Trump Did 'Nothing Wrong,' His Legal Team Says In First Day Of Impeachment Defense
Updated at 1:32 p.m. ET
President Trump "did absolutely nothing wrong," White House counsel Pat Cipollone said Saturday, as lawyers representing the president got their first shot to poke holes in the impeachment case made this week by Democrats.
Saturday's proceedings, which lasted a little more than two hours, set up the White House arguments in the impeachment trial. The proceedings resume Monday at 1 p.m.
The president's team told senators that the House managers selectively withheld evidence in their arguments against the president.
Cipollone said the Democratic House managers, who concluded their arguments late Friday after 24 hours spread over three days, "are asking you to remove President Trump" from the 2020 ballot and "they're asking you to do it with no evidence." He said the managers "didn't tell you" that the issue of burden sharing — getting other nations to contribute more to Ukraine's defense — was discussed in the July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. That call is at the heart of the charges against the president.
Deputy White House counsel Mike Purpura continued that theme, reiterating that House managers "didn't tell you" that top Ukrainian officials were unaware that U.S. aid was being withheld from Ukraine until a Politicoarticle in late August. However, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Laura Cooper testified during the House impeachment inquiry in November that Ukrainian officials asked in July: "What is going on" with the security assistance?
After the session, both sides claimed the advantage. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said the president's defense team "entirely shredded" the Democratic managers' case.
But Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif, the lead House manager, said Trump's lawyers failed "to contest the basic architecture of the scheme," that the president pressured Ukraine by withholding military aid in order to get Zelenskiy to investigate the Bidens.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said that there were "gaping holes" in the president's lawyers' case and that they inadvertently bolstered Democrats' arguments that the Senate should call witnesses, including acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.
Perhaps because of the brevity of the Saturday session, there was unusual camaraderie at its close. Cipollone and Jay Sekulow, Trump's personal attorney, worked the room, with some senators coming up to shake their hands as they stood up from their table after the close. They later went to some members' desks to visit. Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., was first in line to shake Cipollone's and Sekulow's hands, followed by Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan. The camaraderie was bipartisan. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., was also among those greeting the president's lawyers.
The House of Representatives impeached Trump last month on charges that he obstructed Congress and abused power, saying he tried to pressure the Ukrainian president to investigate Trump's political rivals during the July phone call. The president and his defenders have dismissed the process as a sham and refused to participate in the House proceedings. Saturday was the first time Trump's lawyers responded in person to the charges against the president.
The presentation was expected to set the stage for the "coming attractions," as Sekulow described it Friday, for the trial when it resumes Monday.
That includes discussing the Steele dossier, a report of unverified information on the Trump campaign compiled by a former British spy, and efforts made by Hillary Clinton's campaign to dig up dirt on Trump leading up to the 2016 presidential election.
Sekulow also tried to argue, as many Republicans have over the course of the impeachment proceedings, that Clinton solicited foreign interference by Ukraine in the 2016 election.
American intelligence agencies have been unanimous in their assessment that it was Russia that interfered in the last presidential race.
Another of Trump's defense attorneys, Alan Dershowitz, told NPR's David Folkenflik that he would focus his arguments on what he sees as "nonimpeachable offenses" brought forward by the House.
"They charged him with nonimpeachable offenses: namely obstruction of Congress and abuse of power," Dershowitz said. "Those would have clearly been rejected by the framers as too broad, too open-ended and not sufficiently specific. So I'm going to focus my argument on the criteria used by the House."
Republicans have largely stood by the president throughout the week, and because they hold a majority in the Senate, it remains unlikely that Trump will be removed from office.
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