President Trump’s attorneys accused House Democrats of bad faith –- and hiding evidence — in a scathing opening statement as they began their impeachment defense Saturday.
“They have the burden of proof and they have not come close to meeting it,” White House Counsel Pat Cipollone said as he began their two-hour presentation on the sixth day of Trump’s impeachment trial.
“We intend to show you some of the evidence that they … decided over three days and 24 hours that they didn’t have enough time, or made a decision not to, show you,” Cipollone said.
Cipollone and three other members of Trump’s eight-lawyer team deconstructed the president’s July 25 phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to accuse the Democrats of cherry-picking their evidence to cast the conversation in a nefarious light.
“Every time you see one of these pieces of evidence, ask yourself, ‘Why didn’t I see that in the first three days? They had it, it came out of their process, why didn’t they show that to the Senate?’” Cipollone asked.
But they barely mentioned former Vice President Joe Biden, his son Hunter, or their ties to Ukrainian energy company Burisma, despite tough talk that they would figure prominently in their case. At the heart of the impeachment case is the accusation that Trump withheld $391 million in military aid to Ukraine unless it probed the Bidens, as a way to stain his potential political challenger Joe Biden.
The attorneys ridiculed Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) for claiming that Trump illicitly pressured Zelensky to launch a politically motivated investigation — even though Zelensky himself denied it.
“They know what’s in President Zelensky’s mind better than President Zelensky does,” White House deputy counsel Mike Purpura said sarcastically.
“This entire impeachment process is about the House managers’ insistence that they can read everybody’s thoughts,” said Trump attorney Jay Sekulow. “Even when the witnesses themselves insist that those interpretations are wrong.”
They also argued that the House’s case for obstruction of Congress is fatally defective under the Constitution – in part because Schiff’s committee issued subpoenas without an authorizing vote of the entire House.
“The House Democrats skipped over that step completely,” said White House deputy counsel Patrick Philbin, citing case law. “What they had instead was simply a press conference from Speaker Pelosi.”
Republican senators came away impressed – and relieved that they were not forced to remain in their seats for another eight-hour day.
“I think most of it was all very relevant and very persuasive,” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) told reporters. “Brevity is generally a virtue.”
“Within two hours I thought that the White House Counsel and their team entirely shredded the case that has been presented by the House managers,” said Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa). “There have been a lot of half-truths promulgated by the House managers and absolutely pushed by the media.”
But Democrats insisted that the presidents’ lawyers had inadvertently supported their demand for the Senate to issue witness and document subpoenas of its own.
“We’ve been making the argument that we need witnesses, we need documents,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. “Today, we thank the president’s counsel for one thing: they made our case even stronger.”