President Trump’s lawyers began their opening arguments in the impeachment trial on Saturday, accusing Democrats of asking senators to “tear up” the ballots of the upcoming election while having “no evidence” to support the president’s removal from office.
White House counsel Pat Cipollone indicated to senators that Saturday’s arguments would seek to directly rebut the evidence presented by Democratic impeachment managers the previous three days. He also sought to portray the consequences of impeaching Trump in grave terms.
“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,” Cipollone said. “I don’t think they spent one minute of their 24 hours talking to you about the consequences of that for our country.”
The president's defense team has 24 hours over three days to make its arguments. While Democrats used nearly the full time allotted for their opening arguments this week, Cipollone said he did not expect the defense to do the same and that their presentations would be “efficient.”
“We don’t believe that they have come anywhere close to meeting their burden for what they’re asking you to do,” he said. “In fact, we believe that when you hear the facts.. you will find that the president did absolutely nothing wrong.”
Cipollone began Saturday’s proceedings by reading directly from the transcript of Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, claiming Democrats misrepresented it, including by ignoring portions that showed Trump cares about burden sharing.
The attorneys quickly showed a clip of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif) reading a parody account of the call, claiming it was “fake” – an early indication they would focus on criticizing Democrats in an effort to drive home their claim that the impeachment inquiry was motivated by partisan interests.
The use of the clip is likely to satisfy Trump. The president spent the days after Schiff made the comments calling for the congressman’s resignation and suggesting he committed treason. Even months after the September hearing, Trump continues to bring up Schiff’s comments in interviews when railing against the impeachment proceedings.
Trump in his call with Zelensky asked the foreign leader to investigate a debunked theory about 2016 election interference and to probe Joe Biden and his son Hunter’s dealings in Ukraine. The call triggered a rare intelligence community whistleblower complaint claiming that Trump solicited foreign interference in a U.S. election, with the complaint being a key piece of evidence in the Democrats’ impeachment case.
A rough transcript of the call was released by the White House in September after the existence of the whistleblower complaint became known.
House Democrats allege that Trump withheld a White House meeting and security assistance from Ukraine in order to press for investigations into his political rivals.
Trump's attorneys used Saturday's arguments to argue that Trump withheld the military aid out of concerns for burden sharing and corruption, and that he didn't tie the assistance to the investigations.
Trump's lawyers are expected to continue their arguments on Monday.