File updated 12:12 p.m.
The Senate convened for a rare Saturday session as a court of impeachment today, and it was the turn of President Donald Trump’s legal team turn to begin laying out its case.
The Senate was in session until about noon Saturday, both because lawmakers were eager to get home after long nights hearing the presentations of the House Democratic impeachment managers and because the president himself is well-aware that TV ratings are particularly low on Saturdays.
“Thank you for your time and attention,” White House counsel Pat Cipollone said in opening remarks. “I want to start out giving you a short plan for today. We’re going to be very respectful of your time.”
A day earlier, Jay Sekulow, the president’s personal lawyer, had previewed what Saturday’s defense presentation would look like.
“I guess I would call it a trailer — coming attractions would be the best way to say it, but obviously we have three hours to put it out. So we’ll take whatever time is appropriate during that three hours, kind of lay out what the case would look like,” he said.
“It’s the Senate decision, we respect the Senate’s process,” Sekulow said of the truncated Saturday session.
If all goes according to plan, the Trump team would have about 21 hours to present its arguments over the course of Monday and Tuesday, though there’s some expectation that, unlike the House Democratic managers, the defense team will not go that long.
Here’s the latest on impeachment:
11:08 a.m. | But the transcript … : The president’s team focused in the first hour on what it cast as the most important piece of evidence: a rough transcript of the July 25 call between Trump and the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
The first thing Mike Purpura, the deputy counsel to the president, did for his portion of the presentation was to play a video of House impeachment team leader Adam B. Schiff’s opening remarks at a House Intelligence hearing in November.
Trump has repeatedly asserted that Schiff made up the president’s words in those remarks, while Schiff has said it was an obvious parody or paraphrase of the call, which the California Democrat says at the end of the clip.
On the clip Trump’s team played Saturday, Schiff says that the call transcript “reads like a classic organized crime shakedown,” describes it, and then says, “This is in sum and character what the president was trying to communicate.”
Purpura then told the senators: “That’s fake. That’s not the real call. That’s not the evidence here. That’s not the transcript that Mr. Cipollone just referenced”
“And we can shrug it off and say we were making light or a joke, but that was in a hearing in the United States House of Representatives, discussing the removal of the president of the United States from office,” Purpura said. “There are few things, if any, that can be as grave and as serious.”
10:30 a.m. | “Nothing wrong”: The president’s legal team started his defense in the impeachment trial Saturday by arguing that the House managers had “no evidence” and that senators “will find that the president did absolutely nothing wrong.”
Cipollone told the senators that Trump’s team plans to spend two to three hours Saturday going through “the facts,” including the record that House managers presented over the past three days.
“We don’t believe that they have come anywhere close to meeting their burden for what they’re asking you to do,” he said.
And Cipollone told the senators that the House managers had asked them to do something “dangerous” and “tear up all of the ballots across this country on your own initiative.”
“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,” he said.
Cipollone said he would present evidence the House had but did not use at the trial.
“For all their talk about election interference … they’re here to perpetrate the most massive interference in an election in American history,” he said.
8:30 a.m. | Another day, another procession: Saturday’s formal activities begin with another procession from the House side of the Capitol, when the impeachment managers will bring what a Democratic official working on the trial said would be a 28,578 page trial record.
That record does not include documents or testimony blocked by the White House.