Feb 12, 2021
Michael van der Veen Opening Statement Transcript: Trump’s Second Impeachment Trial
Donald Trump’s lawyer Michael van der Veen gave an opening statement on February 12, 2021 during Trump’s second impeachment trial. He defended Donald Trump’s actions leading up to the insurrection. Read the transcript of his speech remarks here.
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Michael van der Veen: (00:00)
Mr. President. The article of impeachment now before the Senate is an unjust and blatantly unconstitutional act of political vengeance. This appalling abuse of the Constitution only further divides our nation, when we should be trying to come together around shared priorities. Like every other politically motivated witch hunt the left has engaged in over the past four years, this impeachment is completely divorced from the facts, the evidence, and the interests of the American people. The Senate should promptly and decisively vote to reject it. No thinking person could seriously believe that the president’s January 6th speech on the Ellipse was in any way an incitement to violence or insurrection. The suggestion is patently absurd on its face. Nothing in the text could ever be construed as encouraging, condoning, or enticing unlawful activity of any kind.
Michael van der Veen: (01:23)
Far from promoting insurrection against the United States, the president’s remarks explicitly encouraged those in attendance to exercise their rights peacefully and patriotically. Peaceful and patriotic protest is the very antithesis of a violent assault on the nation’s capitol. The House impeachment article slanderously alleges that the president intended for the crowd at the Ellipse to, “Interfere with the joint session’s solemn constitutional duty to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election.” This is manifestly disproven by the plain text of the remarks. The president devoted nearly his entire speech to an extended discussion of how legislators should vote on the question at hand. Instead of expressing a desire that the joint session be prevented from conducting its business, the entire premise of his remarks was that the democratic process would, and should play out according to the letter of the law, including both the Constitution and the Electoral Count Act.
Michael van der Veen: (02:46)
In the conclusion of his remarks, he then laid out a series of legislative steps that should be taken to improve democratic accountability going forward, such as passing universal voter ID legislation, banning ballot harvesting, requiring proof of citizenship to vote, and turning out strong in the next primaries. These are not the words of someone inciting a violent insurrection.
Michael van der Veen: (03:22)
Not only President Trump’s speech on January 6th, but indeed his entire challenge to the election results was squarely focused on how the proper civic process could address any concerns through the established legal and constitutional system. The president brought his case before state and federal courts, the US Supreme Court, the state legislatures, the electoral college, and ultimately the US Congress. In the past, numerous other candidates for president have used many of the same processes to pursue their own election challenges. As recently as 2016, the Clinton campaign brought multiple post-election court cases, demanded recounts, and ridiculously declared the election stolen by Russia. Many Democrats even attempted to persuade the electoral college delegates to overturn the 2016 results. House Manager Raskin objected to the certification of President Trump’s victory four years ago, along with many of his colleagues. You’ll remember it was Joe Biden who had to gavel them down.
Speaker 2: (04:48)
I have an objection, because 10 of the 29 electoral votes cast by Florida were cast by electors not lawfully certified.
Speaker 3: (04:57)
I object to the vote from the state of Wisconsin, which should not be legally certified [crosstalk 00:05:01].
Speaker 4: (05:01)
Speaker 5: (05:02)
Mr. President, I object to the certificate from the State of Georgia on the grounds that the electoral vote-
Speaker 4: (05:07)
No debate. There’s no debate.
Speaker 6: (05:09)
I object to the certificate from the State of North Carolina.
Speaker 5: (05:13)
I object to the 15 votes from the State of North Carolina. I object.
Speaker 7: (05:17)
I object to the certificate from the State of Alabama. The electors were not lawfully certified.
Joe Biden: (05:22)
Is it signed by a senator?
Speaker 11: (05:23)
Not as of yet, Mr. President.
Joe Biden: (05:24)
In that case, the objection cannot be entertained. The objection cannot be entertained. [crosstalk 00:05:30] Debate is not in order.
Speaker 12: (05:31)
[crosstalk 00:05:31] Even with the malfunctioning of 87 voting machines in predominantly African American-
Joe Biden: (05:35)
There is no debate. There is no debate under the joint session. There is no debate. There is no debate.
Speaker 5: (05:36)
[crosstalk 00:05:36] 16 to 1.
Joe Biden: (05:39)
There is no debate. Please come to order. [crosstalk 00:05:44]. Your objection cannot be received.
Speaker 12: (05:46)
But the Russian interference [crosstalk 00:05:48].
