25/09/2020

White House counsel Pat Cipollone told senators that the party is asking them to ‘overturn the results of the last election’

WASHINGTONPresident Trumps legal team said Democrats had failed to make a case for removing the president from office, arguing at his impeachment trial Saturday that there was no evidence he pushed Ukraines president for an investigation of his political rival in exchange for aid.In their first chance to address the Senate after three days of arguments by Democratic House impeachment managers, the presidents lawyers sought to undercut the Democrats case that Mr. Trump abused the power of his office by asking a foreign leader to investigate a political rival and obstructed Congresss impeachment inquiry. The defense team, opting to use just two hours of its time, argued that the presidents actions were in the national interest and that Democrats investigation was politically motivated.
Theyre asking you not only to overturn the results of the last electiontheyre asking you to remove President Trump from the ballot in an election thats occurring in approximately nine months, White House counsel
Pat Cipollone
told senators as he opened the session. We dont believe that they have come anywhere close to meeting their burden for what theyre asking you to do.
The defense teams arguments will pick back up on Monday. But unlike Democrats, who used nearly 24 hours over three days, the presidents team is expected to use around eight hours of its allotted time, an administration official said.
*Includes two independents that caucus with the Democrats
With the chance of conviction in the Republican-controlled Senate virtually zero, the primary task facing the presidents legal team is to dissuade on-the-fence Republican senators from voting in favor of hearing more testimony from witnesses. Democrats have tried to impress on the chamber the need to hear from witnesses whose testimony the White House blocked during the House investigation, among them acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser
John Bolton.
Mr. Trumps team took aim at House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who also has been criticized by Mr. Trump. Republicans have accused Mr. Schiffs office of coordinating with the whistleblower, which Mr. Schiff denies.
He has acknowledged the whistleblower approached a staff member in his office before filing a formal complaint, but his office said it informed the person to seek legal counsel, as it customarily does when approached by would-be whistleblowers. Mr. Schiff said last year he should have been much more clear when he previously said his committee hadnt been in touch with the whistleblower. Mr. Schiff said Friday that Republicans were merely trying to distract from the case.
Much of Saturdays session was focused on the transcript of the presidents July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President
Volodymyr Zelensky,
in which he asked his counterpart to investigate Democrat
Joe Biden
and his son, as well as alleged interference by Ukraine in the 2016 U.S. election. Mr. Trump ordered nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine frozen more than a week before that call.
Mr. Cipollone and his deputy, Mike Purpura, argued that the transcript shows the president didnt explicitly condition aid on the investigations, and that Mr. Zelensky repeatedly agreed with the president on the call. The lawyers also noted Mr. Zelenskys public statements that he didnt feel pressured by Mr. Trump.
While Mr. Trump didnt explicitly bring up aid, Mr. Zelensky told him his country wanted to order more Javelin missiles from the U.S., to which Mr. Trump responded: I would like you to do us a favor, though. By the time of the call, Mr. Zelensky had been told by several administration officials and people close to the president that he needed to assure Mr. Trump he was willing to undertake the investigations if he wanted a White House meeting, according to testimony to House investigators.
The presidents team sought to portray the Democratic House managers as disingenuous, punctuating their sentences with phrases such as: This is what the House managers didnt tell you. They also took repeated jabs at the length of Democrats arguments, promising the chamber to be respectful of your time.
The lawyers tried to cast doubt on testimony by witnesses who said they understood the aid to be linked to an investigations, playing a video clip of Ambassador to the European Union
Gordon Sondland
saying the words presume and presumption. Democrats have noted that the White House has blocked from testifying officials who would have direct knowledge of the relationship between the frozen aid and the push for investigations.
The presidents lawyers argued that Mr. Trump couldnt have been leveraging aid to pressure Ukraine to undertake investigations because Kyiv wasnt aware of the hold. But a top Defense Department official told House investigators in November that Ukraine inquired about the status of the aid on the day of the call with Mr. Zelensky.
Senate Democrats criticized the defenses presentation. I dont think the presidents counsel did a very good job, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) told reporters. If youre a Republican and you think that the case that was made today was strong, then why not have witnesses and documents if you think both sides made their case?
Four Republicans would need to join all 47 Democratic senators to pass a motion in favor of hearing more testimony from witnesses. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) is privately concerned that some Republicans could vote for more testimony, people familiar with the discussions said.
But Saturdays session appeared to have changed few Republicans minds. I dont think there will be any need for witnesses at all, Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) said. The sooner we can conclude this, the better.
Sen. Mitt Romney
(R., Utah) said he would likely be in favor of calling witnesses, which he has said repeatedly in recent weeks.
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Saturdays truncated session arose partly because the White House wanted to present some arguments from Democrats and to provide fodder for Sunday television shows, but save the bulk of its arguments for Monday and Tuesday, when viewers will be more tuned in.
Mr. Trump on Friday complained about his teams turn starting on a Saturday, which he tweeted is called Death Valley in T.V.
The move also came in response to a push for a shorter session from several senators in both parties, who have been running on little sleep. The session would also allow some Democratic senators who are running for president to attend campaign events on Saturday evening. Both Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have events scheduled in Iowa.
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—Natalie Andrews contributed to this article.
Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at Rebecca.Ballhaus@wsj.com
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