Trump’s legal team quickly wraps defense of president at impeachment trial

Defense argued Tuesday that Democrats were playing politics with impeachment powers

President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow arrives to the Capitol before the continuation of Trump’s impeachment trial on Tuesday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow arrives to the Capitol before the continuation of Trump’s impeachment trial on Tuesday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Posted January 28, 2020 at 3:44pm

Donald Trump’s attorneys utilized just 10 of the 24 hours allotted to them to defend the president against two articles of impeachment charging him with obstruction of Congress and abuse of power, concluding their three-day presentation Tuesday by arguing that Democrats’ case amounted merely to politics.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone closed the defense’s case by urging senators to consider their role and the lasting impact that their decision could make on American history.

“I have every confidence, every confidence in your wisdom. You will do the only thing you can do, what you must do, what the Constitution compels you to do — reject these articles of impeachment for our country and for the American people,” Cipollone said.

He called senators to put the Constitution above partisanship, a talking point that Democrats have also used in urging Republicans to step out from behind the GOP party line.

“I had kind of a lengthy presentation prepared. But, I think you’ve heard a lot from our side and I think we’ve made our case. So, I just want to leave you with a couple of points,” Cipollone said in the defense team’s closing remarks.

The Senate will now begin two days of questions of up to eight hours each day, starting Wednesday afternoon. Votes on whether to call specific witnesses would occur after that.

Most Republicans have resisted having witnesses at the trial, and Democrats need at least four Republicans to compel additional testimony.

Lead House impeachment manager Adam B. Schiff on Tuesday called for the Senate to hear from additional witnesses and to see additional documents.

The California Democrat lamented what he called the “legal duplicity” of Trump’s defense team, which argued before the Senate that the House should have subpoenaed the witnesses they want to hear from them, even if that meant duking it out in the courts. 

“They go to court and say the House may not sue in court to compel a witness to testify,” Schiff said after reading from arguments the Justice Department made against the House attempt to subpoena former White House counsel Don McGahn.

During his closing remarks, Cipollone used two-decade-old clips of Democrats decrying the use of impeachment as a political tool during the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Democrats in the clips included House impeachment managers Jerrold Nadler of New York and Zoe Lofgren of California, along with Sens. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Charles E. Schumer of New York

“You were right,” Cipollone said.

The presentation by Trump’s attorney came amid revelations in a book by former national security adviser John Bolton that appears to confirm the president made military aid to Ukraine contingent upon a politically motivated investigation into rival Joe Biden. The delayed aid package is at the center of the impeachment trial.

Trump defense attorney Jay Sekulow said Bolton’s manuscript would be “inadmissible” during a typical trial and dismissed its importance to the impeachment proceedings in the Senate.

Sekulow stressed what remains unknown about Bolton’s still-unpublished book, calling it “an unpublished manuscript that maybe some reporters have an idea of maybe what it says.”

He read statements from Trump, the Justice Department and Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff denying Bolton’s allegation that the president directly connected the withheld military aid to Ukraine to investigations of the Bidens.

“I mean, that’s what the evidence — if you want to call that evidence — I don’t know what you’d call that — I’d call it inadmissible — but that’s what it is,” Sekulow said.

Sekulow also warned senators about historic consequences for impeachment of Trump. He put the blame squarely on the House managers, saying they were seeking to lower the bar for impeachment.

Sekulow said that all the presentations from Trump’s defense team have contained a common warning, “Danger, danger, danger,” Sekulow said.

“To lower the bar of impeachment based on these articles of impeachment would impact the functioning of our constitutional republic and the framework of that Constitution for generations,” Sekulow said

He said this is “the trial of the leader of the free world and the duly elected president of the United States,” and “not a game of leaks and unsourced manuscripts. That’s politics, unfortunately, and [founder Alexander] Hamilton put impeachment in the hands of this body, the Senate, precisely and specifically to be above that fray. This is the greatest deliberative body on Earth.”

Patrick Kelley contributed to this report.