Bruce Castor: Trump lawyer offers bewildering defence statement

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Bruce CastorImage source, Reuters
Image caption,
"After he's out of office, you go and arrest him," Bruce Castor said

Donald Trump's lawyers stole the show at the opening of his impeachment trial at the US Senate - but not in a way that will have pleased the former president.

Indeed Mr Trump was unhappy, according to media reports, with the performance of Bruce Castor, whose 48-minute address appeared to have very little substantive content.

Mr Castor's presentation contrasted sharply with a dramatic video montage presented by impeachment managers - the Democrats tasked with leading the prosecution. The clip showed Mr Trump telling supporters to "fight like hell" before they stormed the US Capitol last month.

And the defence was roundly criticised by Republican allies and critics of Mr Trump.

Alan Dershowitz, who defended Mr Trump in his first impeachment trial last year, said he could not understand what Mr Castor had been hoping to achieve.

"There is no argument. I have no idea what he's doing. I have no idea why he's saying what he's saying," the high-profile lawyer told conservative TV channel Newsmax.

Who is Bruce Castor?

He is a former Pennsylvania district attorney previously known for declining to prosecute comedian Bill Cosby for sexual assault in 2005. Cosby was eventually convicted on three counts of sexual assault in a 2018 retrial of his case.

He and the other lawyer representing Mr Trump in the Senate, criminal defence lawyer David Schoen, were drafted in with just over a week to go before the trial after the former president parted ways with his legal team, including attorneys Butch Bowers and Deborah Barbier.

Neither Mr Castor nor Mr Schoen have high-level constitutional law experience.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Some Trump supporters have argued in court that they went to the riot because the former president told them to

What did Castor say?

He argued that Mr Trump's speech ahead of the Capitol riot should be protected by the First Amendment, which refers to freedom of speech, and warned that partisan impeachments would otherwise become commonplace.

"We can't possibly be suggesting that we punish people for political speech," he said.

Mr Castor said impeachment was unnecessary because Mr Trump could not be removed from office as a result of the trial as he was no longer president. However, if convicted, Mr Trump could also be barred from holding federal office again.

"President Trump no longer is in office. The object of the Constitution has been achieved. He was removed by the voters," Mr Castor said, contradicting Mr Trump's repeated but unsubstantiated assertion that he had been the victim of electoral fraud.

Mr Castor also talked about loving one's elected representatives, offered his own personal memories of working in the US Capitol building - "I got lost then and I still do" - and other nuggets including a description of the state of Nebraska as a "judicial thinking place".

Some of the randomness appeared to find explanation when Mr Castor confirmed the impact of the prosecution video, saying it had forced the defence team to switch strategy at the eleventh hour.

"We changed what we were going to do on account that we thought the House impeachment managers' presentation was well done," he said.

He finished by arguing that the US justice department would have grounds to arrest Mr Trump if the impeachment allegations against him were true.

"A high crime is a felony, and a misdemeanour is a misdemeanour. After he's out of office, you go and arrest him," Mr Castor said. "The Department of Justice does know what to do with such people. And so far, I haven't seen any activity in that direction."

What has the reaction been?

Reaction was swift and brutal, with Mr Castor and Mr Schoen compared variously to the Three Stooges and the incompetent attorney played by Joe Pesci in the comedy My Cousin Vinny.

"Castor and Schoen must be the most incompetent legal representation of any modern president, incumbent or otherwise," tweeted Michael Beschloss, a historian of the presidency. "By the time Castor and Schoen are finished, the House will probably demand to impeach (Trump) a third time."

Media caption,

Trump lawyer David Schoen: 'Overriding emotion is to cry for the US Constitution'

Many Republicans were unimpressed. Staunch Trump ally Ted Cruz said Mr Castor and Mr Schoen had not done "the most effective job".

Senator John Cornyn, who voted to dismiss the trial, said Mr Castor "just rambled on and on and didn't really address the constitutional argument".

"I've seen a lot of lawyers and a lot of arguments and that was not one of the finest I've seen," he said.

Meanwhile Bill Cassidy, a Republican senator who voted to go ahead with the trial, said the lawyers had done a "terrible job".

Longtime Trump critic Susan Collins said she was left "perplexed" because Mr Castor "did not seem to make any arguments at all, which was an unusual approach to take".

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It was hard to get a definitive answer of how the former president reacted to what he saw. Unlike in his first trial, there is no Twitter for him to give live commentary as his account has been banned from the platform.