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Trump's defense team creates an odd alternate reality for senators

Trump's defense team found it necessary to concoct an alternate reality, unrecognizable to those who care about facts.
Michael van der Veen, an attorney for former President Donald Trump, during the second impeachment trial of Trump in the Senate on Feb. 12, 2021.Senate Television / AP

Over the course of nearly two weeks, U.S. senators -- and by extension, the rest of us -- have heard from Donald Trump's newest legal defense team four times. The first was two weeks ago, when the Republican's attorneys delivered a mind-numbing and deeply strange 14-page filing.

About a week later, the same defense lawyers presented a longer, revised filing, which in many ways was worse.

Three days ago, Americans got to hear Team Trump during oral arguments for the first time, and the former president's defense team was so incoherent that Trump was reportedly "furious" while watching the proceedings.

All of which led to today -- and the fourth time was not the charm.

Echoing language that was once frequently used by his client, Trump defense lawyer Michael Van der Veen blasted the Democrats' impeachment case against Trump as an "unjust and blatantly unconstitutional act of political vengeance" and a divisive "politically motivated witch hunt." The trial, Van der Veen said, amounted to "constitutional cancel culture."

No, really, that's what he said.

I made the case this morning that every credible argument in defense of Trump had already been thoroughly discredited by House impeachment managers over the course of their two-day presentation. Helping bolster the point, the former president's defense team found it necessary to concoct an alternate reality, unrecognizable to those who live in this reality.

Team Trump asked senators to believe that it was antifa members who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6. And that the former president received 75 million votes. And that Trump's remarks about Charlottesville weren't as offensive as the American mainstream thought they were.

None of these claims were true, of course, but the former president's lawyers didn't seem overly concerned with such pesky details.

In this alternate reality, references to "bringing the cavalry" on Jan. 6 were actually references to the location of Jesus's crucifixion. In this same version of reality, it was Democrats who presented selectively edited footage -- according to defense attorneys who, at the time, were presenting footage selectively edited to suggest Democrats endorsed acts of political violence.

Trump's attorneys seemed especially interested in a video montage of Democrats using the word "fight" in a variety of contexts, which might've been more compelling if any of those instances led a mob to commit acts of violence. (There's a reason "whataboutism" was trending on Twitter this afternoon.)

But on and on the defense team went. Did you know that there wasn't actually an "insurrection" on Jan. 6? Because that's the reality Trump's lawyers want senators to believe. It's the same reality in which Trump had a First Amendment right to incite a riot, the Russia scandal wasn't real, and the former president said nothing wrong when demanding election officials in Georgia "find" votes that would flip the state in his favor.

This was not a presentation for serious people engaged in a serious process. It was a political spectacle intended to provide cover for partisans and satisfy the whims of an unhinged client.

The defense attorneys, who were allotted 16 hours for arguments, rested after using less than three hours. It brought to mind a famous congressional expression: "When you have the votes, vote. If you don't have the votes, talk."

In this case, Trump's lawyers figure they have the votes, so there simply wasn't any point to talking. They may very well be right: most Senate Republicans made up their minds about the trial's outcome long before the proceedings began.

But winning the political fight and winning on the merits are often two entirely different things.