WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s lawyers offered a spirited impeachment defense in the Senate on Saturday, claiming House Democrats failed to present facts to back their politically motivated effort to remove him from office.
“They’re asking you not only to overturn the results of the last election, but as I’ve said before, they’re asking you to remove President Trump from an election that’s occurring in approximately nine months,” White House counsel Pat Cipollone told the Senate.
Cipollone said House Democrats, on their own initiative, were asking the Senate “to tear up all the ballots across the country.”
Trump’s legal team began its defense in an abbreviated two-hour session where it outlined its arguments, which will begin in earnest when the trial resumes on Monday.
The defense began after three days of testimony from House impeachment managers charging Trump with coercing Ukraine to announce political investigations into former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and a debunked theory about election meddling and then obstructing a subsequent congressional inquiry.
Trump ordered nearly $400 million in military aid approved by Congress withheld from Ukraine as he sought the political investigations.
“It was a corrupt shakedown to get Ukraine to help them cheat in the election,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the lead House impeachment manager, said at a news conference.
“The facts are overwhelming,” Schiff said.
Trump’s lawyers attacked Schiff, the House managers and the process during a two-hour presentation where they also characterized the president as a victim of partisan animosity.
The president weighed in on Twitter.
“Any fair minded person watching the Senate trial today would be able to see how unfairly I have been treated and that this is indeed the totally partisan impeachment Hoax that EVERYBODY, including the Democrats, truly knows it is,” Trump tweeted.
Any fair minded person watching the Senate trial today would be able to see how unfairly I have been treated and that this is indeed the totally partisan Impeachment Hoax that EVERYBODY, including the Democrats, truly knows it is. This should never be allowed to happen again!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 25, 2020
“The president did nothing wrong,” said Jay Sekulow, the president’s private lawyer.
The president’s legal team said Democrats have failed to produce facts that would justify removal from office, something the Senate has never done in the history of the country.
Cipollone questioned the credibility of the House case that he said lacked hard evidence.
“Impeachment shouldn’t be a shell game,” Cipollone said. “They should give you the facts.”
But Senate Democrats said the president’s presentation supported their plea to subpoena witnesses that Trump blocked from testifying to House investigators.
“Why shouldn’t we have witnesses and documents here?” Schumer asked.
Democrats are seeking testimony from four current and former administration officials, including John Bolton, who previously served as national security adviser and was highly critical of a shadow operation in Ukraine run by the president’s private lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, according to testimony.
Senate Democrats also want to hear from acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.
He told a White House news briefing that there was a quid pro quo in the Ukraine dealings, which came to light when a whistleblower complained about the political nature of a telephone conversation between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on July 25.
Mulvaney later walked back his comments, but Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said she wanted him to appear before the Senate and explain the context of his comments.
Trump’s legal team never mentioned Mulvaney or Bolton in its opening testimony, but rebutted many points made by the House managers, including the withholding of military aid.
Sekulow argued that the United States has withheld military aid to other countries “a number of times” without a questioning of motives.
The withheld aid did not include Javelin missiles, a key weapon against tanks and armored vehicles in Ukraine’s fight against Russian-backed separatists.
Withholding the military aid was conducted to check on how the funds were going to be used, the president’s legal team said.
But it was not mentioned that the Department of Defense already had found that Ukraine had met the anti-corruption benchmarks to clear the aid for delivery.
Sekulow also raised the specter that Trump sought an investigation into whether Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election, a conspiracy theory that has been debunked by U.S. intelligence agencies and the president’s appointed FBI Director Christopher Wray as part of a Russian disinformation campaign.
But Sekulow noted Trump’s suspicions were heightened after the FBI wrongfully obtained warrants from the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to spy on a member of the president’s campaign staff, who was a U.S. citizen.
The president’s lawyers veered away from Biden, and his son, Hunter, who served as a board member on the Ukrainian gas company Burisma while his father was vice president.
Still, a focus on the Bidens is expected after House Democrats in their testimony spent significant time dispelling allegations of impropriety as a diversion by Republicans and irrelevant to the charge that the president sought foreign intervention in a U.S. election to help his re-election bid.
Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate. GOP lawmakers said the House impeachment managers had failed to sway enough Republicans to provide a simple majority needed to call additional witnesses.
Several moderate Republicans, notably Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, have been critical of comments by House impeachment managers about Senate complicity in a cover-up and cowering to presidential threats.
Many GOP senators were growing confident that Democrats could not muster a two-thirds majority needed to remove the president from office and that Trump could be acquitted as early as next week.
Democrats warned Republicans that new information about the president’s dealings with Ukraine continues to leak out, and that more information was likely to become public if the Senate failed to subpoena witnesses and documents that have been blocked by the president.
“This is no parking ticket we are contesting,” Schiff said in his closing arguments on Friday.
He implored the Senate to “give America a fair trial.”
“She’s worth it.”