Trump's Defense: He Did 'Absolutely Nothing Wrong'

White House Counsel Pat Cipollone speaks during impeachment proceedings against U.S. President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol on January 25, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Screengrab: Senate TV via Yahoo News)

Attorneys for President Trump opened their defense in his Senate impeachment trial Saturday morning by charging that the case presented by House Democrats was full of “bluster and innuendo,” and that “devastating evidence” would lead to the inevitable conclusion that the two articles of impeachment now being considered have no merit.

“The president did absolutely nothing wrong,” said White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who is leading Trump’s defense. That was a recurring theme of the session, which followed three days of presentations by House Democratic impeachment managers, and took up just two hours of the eight that Senate rules allowed. The trial will resume Monday at 1 p.m.

The other key point, made by Cipollone and others, was that Trump acted “in our national interest” by withholding $250 million in military aid from Ukraine for several months in the spring and summer of 2019.

In marked contrast to the sometimes impassioned rhetoric of the lead impeachment manager, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the defense presentation was notably low key, devoting considerable time to the seemingly tangential issue of how much European allies contributed to Ukraine’s defense and whether Trump was genuinely concerned about the relative dearth of those contributions.

The Democratic case is that Trump withheld aid to Ukraine to pressure new Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky to announce (though not actually conduct) two investigations meant to help his personal political situation: one into purported Ukrainian efforts to help Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, and another into former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter, who was a member of the board of directors of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company.

The previous evening, members of the president’s legal team told reporters on a conference call that the Biden name would come up frequently in their arguments. But that presumably will be put off until subsequent sessions; the session on Saturday, a time Trump has disparaged as “Death Valley” for television ratings, was devoted to attacks on the Democratic case by Cipollone, Jay Sekulow and other attorneys. Cipollone said that that weakness was a result of Democrats’ “blind drive to impeach the president.” 

A recurring theme of the lawyers’ presentation was that evidence had been “hidden” or “withheld” by the Democrats. Some of the evidence Republicans said the Senate hadn’t seen included documents or testimony the House had sought in its inquiry, but was withheld by the White House.

Sekulow opened his own remarks by holding up a printed copy of special counsel Robert Mueller’s 400-page report into Russian electoral interference.

“This cost $32 million,” he said, a frequent Republican talking point in service of the argument that Democrats had sought to remove Trump from office over his dealings with Russia, and failing that were now attempting to do the very same over Ukraine. Sekulow then proceeded to delve deeper into the 2016 election, including a discussion of the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign, known as Operation Crossfire Hurricane. 

At this point, Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., could be seen suppressing a yawn, then, moments later, attempting to do so again.  

And just as Democrats have argued that Trump was trying to help his own reelection prospects by having Zelensky announce an investigation that could damage Joe Biden, so did Cipollone argue that the president’s opponents were attempting to “overcome the results of the last election” and hoping to influence the next one, seeking to “tear up all of the ballots across this country.” 

Near the end of his remarks, Cipollone went so far as to charge that Democrats were “here to partake in the most massive interference in an election in American history.” The intelligence community uniformly believed that ignominious distinction in fact belongs to the Kremlin, which dispatched an online army — both human and robot — to harm Hillary Clinton’s prospects in 2016. Cipollone insisted Trump was the real victim.

To defend Trump, he seemed to say, was to defend American democracy itself.

The members of the Senate could not have been especially happy to be forced into work on a Saturday morning, a fact the president’s attorneys plainly recognized. They promised that the day — and, in fact, their entire case — would move along “efficiently and quickly,” as opposed to what they described as a tedious and repetitive Democratic argument, which, they frequently mentioned, lasted for 23 of the 24 hours they were allotted. 

White House Counsel Jay Sekulow makes arguments against the removal from office of US President Donald J. Trump during the President's impeachment trial in the US Senate in the US Capitol in Washington, DC on Saturday, January 25, 2020. (Screengrab: Senate TV via Yahoo News)

Impeachment trial rules have left the senators without recourse to smartphones, or even coffee, and there was therefore little to do but listen. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who could be one of the centrists to decide Trump’s fate, took notes. Next to her, fellow moderate Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, sat still and looked gravely at whoever was speaking. Murkowski’s posture was perfect, while Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, slumped in his chair. Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, criticized for falling asleep on an earlier day of the trial, reclined as much as he could in his heavy wooden chair. 

In the front row, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sat with his chair pushed back. His binder was unopened, his water glass untouched. In the very back of the chamber, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, sat with a wry, skeptical smile on his face. 

Cipollone and other attorneys on Trump’s defense team argued that the president withheld the congressionally appropriated funds from Ukraine because he was irritated at the lack of “burden-sharing” on the part of Western European allies. Even more than the United States, those allies will benefit from bolstering nations like Ukraine that sit on the border with an increasingly bellicose Russia. Burden-sharing was a recurring theme for Cipollone and his team; as supporting evidence, they referenced the July 25 phone call between Zelensky and Trump that forms the basis of the impeachment inquiry.

