The day before former President Donald Trump's impeachment trial begins on a charge of inciting the deadly attack on the Capitol last month, his lawyers on Monday denied he had encouraged violence and challenged the constitutionality of the trial now that he has left office. Photo: AFP Trump's lawyers accused the nine Democratic lawmakers known as "impeachment managers" who will prosecute him of "intellectual dishonesty and factual vacuity" in their portrayal of Trump's fiery 6 January speech to a crowd of his supporters before hundreds stormed the Capitol as Congress was meeting to formally certify President Joe Biden's election win. A source familiar with the discussions said the trial will open with a four-hour debate and then a vote on whether the proceedings are unconstitutional because Trump is no longer president. The trial will then feature up to 32 hours of debate beginning on Wednesday at noon, the source added. The nine Democrats who will serve as prosecutors hope to persuade members of the evenly divided 100-seat Senate to convict Trump and bar him from ever again holding public office. Trump, a Republican, ended his four-year term on 20 January, having lost the 3 November election to Biden. "The intellectual dishonesty and factual vacuity put forth by the House Managers in their trial memorandum only serve to further punctuate the point that this impeachment proceeding was never about seeking justice," Trump lawyers wrote in a filing in response to a brief by the House prosecutors. "Instead, this was only ever a selfish attempt by Democratic leadership in the House to prey upon the feelings of horror and confusion that fell upon all Americans across the entire political spectrum upon seeing the destruction at the Capitol on 6 January by a few hundred people," Trump's lawyers wrote. Pro-Trump supporters storm the US Capitol on 6 January. Photo: 2021 Getty Images They underscored their view that a post-presidency trial is not permitted under the Constitution. A failed 26 January bid to dismiss the case against Trump on the basis that it would be unconstitutional to hold a post-presidency trial drew the support of 45 of the 50 Republicans in the Senate. The House prosecutors rejected that argument in their brief filed with the Senate last week. They argued for Trump's conviction to protect American democracy and national security and to deter any future president who might consider provoking violence in the pursuit of power. They argued that Trump had a "singular responsibility" for the Capitol attack. To secure a conviction, 17 Republicans would need to join the Senate's 50 Democrats in the vote, a daunting hurdle. Possible debate on witnesses If the House prosecutors decide they want to call witnesses, the Senate would debate and hold a vote on whether witnesses will be allowed, the source said. The Democratic-led House impeached Trump on 13 January. He is the first US president to be impeached twice and the first to face trial after leaving office. Donald Trump at the rally that preceded the Capitol Hill insurrection Photo: AFP In his 6 January speech, Trump repeated false claims that the election was fraudulent and exhorted supporters to march on the Capitol, telling them to "stop the steal," "show strength" and "fight like hell." The rampage interrupted the formal congressional certification of Biden's election victory, sent lawmakers into hiding for their own safety and left five people dead including a police officer. Trump's lawyers said he used the word fight in a "figurative sense" that "could not be construed to encourage acts of violence." "Notably absent from his speech was any reference to or encouragement of an insurrection, a riot, criminal action, or any acts of physical violence whatsoever," they wrote. Challenging the case against Trump on constitutional grounds would enable his fellow Republicans in the Senate to vote against conviction without directly defending his speech to supporters shortly before the riot. Both parties may have an interest in completing the trial expeditiously. Biden since taking office has called for healing and unity in a nation that was left deeply polarized after Trump's presidency. Democrats hold slim majorities in both the House and Senate, and the trial could make it more difficult for Congress to pass Biden's $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief plan and complete the confirmation of nominees to government posts. Trump's false claims of a stolen election and his speech before the riot have left fissures in his party. Ten Republicans joined House Democrats in voting to impeach Trump. Trump's first impeachment trial, on charges of abuse of power and obstructing Congress arising from his request that Ukraine investigate Biden and his son Hunter, ended last year in acquittal by the then-Republican-led Senate. The Senate will pause the impeachment trial from Friday evening to Saturday evening to honor a request by a Trump attorney, David Schoen, who observes the Jewish Sabbath, a spokesman for Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said on Sunday. The trial will them resume on Sunday, the source familiar with the matter said. - Reuters
The leader of the coup in Myanmar has made his first TV address, seeking to justify the action amid mass protests.
