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Trump’s Impeachment Defense Started So Badly That Even A Republican Senator Mocked It

Trump’s top lawyer decided to abandon his script and wing it on day one of the trial. It went poorly.

Last updated on February 9, 2021, at 7:03 p.m. ET

Posted on February 9, 2021, at 6:57 p.m. ET

Handout / Getty Images

Bruce Castor, defense lawyer for Donald Trump, speaking during the former president's second impeachment trial.

WASHINGTON — Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy blasted Donald Trump’s legal team as disorganized, random, and embarrassed of their own points after the first day of arguments in the former president’s impeachment trial Tuesday.

The trial began with Trump lawyer Bruce Castor giving a meandering speech that included hard-to-follow asides about things like the legal culture in Nebraska that baffled observers. At one point, My Cousin Vinny, the classic 1992 courtroom comedy where Joe Pesci bombs while opening the big trial, was trending on Twitter. The day ended with the Senate voting 56–44 that it is constitutionally valid to hold an impeachment trial for Trump even though he is no longer president.

Cassidy was one of six Republicans who voted for continuing the trial. It was a reversal from his position one week ago, but he said he had changed his mind because Trump’s legal team did such a poor job.

“It was disorganized, random. They talked about many things but they didn’t talk about the issue at hand,” Cassidy said.

“I’m an impartial juror. If one side’s doing a great job and the other side’s doing a terrible job on the issue at hand, as an impartial juror I’m going to vote for the side that did the great job.”

Sarah Silbiger / Getty Images

Sen. Bill Cassidy

Cassidy praised the Democratic impeachment managers, effectively serving as the prosecution, for being organized and delivering a “compelling, cogent case.” Asked why he thought Trump’s lawyers did such a poor job, he said, “Did you listen to it? It speaks for itself.”

Cassidy would not say whether he will ultimately vote to convict Trump of committing high crimes and misdemeanors for inciting the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol but said he will keep an open mind.

Even Sen. Lindsey Graham, who was one of Trump's top allies in Congress, criticized Castor's performance. "I thought I knew where I was going, and I really didn't know where he was going," he said.

Though Tuesday was dedicated to whether the trial was constitutional, Castor’s arguments barely touched on that question. At one point, he admitted that he had veered from his prepared remarks and decided to improvise after watching the opening arguments by the lead impeachment manager, Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin. “I’ll be quite frank with you: We changed what we were going to do on account that we thought that the House manager’s presentation was well done,” Castor said.

Raskin showed dramatic footage of the Capitol attack and told the story of his daughter and son-in-law hiding in an office and thinking they were going to die. The day before the Capitol riots, Raskin watched his son Tommy be buried.

Democrats also hammered the point that voting to exempt Trump from impeachment would give future presidents a free pass to commit crimes at the end of their terms, knowing that they are immune from consequences once they leave the White House.

Castor, who referred to Raskin as “a worthy adversary,” jumped between several defenses, arguing that impeaching the former president would impinge on freedom of speech and lead to a spike in partisan impeachments in the future. At one point, he seemed to argue that Trump was being impeached because people’s minds “were overpowered by emotion.” He talked at length about how US senators are special and patriotic.

Castor also repeatedly asserted that the system worked properly because voters did not want Trump in office, so they voted him out. “People get tired of an administration, and they know how to change it. And they just did,” he said.

To this day, Trump has refused to acknowledge the reality that he lost the election. He has repeated baseless and debunked claims that he actually won “in a landslide.” In fact, he lost by over 7 million votes. But he repeated these lies to a crowd of supporters moments before they moved over to the Capitol on Jan. 6 and interrupted the counting of Electoral College votes.

Castor was followed by another Trump lawyer, David Schoen, who more forcefully and aggressively addressed the constitutionality question. Schoen argued that the Constitution only refers to the impeachment of the sitting president, and the Senate has no jurisdiction over private citizens.

That argument ultimately failed. At the end of the day, even some Republicans expressed surprise at Trump’s defense.

“I thought the first attorney for the president today [Castor] did not present a case, which surprised me,” said Sen. Susan Collins. “The second attorney representing the president clearly did and did a competent job. But I’m puzzled by the presentation by the first attorney, so I don’t know how they’re gonna proceed from here on out.”

Despite the rocky start, Trump is still likely to be acquitted. Conviction requires a vote of two-thirds of the Senate, or 67 senators, rather than a straight majority. Most Republicans are on record saying they do not think the trial should even be held, and Trump will be acquitted unless a significant number of them change their minds.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.

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