In the days following former President Donald Trump’s acquittal on an article of impeachment alleging incitement of insurrection, his lawyers and allies have tried to weaponize the trial with allegations that House impeachment managers resorted to manufacturing evidence.
These claims are extremely flimsy and can’t withstand basic scrutiny. But they provide people like Trump attorney Michael van der Veen and Donald Trump Jr. with a pretext to go on TV and complain about how unfairly Donald Trump was treated.
In a Saturday interview with CBS that has been viewed nearly 10 million times as this is published, van der Veen went as far as to equate the January 6 insurrection that left five dead with Trump’s treatment during the impeachment trial.
“What happened at the Capitol on January 6 is absolutely horrific, but what happened at the Capitol during this trial was not too far away from that,” he said. “The prosecutors in this case doctored evidence.”
Trump defense attorney Michael van der Veen speaks with @LanaZak after the Senate's acquittal vote: "What happened at the Capitol on January 6 is absolutely horrific. But what happened at the Capitol during this trial was not too far away from that."— CBS News (@CBSNews) February 13, 2021
Watch the full interview: pic.twitter.com/ndjBZzJgNZ
CBS News host Lana Zak responded by trying to unpack what van der Veen meant in saying that Democrats “doctored evidence.” It didn’t sound like much.
“To be clear for our viewers, what you’re talking about now is a check mark that’s a verification on Twitter that did not exist on that particular tweet, a ‘2020’ that should’ve actually read ‘2021,’ and the selective editing, you say, of the tapes. Is that the doctored evidence of which you’re speaking?” she asked.
Zak’s characterization of van der Veen’s allegations was accurate. But before she could even finish asking the question, van der Veen — perhaps cognizant of how flimsy his allegations sound when laid out like that — angrily fired back.
“Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait — that’s not enough for you? No, no, no. It’s not okay to doctor a little bit of evidence,” he said, adding later: “I can’t believe you would ask me a question indicating that it’s all right to doctor just a little bit of evidence.”
Van der Veen’s adversarial performance was widely praised by right-wing pundits. Less adversarial but equally telling was Donald Trump Jr.’s appearance on Monday night’s edition of Sean Hannity’s Fox News show, when he went as far as to suggest the House managers should be imprisoned.
“The reality is this: If this wasn’t a kangaroo court, you’d have the Republicans clamoring to go after the supposed prosecution for literally manufacturing evidence,” he said. “I mean, imagine any prosecutor in America was caught manufacturing evidence against a witness. That would be a jailable offense. They would be disbarred, they’d be thrown out of their positions, they’d be impeached. That’s what should happen here, when they’re manufacturing, putting up fake blue check marks, altering tweets, doing all these things for effect.”
Jr. says House Managers should be disbarred and impeached for adding a blue check mark pic.twitter.com/EhcobOrrQq— Acyn Torabi (@Acyn) February 16, 2021
The reality is that despite Trump’s acquittal, 57 senators — including seven Republicans — voted to convict him. And even GOP lawmakers who voted to acquit on procedural grounds, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, made clear that they hold Trump responsible for the January 6 insurrection.
Nonetheless, van der Veen and Don Jr. are trying to make it seem as though Trump’s second impeachment trial was just another installment of the anti-Trump witch hunt. But they’re banking on that people won’t take the time to look into the merits of what they’re alleging, because there’s no there there.
The outrage is performative, not substantive
Claims about the House impeachment managers manipulating evidence first came up during Trump attorney David Schoen’s presentation during Friday’s portion of the impeachment trial, when he said, “We have reason to believe the House managers manipulated evidence and selectively edited footage.”
Schoen’s goal was to discredit the prosecution’s case by impugning the House managers’ credibility, but the specific examples he cited had no bearing on their case.
One had to do with a photo from a New York Times article in which lead prosecutor Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) is shown preparing for the trial by looking at a computer monitor that’s displaying a Trump tweet with the incorrect date at the bottom. Schoen cited this photo to claim Democrats were cooking up evidence, but as even he admitted, the error was corrected before the trial.
Schoen accuses House managers of presenting "manipulated evidence" -- but his evidence for this is a photo from a New York Times piece that is in no way central to the case and wasn't even presented during the trial pic.twitter.com/EGVedolQvd— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 12, 2021
The other specific allegations made by Schoen and van der Veen were similarly weak. One had to do with the year on a Trump tweet that managers displayed during the trial reading “2021” instead of “2020.” Another had to do with a Twitter account retweeted by Trump being shown with a blue checkmark verification badge when the account in fact was not verified. Schoen also quibbled with the prosecution over the significance of misspellings in tweets that Trump retweeted, and accused Democrats of “selectively editing” footage presented during the trial by showing short clips of Trump’s pre-insurrection January 6 speech instead of longer parts of it. (The implication being that because Trump once in passing urged his followers to remain peaceful during a speech in which he referenced “fighting” more than 20 times, it’s not the case he incited anything.)
To be clear, the discrepancies on the tweets are legitimate errors, but they had absolutely no bearing on the actual content of the posts in question or the substance of the House managers’ case. And as an aide to the House managers explained after Schoen made light of these discrepancies, the errors happened because prosecutors had to recreate Trump’s tweets from scratch after his account was permanently suspended.
“The text is entirely unchanged,” the aide told The Hill. “The final graphic accidentally had a blue verification checkmark on it, but the substance of it was entirely accurate. So what is Trump’s attorneys’ point?”
The point, of course, was not to offer a substantive defense of Trump, but to try to discredit Democrats while giving people like van der Veen grist for performative outrage during TV hits. And to that end, mission accomplished.