Senate impeachment trial: Trump’s defense team makes their case

After three days of arguments from the House impeachment managers, the President’s legal team has taken over the Senate floor to deliver their side of the story, detailing the defense of the President against the two articles of impeachment.

“You heard the House managers speak for nearly 24 hours over three days,” White House counsel Pat Cipollone said on the floor of the Senate as he began his remarks. “We don’t anticipate using that much time.”

He continued, “We don’t believe that they have come anywhere close to meeting their burden for what they’re asking you to do. In fact, we believe that when you hear the facts, and that’s what we intend to cover today — the facts — you will find that the President did absolutely nothing wrong.”

Cipollone told senators he intends to go through the record that was established in the House.

“We intend to show you some of the evidence that they introduced in the House that they decided over their three days and 24 hours that they didn’t have enough time or made a decision not to show you,” he said, arguing that House impeachment managers are “asking you not only to overturn the results of the last election. … They’re asking you to remove President Trump from the ballot in an election that’s occurring in approximately nine months.”

Cipollone began by reading from the transcript of Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, outlining the call’s description of burden-sharing.

“Today,” Cipollone said, “we are going to confront them on the merits of their argument,” later adding that his team will “finish efficiently and quickly so that we can all go have an election.”

Unlike Tuesday’s arguments over rules for the trial, the President’s defense team came prepared with visual aids — PowerPoint slides and videos — to supplement their argument, like the House impeachment managers.

The President’s team is delivering its presentation as Senate Republicans feel more confident that the House managers did not convince enough fence-sitting Republicans to vote for additional witnesses that would extend the trial beyond next week — and that the trial is now the defense team’s to lose.
The President’s team, led by Cipollone and the President’s personal attorney Jay Sekulow, began its argument, which is expected to last two-to-three hours, on Saturday. Moments before the trial started Saturday, House impeachment managers pushed four carts of evidence from the House to the Senate, officially filing a 28,578-page trial record.
Sekulow told reporters Saturday’s presentation would be a “sneak preview” of the full argument they will deliver beginning on Monday. A source from the President’s team said the defense would “present a robust defense on both the facts and the law, on the substance of the President’s conduct.”

“We have three hours to put it out, so we’ll take whatever time’s appropriate during that three hours, kind of lay out what the case will look like,” Sekulow said. “Next week is when you’ll see the full presentation.”

The President’s team is delivering its presentation as White House and Senate GOP sources say they are confident they will defeat a vote next week for additional witnesses that would extend the trial beyond next week. The sources say they are likely to lose two GOP votes, but expect to keep the defections under the four that Democrats would need to subpoena more witnesses and documents, and if the vote fails the Senate could move to acquit Trump by the end of next week.

The White House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell they have been laying the groundwork for weeks to lock down opposition to moving forward with new witnesses, including a lunch this week with former George W. Bush administration Attorney General Michael Mukasey to argue that calling witnesses could spark thorny legal issues with executive privilege.

Sekulow has signaled that the defense team is likely to go after former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, as well as the Russia investigation into the President and the opposition research dossier from ex-British intelligence agent Christopher Steele.

“They opened up the door as wide as a double-door on the Hunter Biden, Joe Biden, Burisma issue — I guess that was their way of getting ahead of it — we will address it,” Sekulow said. “Joe Biden was charged as vice president of the United States with Ukraine policy. That was his specific charge. His son went to work … for the board of a Ukrainian gas company.”

The source called the Bidens’ conduct “very relevant to the case.” House impeachment managers, the source said, “spent a lot of time bringing the Bidens into this case and have established that there is something relevant there so we’ll have to be addressing that.”

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, the House’s lead impeachment manager, delivered a lengthy and full-throated argument for removing the President from office to conclude the House’s opening argument Friday evening. The House managers took time in their presentation to try to get ahead of the arguments they’re anticipating from the President’s team, and Schiff used a significant portion of his closing speech Friday to run through the President’s arguments that the Bidens were corrupt, that Trump had reason to withheld the aid to Ukraine and that the process was unfair.

“When they say the process was unfair, what they really mean is don’t look at what the President did,” Schiff said.

Republicans don’t expect the President’s team to use the full 24 hours, which the House managers nearly did. Sekulow has declined to comment on timing, but if they wrapped their presentation on Monday, it would allow the Senate to get to 16 hours of senator questions a day early — the last step before the chamber debates and votes on whether to consider more witnesses.

“Less is more,” Sekulow said Friday evening.

Trump offered some advice to his legal team Friday in an interview with Fox News.

“What my people have to do is just be honest, just tell the truth,” he said.

This story has been updated with additional developments Saturday.

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