President Donald Trump’s Defense Team Begins Their Opening Arguments
President Donald Trump’s lawyers began their opening arguments in the impeachment trial on January 25, 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 the initial 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.” President Trump’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.”
Pat Cipollone, his deputies Michael Purpura and Patrick Philbin, and President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Jay Sekulow handled the speaking roles on January 25. They came armed with video clips of selected testimony to undercut specific arguments presented by House managers, seeking to paint the case against Trump as flimsy and based on cherry-picked evidence. “I am not going to continue to go over and over and over again the evidence that they did not put before you because we would be here for a lot longer than 24 hours,” Sekulow said. Trump’s team made the rough transcript of his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky a central part of its early arguments. House impeachment managers similarly relied on the transcript in building their case, turning the five-page document into a Rorschach test for those trying to determine the President’s fate. Cipollone claimed that Democrats misrepresented the call, including by ignoring portions that showed Trump talking about burden-sharing and corruption.
The lawyers also zeroed in on storylines that will satisfy President Donald Trump. They raised questions about the credibility of the anonymous whistleblower who raised concerns about the Ukraine call, attacked lead impeachment manager House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA), and painted the President as a victim of the agents who investigated his campaign’s contacts with Russia. The attorneys quickly showed a clip of Schiff 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.