Trump Lawyers to Offer ‘Coming Attractions’ at Impeachment Debut
Donald Trump’s lawyers kick off their formal defense in the Senate impeachment trial on Saturday, taking their turn at center stage to argue the president should not be removed from office.
The White House is grappling with how to reclaim the spotlight over the weekend — which Trump has called “Death Valley in T.V.” — after Democrats meticulously laid out their case against Trump uninterrupted during prime time over three days to millions of viewers.
“It’s going to be coming attractions,” Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow told reporters Friday when asked what to expect in the Saturday session. “Next week is when you will see the full presentation.”
The Senate will begin its session at 10 a.m., and Trump’s lawyers plan to spend about three hours on their argument, Sekulow said. They plan to save the bulk of their case for Monday, a person on the president’s legal team said, including arguments by celebrity lawyer and Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz.
It’s widely expected that Trump will be acquitted by the Republican-controlled Senate. But his lawyers, led by White House counsel Pat Cipollone, still face the task of winning over the public. Failing to do so could have significant implications when Trump stands for re-election in November.
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A new Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 47% of adults say the Senate should remove Trump from office while 49% say it should not. The same survey showed that roughly two-thirds of adults want to hear from additional witnesses — such as former National Security Adviser John Bolton and Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney — a move the White House has resisted and Senate Republicans have rejected.
The polling suggests that Senate Republicans — even if they vote to acquit Trump — must show that they’ve taken the allegations seriously. Several lawmakers have pushed Trump’s team to make a strong, defensible case.
“Focus on substance more and process less,” Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, told conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt. “Lay out the case why President Trump is innocent, and the reason he is innocent.”
Cruz also said he urged the president’s attorneys “to be calm, to be matter of fact, not to be emotional, not to be histrionic.”
Question of Focus
Still, it remains to be seen whether the Trump team will be as focused on the broader calls from Senate Republicans or to the whims of their boss, a president known for his mercurial demeanor and scorched-earth tactics.
“I can’t wait for the revenge,” Eric Ueland, Trump’s emissary to Capitol Hill, said in front of reporters following a trial presentation by House Democrats.
Trump’s team has been eager to have its say after House managers spent three days, uninterrupted arguing that the president abused his power by pressuring Ukraine to announce investigations of a political rival and obstructed Congress by blocking documents and witness testimony.
Attorneys for Trump will have 24 hours divided over three days to argue the president’s defense. The White House has not said whether they will use all of it, but their plan to secure a swift acquittal of the president had become clearer by week’s end.
The lawyers plan to rebut each of the Democrats’ two impeachment charges and to make an affirmative case that Trump did nothing wrong in his dealings with Ukraine, according to an administration official.
Trump on Friday complained Democratic impeachment managers’ lengthy arguments forced his legal defense team to start arguing its case on Saturday, when there are fewer viewers.
Trump’s message suggested he may have wanted his team to forgo the weekend and start Monday on making its case. But taking to the Senate floor on Saturday will give Sunday political talk shows the chance to use clips of Trump lawyers’ arguments alongside Democrats’ while allowing the team to make the bulk of its case during the week, when viewership is likely to be higher.
About10 million people watched the first two days of the impeachment trial across six cable and broadcast networks, according to Nielsen.
House Democratshave used video clips, slides and floor speeches to form a timeline they say shows Trump had corrupt intentions when he withheld security assistance and refused to commit to a White House meeting with Volodymyr Zelenskiy until the Ukrainian president announced investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.
Democrats, led by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, used their last day of arguments on Friday toaccuse the White House of “stonewalling” their Ukraine investigation and persuade a handful of Republicans to vote with Democrats to subpoena documents and witnesses that they believe will prove their case.
“In the history of the republic, no president has ever ordered the complete defiance of an impeachment inquiry or sought to obstruct and impede so comprehensively the ability of the House to investigate high crimes and misdemeanors,” Schiff said in his final summation.
If the Senate doesn’t hold Trump accountable for his attempt to pressure Ukraine and block an inquiry into his acts, Schiff said, “That will be an unending injury to this country. The balance of power our founders set out will never be the same.”
He predicted the president’s defense team will attack the impeachment process, the House managers, Democrats and others who have nothing to do with the issues at hand in order to distract from the president’s misconduct.
The argument that the process was unfair and driven by hatred of the president, Schiff said, is “another of the myriad forms of please do not consider what the president did.”
It’s not clear if Trump’s team will present its case in such an organized matter, with individual days dedicated to each of the two articles of impeachment. A White House official said the team will make an opening statement and then address the allegations, but how the arguments will be divided remains unclear.
Dershowitz, who spoke by phone from Miami Beach where he was preparing for his Monday argument, said he plans to show that the charges do not meet the constitutional standard of an impeachable offense.
“I’m learning a lot and I keep changing my views as I learn,” said Dershowitz, who said he’s reviewing the Constitution, the Federalist Papers and other legal documents. In 1998, Dershowitz argued that a president can be impeached even if the underlying conduct wasn’t a crime. He has said the opposite about Trump’s case.
The team is considering the use of visual aides, according to a White House official. They could be used to introduce elements of witness testimony to the House that Democrats left out of their presentations. For example, House managers showed a video clip of U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland saying there was a quid pro quo with Ukraine but left out his statement that it was only his “presumption.”
Trump’s legal team indicated it will go after Biden after House managers defended the former vice president from unproven allegations made by Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani that Biden sought to stymie investigations into his son Hunter’s role on the board of the Ukrainian gas company,Burisma Holdings.
The Democrats’ Biden defense was intended undercut the Trump team’s claim that the president wanted to target corruption in Ukraine instead of benefiting his re-election campaign.
“Of course Joe Biden is not inoculated from any type of inquiry just because he was running for president, and all of these arguments will be made by the president’s defense team when they finally get a chance to start addressing the Senate,” White House spokesman Steven Groves said Friday on Rockford, Illinois, radio station WROK.
Schiff and other Democratic House managers at the trial peppered their arguments with preemptive rebuttals of the Trump team’s likely arguments, such as that Trump did not commit an impeachable offense, had legitimate reasons for his dealings with Ukraine and that impeachment is an effort to overturn the 2016 elections.
“It was a brilliant strategy. If the president’s counsel now get up and make those arguments, every Republican senator and the American people will have heard already why those arguments are utter nonsense,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, said at a Friday news conference.
Trump’s team won’t just be making its impeachment defense on the Senate floor. The president’s schedule next week is unusually packed with public events, including a Tuesday meeting with Israeli leaders about the White House’s forthcoming Middle East peace plan, a signing ceremony on Wednesday for the revised North American Free Trade Agreement and two political rallies.
A White House official said the scheduling is a deliberate effort to distract from the impeachment hearings, which have dominated television news coverage for the past week.
Outside allies are mounting their own defense. Giuliani, who is not a member of the president’s trial team due to his involvement in the Ukraine scandal, launched anew podcast. He argued in the first episode that the charges against Trump should be “dismissed” because he did not commit a statutory offense, an argument that is disputed by legal experts.
“He can’t be impeached for something that just kind of appeals to a majority of the House as something wrong, or something bad, or something offensive,” Giuliani said of Trump. “There is no crime called ‘abuse of power.’”
— With assistance by Josh Wingrove, Justin Sink, Daniel Flatley, and Erik Wasson
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