any violence at the Capitol and used his social media megaphone to try to stop the siege once it started.

“In fact, the first two messages the president sent via Twitter once the incursion of the Capitol began were, ‘Stay peaceful and no violence, because we are the party of law and order,’” Michael van der Veen said during his closing argument.

This is not true.

Pat Toomey is feeling the fire from Pennsylvania Republicans for voting to convict Donald TrumpTrump did send a “stay peaceful” tweet at 2:38 p.m. and a “no violence” tweet at 3:13 p.m. But they were not the first two he sent after rioters breached the Capitol at 2:11 p.m.

A 2:24 p.m. tweet disparaging former Pence came first.

It read:

“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!”

At this point, Pence had already been rushed off the Senate floor, where he had been presiding over the certification of Biden’s victory.

In an interview, van der Veen said he was referring to Trump’s 2:38 p.m. tweet.

Castor claimed the people who attacked the Capitol couldn’t have heard Trump’s speech earlier at the Ellipse “given the timeline of events.”

Someone who listened to Trump’s whole speech could not have been among the first people to breach the Capitol, but it’s false that none of the rioters facing criminal charges attended the speech.

Court documents and time-stamped video footage show some Trump supporters attended his rally on the Ellipse before walking to the Capitol, including one attendee who allegedly returned to her hotel before ultimately breaching the building.

When Republican Sens. Mitt Romney and Susan Collins questioned whether Trump knew that Pence was in danger once rioters breached the Capitol, van der Veen was unequivocal.

“At no point was the president informed the vice president was in any danger,” he said during the trial’s question-and-answer phase.

In an interview, van der Veen reiterated that he doesn’t believe Trump knew Pence was in danger, and stressed that the House impeachment managers didn’t present any evidence that proves otherwise. But a timeline of events that day indicates Trump did know.

What to know about Scott Perry, Trump’s election plot, and Section 3 of the 14th AmendmentSen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., said he was on the phone with Trump at 2:13 p.m. when secret service agents removed Pence from the Senate chamber and conveyed the threat in real time.

“I said, ‘Mr. President, they just took the vice president out, I’ve got to go,” Tuberville recalled while speaking with reporters.

Security protocol dictates that Trump’s team would have been notified of the vice president’s whereabouts. And chants of “Hang Mike Pence” were being shown on cable news that reports indicate the president was watching.

PolitiFact is a nonpartisan, fact-checking website operated by the nonprofit Poynter Institute for Media Studies.

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