Joe Biden: (05:47)
Section 18, Title 3 of the United States Code prohibits debate in the joint session.
Maxine Waters: (05:53)
I do not wish to debate. I wish to ask is there one United States Senator who will join me in this letter of objection [crosstalk 00:06:00]?
Joe Biden: (06:00)
There is no debate.
Maxine Waters: (06:01)
Joe Biden: (06:03)
The gentlewoman will suspend.
Michael van der Veen: (06:10)
In 2000, the dispute over the outcome was taken all the way to the Supreme Court, which ultimately rendered a decision. To litigate questions of election integrity within the system is not incitement to resurrection; it is the democratic system working as the founders and lawmakers have designed. To claim that the president in any way wished, desired, or encouraged lawless or violent behavior is a preposterous and monstrous lie. 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: (07:00)
The gathering on January 6th was supposed to be a peaceful event. Make no mistake about that, and the overwhelming majority of those in attendance remained peaceful. As everyone knows, the president had spoken at hundreds of large rallies across the country over the past five years. There had never been any mob-like or riotous behaviors, and, in fact, a significant portion of each event was devoted to celebrating the rule of law, protecting our Constitution, and honoring the men and women of law enforcement. Contrast the president’s repeated condemnations of violence with a rhetoric from his opponents.
Donald Trump: (07:52)
I am your president of law and order, and an ally of all peaceful protesters.
Joe Biden: (07:59)
The vast majority of the protests have been peaceful.
Donald Trump: (08:04)
Republicans stand for law and order and we stand for justice.
Nancy Pelosi: (08:10)
I just don’t even know why there aren’t uprisings all over the country. Maybe there will be.
Donald Trump: (08:14)
My administration will always stand against violence, mayhem, and disorder.
Ayanna Pressley : (08:19)
There needs to be unrest in the streets for as long as there’s unrest in our lives.
Donald Trump: (08:23)
I stand with the heroes of law enforcement.
Maxine Waters: (08:27)
And you push back on them. And you tell them they are not welcome anymore, anywhere.
Donald Trump: (08:33)
We will never defund our police. Together, we will ensure that America is a nation of law and order.
Joe Biden: (08:40)
If we were in high school, I’d take him behind the gym and beat the hell out of him.
Senator Jon Tester: (08:43)
I think you need to go back and punch him in the face.
Speaker 17: (08:46)
Feel like punching him.
Donald Trump: (08:48)
We just want law and order. Everybody wants that.
Chuck Schumer: (08:50)
I want to tell you [inaudible 00:08:52], I want to tell you Kavanaugh, you have released the whirlwind, and you will pay a price.
Donald Trump: (09:01)
We want law and order. We have to have load order.
Speaker 19: (09:03)
Show me where it says that protests are supposed to be polite and peaceful.
Donald Trump: (09:07)
We believe in safe streets, secure communities, and we believe in law and order.
Michael van der Veen: (09:19)
Tragically, as we know now, on January 6th, a small group who came to engage in violent and menacing behavior hijacked the event for their own purposes. According to publicly available reporting, it is apparent that extremists of various different stripes and political persuasions preplanned, and premeditated an attack on the Capitol. One of the first people arrested was a leader of Antifa. Sadly, he was also among the first to be released. From the beginning, the president has been clear. The criminals who infiltrated the capital must be punished to the fullest extent of the law, they should be in prison for as long as the law allows. The fact that the attacks were apparently premeditated, as alleged by the House managers demonstrates the ludicrousness of the incitement allegation against the president. You can’t incite what was already going to happen.
Michael van der Veen: (10:36)
Law enforcement officers at the scene conducted themselves heroically and courageously, and our country owes them an eternal debt, but there must be a discussion of the decision by political leadership regarding force posture and security in advance of the event. As many will recall last summer, the White House was faced with violent rioters. Night after night, they repeatedly attacked secret service officers. And at one point Pierce to security wall, culminating in the clearing of Lafayette Square. Since that time, there has been a sustained negative narrative in the media regarding the necessity of those security measures on that night, even though they certainly prevented many calamities from occurring. In the wake of the Capitol attack, it must be investigated whether the proper force posture was not initiated due to the political pressure stemming from the events at Lafayette Square. Consider this: on January 5th, the mayor of the District of Columbia explicitly discouraged the national guard and federal authorities from doing more to protect the Capitol saying, and I quote, “The District of Columbia is not requesting other federal law enforcement personnel, and discourages any additional deployment.” This sham impeachment also poses a serious threat to freedom of speech for political leaders of both parties at every level of government. The Senate should be extremely careful about the precedent this case will set.
