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5 Takeaways From The Trump Impeachment Trial After Defense Wraps Up

Michael van der Veen, lawyer for former President Donald Trump, departs through the Senate Reception room on the fourth day of the Senate Impeachment trials for former President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill.
Jabin Botsford
Pool/AFP via Getty Images
Michael van der Veen, lawyer for former President Donald Trump, departs through the Senate Reception room on the fourth day of the Senate Impeachment trials for former President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill.

The second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump is all over but the closing arguments. They are taking place Saturday, and the Senate could render a verdict as early as Saturday afternoon.

Despite a compelling and extensive case made by the Democratic impeachment managers, the outcome still seems predetermined. Trump is likely to be acquitted because not enough Republicans will side with Democrats for the two-thirds majority needed to convict — though a majority, including a handful of Republicans, are poised to do so.

This week was revealing, however. Here are five things we learned:

1. When the chips are down, grievance and partisanship are still the GOP's go-tos

Trump's defense took aim at Democrats with cries of partisan targeting.

It was, for lack of a better phrase, very Trumpy. Trump's defense largely set aside what was expected to be a narrow constitutional argument that a former president could not be tried for impeachment.

Instead, perhaps predictably, there was a healthy dose of angry whataboutism — with videos repeatedly showing Democrats using the word "fight" (despite its lack of relevance to Trump's culpability to the violence Jan. 6); the First Amendment was leaned on to say Trump had a right to say whatever he wanted (despite an impeachment trial not being a criminal proceeding but one to determine whether a president upheld his oath and a standard of conduct); and they even invoked "cancel culture" four times.

Making the argument this way was a choice. There were enough Republican senators who would have gone along with Trump's acquittal solely based on the narrow constitutional argument. But they still opted to go this route, which may have been an attempt to save and defend Trump's legacy — and to solidify his place as the head of the party.

2. The outcome is what it is, as a former president might say

Despite senators, at times, appearing to be moved by powerful videos they saw, and the praise many of them had for the Democratic impeachment managers, few, if any, additional Republicans (other than the handful expected) seemed moved to convict.

The Trump defense's approach likely worked with the overwhelming majority of Republican senators because they've been down this road before in the Trump years and have muscle memory to dismiss inquiries and criticism of the former president as a hoax or witch hunt or scam.

The outcome has always been somewhat preordained, which is why the Trump team only took a few hours of their allotted 16 to make their rebuttal.

3. There are still a lot of questions about what Trump did and didn't do

Regardless of the fact that Trump is likely to be acquitted, there are still open questions about what Trump did or didn't do, knew or didn't know behind the scenes that day that could haunt him beyond this trial.

Trump's defense said Trump didn't know the danger Vice President Mike Pence was in — despite GOP Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, one of the most pro-Trump states in the country, confirming that he talked to the president on Jan. 6 and told him of the danger before Trump sent a tweet disparaging Pence.

In all of this, Pence was a target — because of Trump — for doing his constitutional duty to preside over the usually ceremonial counting of certified presidential election results from the states.

Trump's team not only denied that happened, it refused to answer what actions Trump took to make the violence stop. One of his lawyers, Michael van der Veen, went so far as to say, "It's not our burden to bring any evidence at all" and blamed Democrats for not doing an investigation to get the information.

Trump's lawyers also denied the impeachment managers' pretrial request for Trump to testify — under oath.

4. New evidence showed how much danger lawmakers were in

Democrats presented a new, not previously seen before, video that clearly moved and disturbed many senators.

Utah Republican Mitt Romney said he hadn't realized just how close he was to the mob when he was shown on video running after being turned around by Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman.

Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat, gave a harrowing account Friday night of her own close brush. "They were pounding on our door and trying to open it, and my husband sat with his foot against the door, praying that it would not break in," she said on PBS NewsHour. "I was not safe. It was a horrific feeling, and it lasted for a long time."

The outcome may be predetermined, but what was shown gave a fuller context of what happened Jan. 6 — for history.

5. Americans could have a new standard for their leaders in the future

Trump's behavior as president has grated against what was previously acceptable behavior from a president — belittling, acting confrontational and stoking cultural and racial division.

Trump used to joke that he could be so presidential, and we'd all be so bored. That was an acknowledgment that the way he was acting wasn't "presidential;" it wasn't the accepted view of what a president should be. That lasted throughout his presidency, culminating in his refusal to concede and the lack of a peaceful transfer of power, which had distinguished the United States from far-less-free countries around the world.

Trump's defense had argued that convicting Trump would set a new, too-low bar for impeachment — one that Democrats could get caught up in next.

But Democrats warned that if Republicans continued to remain steadfastly against Trump's conviction, it would be essentially giving a "green light" for future odious conduct from presidents.

With Trump's likely acquittal on the horizon, lead Democratic impeachment manager Jamie Raskin summed up the danger this way:

"They [Trump's lawyers] are treating their client like he is a criminal defendant. They are talking about 'beyond a reasonable doubt.' They think we are making a criminal case here. My friends, the former president is not going to spend one hour or one minute in jail, but this is about protecting a Republic and articulating and defining the standards of presidential conduct. And if you want this to be a standard for totally appropriate presidential conduct going forward, be my guest. But we are headed for a very different kind of country at that point."

The fact is American politics is at a volatile moment. Look no further than what's happened in Georgia over the last few months. The same state that gave Congress a conspiracy believer who harassed a mass-shooting survivor also saw Democrat Joe Biden win the state in the presidential election and two Democrats win Senate races there that gave Democrats control of Congress.

There's no telling what happens next.

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Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.