Min Aung Hlaing said November’s election, won in a landslide by the party of detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, had been unfair.
The military has begun to impose restrictions in some areas, including curfews and limits to gatherings.
Huge protests were held on Monday for a third straight day, along with a nationwide strike, to oppose the coup.
One demonstrating doctor – who did not want to be named – told the BBC: “Today, we, professionals – especially civil servant professionals such as doctors, engineers and teachers – came out to show that we are all together in this. Our objective is the same – to make the dictatorship fall.”
The general’s speech drew angry opposition, with images on social media showing people banging pots and pans in protest in front of television screens.
The military seized power last week and declared a year-long state of emergency in Myanmar, also known as Burma, with power handed over to General Min Aung Hlaing.
Suu Kyi and senior leaders of her National League for Democracy Party (NLD), including President Win Myint, have been put under house arrest.
An Australian economic adviser to Suu Kyi, Sean Turnell, has also been detained and on Monday his family posted a statement on Facebook calling for his immediate release.
What did the general say?
Min Aung Hlaing’s speech focused more on the reasons for the coup and less on threats to protesters.
He said the electoral commission had failed to investigate irregularities over voter lists in the November election and had not allowed fair campaigning.
The commission had said there was no evidence to support claims of widespread fraud.
Min Aung Hlaing, wearing green military uniform, promised new elections and to hand power to the winner. A new “reformed” election commission would oversee it.
He also said his rule would be “different” from what was effectively a 49-year military grip on power that ended in 2011 and which saw brutal crackdowns in 1988 and 2007.
He spoke of achieving a “true and disciplined democracy”, a phrase that drew scorn from some opponents of the coup on social media.
He also told citizens to “go with the true facts and not to follow feelings of your own”.
The general did not issue direct threats to protesters, saying only that no-one was above the law.
But some areas have seen clampdowns, with parts of Yangon and second city Mandalay, along with other areas, under a 20:00 to 04:00 curfew and with gatherings limited to groups of five or less.
Earlier, a broadcast on state TV warned “action must be taken, according to the law… against offences that disturb, prevent and destroy state stability, public safety and the rule of law”.
Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said: “For a military coup government that has trampled all over democracy and the rule of law, it’s absurd for them to claim they have any right to ‘legal action’ against peaceful protesters.”
Who has been on the streets?
Tens of thousands gathered on Monday in the capital, Nay Pyi Taw, for the strike, with other cities such as Mandalay and Yangon also reporting significant numbers, according to BBC Burmese. The protesters include teachers, lawyers, bank officers and government workers.
Online there had been calls asking workers to skip work to protest. “This is a work day, but we aren’t going to work even if our salary will be cut,” one protester, 28-year-old garment factory worker, Hnin Thazin, told news agency AFP.
Another protester, Hnin Hayman Soe, told the BBC she had joined the protest alongside her children, nieces and nephews. “We can see many young people can’t accept the military junta. We can even see teenagers here,” she said.
A few injuries have been reported, but no violence. However, a water cannon was activated in Nay Pyi Taw to disperse crowds. A video appears to show protesters rubbing their eyes and helping one another after being soaked.
Kyaw Zeyar Oo, who took the video, told the BBC two vehicles had sprayed protesters with “no prior warning”, while “the crowd was peacefully protesting in front of [the police]”.
The BBC’s Nyein Chan Aye, in Yangon, says Buddhist monks, members of the minority Muslim community, top footballers and film and music stars have all been joining the anti-coup protests, which he says are expected to become more organised in the coming days.