“Germany does almost nothing for you,” Trump complained to Zelensky during that conversation, adding that “a lot of the European countries are the same way.”

In addition, the defense implied that Trump is generally hostile to foreign aid, whether that aid is intended for Ukraine, Pakistan or El Salvador. A list of foreign aid packages Trump has halted or canceled seemed to bolster that Trump was acting not to extort Zelensky, but out of a broader isolationist impulse. (It went unmentioned that Trump tried to stop the aid to Ukraine after it had been appropriated, and that he did so by directing the White House budget office to issue a series of nine “footnotes” throughout the summer of 2019. A recent report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office determined that Trump had no authority to keep the funds from being released.)

Trump’s attorneys also argued that the Ukrainians did not know that the funds were being held up until Politico reported on the hold in the last days of August. However, as Yahoo News previously reported, the Department of Defense had pushed all summer for the release of the funds, and that by August both legislators and military contractors had grown irritated by the delay as well. Other outlets have reported that the Ukrainians knew about the hold well before the news was made public.

Trump’s team also tried to show that the president was genuinely concerned with corruption, which is endemic to many post-Soviet nations. Zelensky came into office as a good-government reformer but, as Sekulow argued, an untested president could not be expected to clean the Augean stables in a matter of two or three months. “We’re acting as if there was a magic wand.” 

House impeachment managers Representative Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California, left, Representative Jerry Nadler, a Democrat from New York, center, and Representative Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat from California, rear, deliver new documents to the Senate floor at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. (Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via getty Images

Corruption was a real concern in Ukraine, which was why Congress required that the Pentagon certify that the aid would not be misused or stolen. The Defense Department did so in May.

The facts also undercut another assertion made by Trump’s lawyers: that he could not have possibly engaged in extortion of Zelensky because Trump told Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, that he wanted “no quid pro quo” and urged that Zelensky “do the right thing,” according to Sondland’s testimony to the impeachment inquiry in November. But that conversation between Sondland and Trump took place after a whistleblower complaint about his July 25 call had already been made. House Democratic managers have argued that Trump’s statements to Sondland were intended as a retroactive cover-up for the Zelensky pressure campaign. 

The president’s attorneys also pointed out that the aid to Ukraine was, in fact, released. They didn’t mention that this took place on Sept. 11, two days after the inspector general of intelligence community notified Congress of the complaint in a letter

Unwilling to merely play a spectator’s passive role, the Democrats had their own agenda on Saturday, beginning the day by delivering 28,578 pages — packed neatly into boxes — that were the full record of their impeachment inquiry. And after the defense finished its remarks, the impeachment managers held a press conference of their own.

In rebutting the president’s case, Schiff noted that the White House meeting sought by Zelensky — and which, like the military aid, was conditioned on his announcing investigations — had still not taken place. “The president is more than willing to meet with Putin at any time, but not with our ally, apparently,” Schiff said. Suggestions that he is somehow beholden to Russian leader Vladimir Putin for his 2016 electoral victory are known to enrage Trump.

Another impeachment manager, Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, addressed a lengthy argument by deputy White House counsel Patrick Philbin regarding witness subpoenas issued by the Democrats. Philbin charged that those subpoenas had not been legitimate because they had not been properly voted upon by the House.

“That’s simply wrong,” Nadler said, “and out of the power of the president to defy the House because he thinks the House didn’t follow its own procedures. The House can make its own procedures and follow it to its heart’s content, or not. It’s none of his business, frankly.”

By the time that Nadler had rendered his fiery verdict, many senators had departed Capitol Hill. 

https://www.theopinionpoll.comSenate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks during media briefing after the impeachment trial of U.S. President Donald Trump ended for the day in Washington, U.S., January 25, 2020.  (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who is running for president, briskly hurried out of the chamber, presumably on her way to campaign in Iowa. While others did stop to entertain the press, she walked too fast for most reporters to catch up with her. 

“I thought they did a good job,” said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., who slipped out of the building alone. That appears to be the widespread sentiment among Republicans.

Speaking to a small scrum of reporters, Sen. Brown of Ohio speculated that “the desire of Mitch McConnell is to get this trial as quick as possible, to get it done as quickly as possible, and with absolute least attention from the American public. That’s how he operates: He operates in secret and Republicans blindly follow him.”

He added that McConnell was “a lapdog of the president.”

Brown was then confronted by a reporter for the conservative Washington Examiner, who began to argue with Brown about the impeachment inquiry, which she appeared to suggest had been unfair to President Trump. Brown began to argue back, only to be pushed toward the doors by his wife, the journalist and Twitter personality Connie Schultz. They had a flight to catch, she explained. And, in any case, there will be plenty of time for argument next week.