Michael van der Veen: (12:38)
Consider the language that the house impeachment article alleges to constitute incitement. “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” This is ordinary political rhetoric that is virtually indistinguishable from the language that has been used by people across the political spectrum for hundreds of years. Countless politicians have spoken of fighting for our principals. Joe Biden’s campaign slogan was, “Battle for the soul of America.” No human being seriously believes that the use of such metaphorical terminology is incitement to political violence.
Michael van der Veen: (13:30)
While the president did not engage in any language of incitement, there are numerous officials in Washington who have indeed used profoundly reckless, dangerous and inflammatory rhetoric in recent years. The entire Democratic Party and national news media spent the last four years repeating, without any evidence, that the 2016 election had been hacked, and falsely and absurdly claimed the president of the United States was a Russian spy. Speaker Pelosi herself said that the 2016 election was hijacked, and that Congress has a duty to protect our democracy. She also called the president an imposter, and a traitor, and recently referred to our colleagues in the House as the enemy within. Moreover many Democrat politicians endorsed and encourage the riots that destroyed vast swaths of American cities last summer. When violent left-wing anarchists conducted a sustained assault on a federal courthouse in Portland, Oregon, Speaker Pelosi did not call it an insurrection. Instead she called the federal law enforcement officers protecting the building stormtroopers.
Michael van der Veen: (15:14)
When violent mobs destroyed public property, she said, “People will do what they do.” The Attorney General of the state of Massachusetts stated, “Yes, America is burning, but that’s how forests grow.” Representative Ayanna Pressley declared, “There needs to be unrest in the streets for as long as there is unrest in our lives.” The current vice president of the United States, Kamala Harris urged supporters to donate to a fund that bailed out violent rioters and arsonists out of jail. One of those was released, and went out and committed another crime; assault. He beat the bejesus out of somebody.
Michael van der Veen: (16:11)
She said of the violent demonstrations, “Everyone beware, they’re not going to stop before election day in November, and they’re not going to stop after election day. They’re not going to let up and they should not.” Such rhetoric continued, even as hundreds of police officers across the nation were subjected to violent assaults at the hands of angry mobs. A man claiming to be inspired by the junior Senator from Vermont, came down here to Washington DC to watch a softball game and kill as many senators and congressmen as he could. It cannot be forgotten that president Trump did not blame the junior Senator. The senior Senator from Maine has had her house surrounded by angry mobs of protestors. When that happened it unnerved her, one of the House managers, I forget which one, tweeted, “Cry me a river.”
Michael van der Veen: (17:30)
Under the standards of the House Impeachment Article, each of these individuals should be retroactively censored, expelled, punished, or impeached for inciting violence by their supporters. Unlike the left, President Trump has been entirely consistent in his opposition to mob violence. He opposes it in all forms in all places, just as he’s been consistent, that the national guard should be deployed to protect American communities. Wherever protection is needed. For Democrats, they have clearly demonstrated that their opposition to mobs, and their view of using the National Guard depends upon the mob’s political views.
Michael van der Veen: (18:25)
Not only is this impeachment case preposterously wrong on the facts, no matter how much heat and emotion is injected by the political opposition. It is also plainly unconstitutional. In effect, Congress would be claiming that the right to disqualify a private citizen, no longer a government official, from running for public office. This would transform the solemn impeachment process into a mechanism for asserting congressional control over which private citizens are, and are not allowed to run for president.
Michael van der Veen: (19:08)
In short, this unprecedented effort is not about Democrats opposing political violence, it is about Democrats trying to disqualify their political opposition. It is constitutional cancel culture. History will record this shameful effort as a deliberate attempt by the Democrat Party to smear, censor and cancel, not just President Trump, but the 75 million Americans who voted for him. Now is not the time for such a campaign of retribution. It is the time for unity and healing and focusing on the interests of the nation as a whole. We should all be seeking to cool temperatures, calm passions, rise above partisan lines. The Senate should reject this divisive and unconstitutional effort and allow the nation to move forward
Michael van der Veen: (20:26)
Over the course of the next three hours or so, you will hear next from Mr. [Schoen 00:20:34], who’s going to talk about due process and a couple other points you’ll be interested to hear I’ll return with an analysis of why the First Amendment must be properly here, and then Mr. Castro will discuss the law as it applies to the speech of January 6th, and then we’ll be pleased to answer your questions. Thank you.