WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s legal defense team argued Saturday that the Democratic House managers' impeachment arguments fail to prove their case, rely on selective evidence and aim to undo the 2016 election and interfere in the 2020 election.
Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, opened the first day of the defense by asserting that the president did nothing wrong and that Democrats’ attempt to remove Trump from office was “very consequential” and “very dangerous” for the country.
“They are asking you not only to overturn the results of the last election but as I said before, they are asking to remove the president from the ballot,” Cipollone said. “They are asking you to tear up all of the ballots across the country on your own initiative.”
Trump’s defense team spent just two of its 24 hours on a rare Saturday morning session, using the time to give an overview of the case they said they would make more fully when the trial resumes at 1 p.m. on Monday.
“What was most striking to me about the president’s presentation today is they don’t contest the basic architecture of the scheme,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the lead House manager, said afterward. “They do not contest the president solicited a foreign nation to interfere in our election to help him cheat.”
Here are highlights from the sixth day of the Senate impeachment trial.
Defense lawyers: Dems used selective evidence
In his opening remarks, Cipollone said his team would prove that the president did nothing wrong and that the House Democrats’ case was built on hearsay and selective evidence plucked from the interviews with their 17 witnesses. “They have the burden of proof — and they have not come close to proving it,” he said. “They are asking you to do something that no Senate has ever done and they are asking you to do it with no evidence.” Jay Sekulow, Trump’s personal lawyer, said, “This entire impeachment process is about the House managers' insistence that they are able to read everybody’s thoughts, they can read everybody’s intention, even when the principal speakers, the witnesses themselves, insist that those interpretations are wrong.” Sekulow read testimony House Democrats did not mention: that two diplomats said they heard nothing wrong in the July 25 call, and that Trump was concerned about Ukraine corruption and foreign aid. “I am not going to continue to go over and over and over again the evidence that they did not put before you,” he said, “because we would be here for a lot longer than 24 hours.”
Trump had reason to pause aid
House Democrats argued that Trump never gave a reason for withholding $391 million in security aid to Ukraine when he ordered it or when he released it. But Trump's deputy counsel Patrick Philbin said he did: Trump had great concern about the use of taxpayer money for foreign countries and he focused on “burden sharing” by European countries in supporting Ukraine. And he and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky talked about those concerns in the July 25 phone call, Philbin said. “President Trump turned to corruption in the form of foreign interference in the 2016 presidential election,” Philbin added. “There's absolutely nothing wrong with asking a foreign leader to help get to the bottom of all forms of foreign interference in American elections.”
White House lawyer: House process illegal
In a defense against the impeachment article accusing the president of obstructing Congress, Philbin dismissed Democrats' charges that Trump simply stonewalled, refusing to honor subpoenas and requests for witnesses and documents, in order to hide evidence of wrongdoing. The subpoenas, Philbin said, lacked legitimacy because the House had not voted to authorize an impeachment inquiry. “The problem here is there is no standing rule, there was no standing authority giving manager Schiff’s committee the authority to use the power of impeachment to issue compulsory process,” he said. “The House Democrats skipped over that step completely.”
Defense targets Schiff
As Schiff predicted, the president’s lawyers took aim at him — a tactic Schiff dismissed as a distraction from the factual case against Trump. But the president’s counsel showed they would not shy away from targeting him. Philbin said Schiff should be a “fact witness” because his committee spoke with the whistleblower before he or she filed the complaint that launched the impeachment debate. Trump attorney Michael Purpura began his turn by playing a clip of Schiff presenting a parody of Trump’s July 25 phone call asking Zelensky for a favor like an organized crime boss. “It’s fake. That’s not the real call,” Purpura said. Schiff can say he was making a joke, but he said it in a House hearing about removing the president from office, Purpura said. “There are very few things that can be as grave and as serious.”
Schumer: Defense made case for witnesses
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the president’s defense team inadvertently made an argument that Democrats welcome — that after the arguments and question-and-answer sessions were done, the Senate should vote to subpoena new evidence. “The president’s counsel did something that they did not intend: They made a really compelling case for why the Senate should call witnesses and documents,” Schumer said. “They kept saying there are no eyewitness accounts. But there are people that have eyewitness accounts — the very four witnesses, and the very four sets of documents, that we have asked for.”