They are going to attack: Trumps defense lawyers promise compelling case in impeachment trial
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WASHINGTON – Now it’s Donald Trump’s turn.
After three marathon days of impeachment testimony from Democratic House managers on why the president should be convicted and removed from office, Trump’s legal team will have equal time to make its case to senators starting Saturday.
Trump’s lawyers are expected to press their argument that the president did nothing wrong in his relations with Ukraine and that he rightfully tried to ensure the proper use of taxpayer dollars when he delayed $391 million in military aid to the Eastern European ally so they would step up anti-corruption efforts.
They’ll also contest the first article of impeachment – abuse of power – has no validity because no specific crime is being alleged. That argument has been dismissed by more than a dozen legal scholars as a misreading of what the framers of the Constitution intended.
They’ll also take less time than the Democrats. At least to start.
While Democrats took nearly eight of their 24 hours on Wednesday, their first day of arguments, Trump’s lawyers will start at 10 a.m. EST Saturday and stop around 1 p.m., said Jay Sekulow, one of Trump’s private lawyers serving on his defense team.
Sekulow said the Senate asked for the “accommodation.” The president had also complained that his defense was forced to start on a day known among broadcasters as “Death Valley” because of traditionally low ratings.
Longer presentations are being planned for Monday and Tuesday, officials said.
“The evidence and the facts prove he has done nothing wrong,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said Friday. “We are looking forward to the chance when we get to lay out our case. The attorneys are excited about that and they are going to attack.”
In pre-trial legal briefs, Trump’s attorneys have said the House impeachment investigation was unfair to Trump and also argued that, in any case, the allegations do not rise to the level of impeachable offenses.
On Friday, Sekulow said the team would make a compelling case, but that in three hours Saturday it would represent an overview of their arguments.
“We’re going to put on I believe without question a compelling case,” Sekulow said. “We have two goals – we’re going to refute the allegations that they’ve made and we’re going to put on an affirmative case as well.”
Sekulow refused to disclose what he would discuss. But suggested the defense team will raise a variety of contentious issues, such as the dossier that former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele collected about Trump, complaints about the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Court and the role that former Vice President Joe Biden played in Ukraine.
Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, might also become a subject of the arguments. Giuliani criticized Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, and worked for her removal, which preceded Trump’s pressure for an investigation of Biden.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, one of eight House lawmakers who are part of Trump’s defense team, told reporters Friday that the team is “very confident” because all of the facts are on the president’s side.
“I think this case is open and shut for the president,” Jordan said.
Regarding the second article of impeachment – obstruction of Congress – Jordan and other GOP allies of the president agree with Trump’s legal team that argues Democrats should have pursued access to documents and witnesses through the courts, not the Senate.
In a filing from last week, Trump’s attorneys claim there is no merit to the impeachment article. The filing said the White House withheld witnesses and documents because the information is protected by executive privilege, and Congress is not entitled access to internal deliberations within the executive branch.
“Defending the separation of powers is not an impeachable offense,” it said.
Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said she’s eager to hear Trump’s lawyers mount a vigorous defense rather than just call the case a witch hunt.
“I’d like to see an actual evidentiary argument,” Hirono said. “I’d like to see them produce some documents to say he didn’t do what he did. We see with our own eyes all of the evidence that has been presented, despite the fact that Trump has tried to stonewall everything.”
Democrats’ facts ‘extraordinarily powerful’
Impeachment experts don’t expect Trump’s defense team to counter the Democrats’ argument point by point but rather try to drive home the president’s contention that Democrats are engaged in a political hit job.
“The Democrats are trying to make a very specific argument and they’re speaking in concrete terms,” said William Howell, a political science professor at the University of Chicago. “I expect the Republicans to speak in generalities because their job isn’t so much to offer an alternative, equally clear counter claim. Rather their job is to simply derail the Democrats’ efforts.”
Howell said that knowing the Senate will not convict Trump, all his lawyers need to do is create reasonable doubt.
“These counter stories, when you get up close to them and you think them through, they lack merit,” he said. “But as long as they’re unexamined and there’s some base plausibility to them, they can do the work for the president that they need them to do, which is simply to say there is some plausible reason why the president was pursuing this line, it’s certainly within his right and therefore not impeachable.”
Trump’s lawyers “are certainly not going to provide a counter narrative because they haven’t got one,” Bowman said. “The Democrats’ facts are extraordinarily powerful.”
Neither Howell or Bowman believe the GOP will take up the entire 24 hours they’re allotted.
“They want to say this thing lacks any merit whatsoever and if the carry on for three straight days, that would suggest there’s something to contend with which runs counter to their argument,” Howell said. “The core of their argument is there’s not much to see here folks.”
Bowman said he’d be surprised if they do because the Republican strategy is to acquit the president in time for his State of the Union speech to Congress Feb. 4.