WASHINGTON (CN) — Offering a truncated crash course of arguments to come next week, President Donald Trump’s attorneys opened their first day of defense Saturday by telling senators that House Democrats have not met their burden to remove the president 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 the ballot in an election that’s occurring in approximately nine months,” White House Counsel Pat Cipollone said. “They’re asking you to tear up all of the ballots in this country on your own initiative — take that decision away from the American people. ”
In a roughly 22-hour presentation over three days, House managers repeatedly warned senators they should not wait until Election Day to remove Trump because a core allegation of the articles of impeachment is that the president attempted to solicit foreign aid to swing the 2020 election in his favor.
After the trial adjourned, Schiff told reporters that the president’s attorneys did not take on the key points Democrats have argued necessitates Trump’s removal.
“They don’t contest the basic architecture of the scheme,” Schiff said at a press conference. “They do not contest that the president solicited a foreign nation to interfere in our election, to help him cheat.”
The two-hour round of opening statements from the president’s defense team was a run through of the full breadth of arguments to resume on Tuesday.
Relying on select snippets from the House impeachment hearings, Trump’s attorneys said impeachment managers left out of their presentation evidence favorable to the president.
Trump’s attorneys cited portions of witness testimony before the House during the impeachment inquiry, including sworn statements from former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor, former senior Russia expert to the National Security Council Fiona Hill and Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia.
Both Taylor and Hill expressed concern about Trump’s engagement with Ukraine, including the presence of an unofficial channel operating inconsistent of formal U.S. policy there.
But the defense’s preview notably omitted key elements from Hill and Taylor’s sworn remarks.
For one, defense attorney Michael Purpura argued that if Ukranian officials knew of the freeze on military aid, they would have raised their alarm during contact with Trump administration officials on July 9, 10, 25, 26 or Aug. 27.
During Trump’s impeachment inquiry in the House, Laura Cooper testified that her staff received emails from the State Department affirming that both the Ukrainian embassy as well as the House Foreign Affairs Committee were aware of the freeze on July 25 — the same day as Trump’s call with Zelensky.
Contextualizing the crafted argument from Trump’s attorneys, Schiff said Ukraine found out about the aid freeze before most members of Congress, adding that the Ukrainain foreign minister received a cable informing her of the hold within days of the White House order blocking the military assistance.
“The foreign minister was instructed by a top aide to Zelensky not to bring it up, not to discuss it, to keep it quiet,” Schiff said in a press conference. “She was planning to come to Washington.”
Taylor’s testimony also undercuts opening remarks from Trump’s defense.
The former ambassador testified that he spoke to Ukraine’s national security adviser Oleksandr Danyliuk on July 20 and even at that early stage, Danyliuk expressed unease.
According to the transcript of Taylor’s deposition, Danyliuk told Taylor he “didn’t want to be used as an instrument in a U.S. reelection campaign,”
Purpura spent much of his time on the Senate floor breaking down the now-infamous July 25 call and argued that, contrary to House Democrats’ assertions, Trump did not link military assistance to the investigations on the call.
Citing testimony from ousted Ambassador Marie Yoanovitch and former National Security Council official Tim Morrison, Purpura too told senators the purchase of Javelin missiles mentioned in the call is separate from the military aid package the White House slow-walked.
House Democrats’ claim that Trump conditioned the $391 million aid package on Ukraine’s announcement of the investigations does not rest solely on the call, however.
Democrats presented extensive testimony from administration officials who said it was their understanding that the assistance was inextricably linked with probes into Biden and the 2016 election, even if they were not told so explicitly.
After the day’s proceedings wrapped, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer argued that by attempting to sow doubt about the House’s witnesses, Trump’s defense team underlined why Democrats have pushed for the Senate to hear additional testimony in order to complete the picture of what happened between the White House and Ukraine.
“Witnesses, documents are the exact eyewitnesses,” Schumer said. “You want to get the truth? The president’s lawyers proved today if you really want the truth you want witnesses, you want documents.”
Schiff later echoed Schumer’s point at a separate press conference, saying witnesses such as acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and former National Security Advisor John Bolton would be key to answering factual questions raised by the defense.
On process, White House counsel Patrick Philbin took pains Saturday to suggest Trump was afforded no due process and was “completely locked out” of proceedings leaving him unable to present evidence or witnesses for 71 of the 78 days that investigation unfolded.
The attorney lamented the speed at which the impeachment unfolded in the House as well.
But investigating committees, such as the House Judiciary Committee, offered the White House several chances to engage with investigators, produce documents and respond to subpoenas.
As deadlines for the White House to respond fast approached in December, Trump’s attorney Pat Cipollone fired off a scathing response to House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerry Nadler’s requests.
The letter failed to address if and when Trump would participate. Instead, it blasted Nadler and Democrats for their “fundamental unfairness.”
At a press conference Saturday, Nadler defended the House process, noting Trump had ample opportunity to participate in the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment proceedings.
“They’re not interested in due process, all they’re interested in is stonewalling the House and then coming here a few months later and lying about it and saying that the House didn’t give due process,” Nadler said.
The defense’s opening arguments made little mention of Biden or Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company on whose board Hunter Biden sat, despite Trump attorney Jay Sekulow’s statement earlier in the week that the House managers’ presentation made the issue relevant to the president’s defense.
Both Senators Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said the defense’s strategy obviously cherrypicked aspects of the House investigation’s findings.
Sekulow and Cipollone ran through other instances of corruption, particularly those involving the Biden family, but failed Saturday to address evidence presented by the House.
Whitehouse said the attorneys were trying to “build a bypass” for Republican votes around key issues, rather than address the Democrats’ “damning evidence.”
“How often was the word ‘Giuliani’ mentioned today? Zero. ‘Bolton,’ zero. ‘Drug deal,’ zero,” the senator said.
Lead House impeachment manager Schiff predicted Friday that his credibility would be attacked, a look ahead that came true the next morning during the defense opening.
In a video clip played for senators on Saturday, Schiff offered a retelling of the call in a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Sep. 26.
Though Schiff specifically said before offering his summation that his remarks were “the essence” of Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine’s President Volodomyr Zelensky, the president and Schiff’s critics have lambasted the California Democrat for the maneuver, arguing it was a purposeful misrepresentation of Trump’s conversation with Zelensky.
“This is fake. This is not the call,” Purpura said Saturday.
Notably, Schiff clarified his remarks during the same Sep. 26 hearing, only moments after he offered the retelling. He described his comments as the overarching “sum and character” of what Trump and Zelensky discussed.
Shortly after his defense team rested for the weekend, the president took to Twitter to berate the proceedings and lawmakers.
“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.
Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a White House stalwart, said the House did a good job “weaving a tapestry of the evidence,” but that the fabric of House managers’ argument looked a lot different than it did a few days ago.
“That’s the way trials are conducted,” he said.
“And it was pretty clear to me that the transcript was selectively utilized by the House,” Graham added. “Why don’t they just up front say the president mentioned other countries not doing their part in his mind…So in terms of some of the things that you heard from the witnesses today that you didn’t hear the last couple of days, I think it was pretty well done on their part.”
When asked if Graham would be seeing or meeting with Trump this weekend, the senator said he was unsure.
Then, speaking into a C-SPAN camera, Graham said he was “looking for a free meal, in case you’re in town.”