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Twitter Users Salute Adam Schiff’s ‘Moving’ Closing Argument In Trump Trial

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The lead impeachment manager implored senators to “give America a fair trial. She’s worth it.”

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) urged senators to “give America a fair trial” in his final argument in the GOP-controlled Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump over his Ukraine misconduct on Friday.

“I implore you,” said the lead House impeachment manager in comments that immediately trended on Twitter.

“She’s worth it,” Schiff added.

Check out the video here:

Schiff also claimed each of the charges against Trump (abuse of power and obstruction of Congress) “has been proved” and urged GOP lawmakers to show “moral courage” while considering whether to remove Trump from office.

Schiff’s supporters described his speech as “eloquent,” “powerful,” “historical,” “moving” and “pitch-perfect.” MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell described Schiff as “so far the greatest defender of the Constitution in the 21st century.”

The hashtags #AdamSchiffHasMyRespect and #AdamSchiffROCKS also went viral on Twitter. Schiff was similarly hailed for explaining why “truth matters” during Thursday’s trial proceedings.

Adam Schiff: ‘Dangerous’ Trump Must Be Removed Because He Won’t Put America First

Adam Schiff Opens Impeachment Trial Quoting Alexander Hamilton

“The American people deserve a president they can count on to put their interests first,” the House impeachment manager argued at Trump’s Senate trial.

House impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) delivered an impassioned appeal on the floor of the Senate on Thursday evening imploring Republicans to vote to remove President Donald Trump from office because he’ll put himself ahead of the nation’s interests.

Schiff said that no one was arguing in good faith that Trump wasn’t guilty of putting his personal political interests ahead of the interests of the United States when he withheld aid to Ukraine to pressure its government to smear a political rival. Schiff’s speech capped off the second full day in which the House impeachment managers made their case for forcing Trump out of the White House.

“He’s done what he’s charged with. He withheld the money, he withheld the meeting, he used it to coerce Ukraine to do these political investigations. He covered it up, he obstructed us, he’s trying to obstruct you, and he’s violated the Constitution,” Schiff said.

“Do we really have any doubt about the facts here? Does anyone really question if the president is capable of what he’s charged with? No one is really making the argument ‘Donald Trump would never do such a thing’ because, of course, we know that he would and, of course, we know that he did,” Schiff said.

And even though Trump’s national security advisers told him that the idea that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election was Russian propaganda, Schiff said he chose to believe personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and helped spread the falsehood. 

“That makes him dangerous to us, to our country,” Schiff said. “Why would Donald Trump believe a man like Rudy Giuliani over a man like [FBI Director] Christopher Wray? Why would anyone in their right mind believe Rudy Giuliani over Christopher Wray? Because he wanted to, and because what Rudy was offering him was something that would help him personally, and what Christopher Wray was offering him was merely the truth.” 

Why would Donald Trump believe a man like Rudy Giuliani over a man like Christopher Wray? Why would anyone in their right mind believe Rudy Giuliani over Christopher Wray?Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.)

If Russia tries to interfere in the 2020 election, Schiff said, Trump will choose his own personal interests over the interests of the country yet again.

“Let’s say they start blatantly interfering in our election again to help Donald Trump. Can you have the least bit of confidence that Donald Trump will stand up to them and protect our national interest over his own personal interest? You know you can’t, which makes him dangerous to this country. You know you can’t. You know you can’t count on him,” Schiff said.

“The American people deserve a president they can count on to put their interests first,” Schiff said. “The framers [of the U.S. Constitution] couldn’t protect us from ourselves if right and truth don’t matter. And you know that what he did was not right.”

“No Constitution can protect us if right doesn’t matter anymore. And you know you can’t trust this president to do what’s right for this country. You can trust he will do what’s right for Donald Trump. He’ll do it now. He’s done it before. He’ll do it for the next several months. He’ll do it in the election if he’s allowed to.”

“Right matters. And the truth matters,” Schiff said. “Otherwise we are lost.”

Democrats on the House impeachment team will resume their case Friday afternoon, and Trump’s team will launch its defense on Saturday.

But Republicans didn’t appear convinced by the idea that they couldn’t trust Trump to choose the national interest over his personal interests, such as his reelection.

“This president is the one that provided lethal aid to Ukraine. When I begged President Obama to do it, he wouldn’t do it,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said after Thursday’s Senate session, referring to the Obama administration’s refusal to send congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine in 2015.

Portman said that, although he did not believe Trump’s actions were appropriate, that was different from voting to remove him from office.

“Some of the things that were done were not appropriate... but that’s a very different question than removing someone from office who was duly elected in the middle of a presidential election,” he added.

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