US President Donald Trump’s lawyers launched their defence in the Senate trial on Saturday questioning the credibility of the Democratic Party prosecutors, the witnesses and the intelligence community.
White House lawyer Pat Cipollone said the impeachment was a Democratic Party attempt to overturn the 2016 elections and bar him from the November election. Instead, he said, “Let the people decide that”.
Trump is only the third president in the 243 years of the US to stand trial before the Senate after Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998, endowing the Senate proceeding with the weight of history.
Trump’s defence came after 24 hours of arguments stretching over three days by the prosecutors from the House of Representatives that had impeached him.
The defence held only two hours of abbreviated arguments on Saturday, which Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow said was a “trailer” for their fuller case when the trial resumes on Monday.
The high drama in the trial will, however, come when the defence concludes their arguments and the Democrats resurrect their demand to call witnesses to trial, a demand rejected by the Senate on the first day of the trial.
Democrats will need four Republican senators to defect in order for the demand for witnesses to pass in the 100-member Senate, which has 53 Republicans.
Trump is unlikely to be convicted and forced out of office because a two-thirds majority is required for this.
Therefore, the Democrats are hoping the televised spectacle of the trial and the impeachment proceedings will be their propaganda bonanza for the November election.
Hitting at the credibility of the Democrats, White House Deputy Counsel Michael Purpura highlighted the lead Democratic prosecutor Adam Schiff’s fake version of Trump’s call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelentsky that is at the centre of impeachment.
Schiff, the head of the House Intelligence Committee who led the investigation of Trump, later claimed he was not serious and was spoofing Trump.
Trump is charged with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in the trial presided over by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts with the senators acting as jurors.
The allegations arise from Trump’s call to Zelentsky in which he asked him as a “favour” to investigate activities of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, in his country.
Before the trial resumed Trump tweeted insults against the Democratic Party’s Congressional leaders as well as the media: aceOur case against lyin’, cheatin’, liddle’ Adam aceShifty” Schiff, Cryin’ Chuck Schumer, Nervous Nancy Pelosi, their leader, dumb as a rock AOC, & the entire Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrat Party, starts today at 10:00 A.M. on @FoxNews, @OANN or Fake News @CNN or Fake News MSDNC!”
Schiff is the leading prosecutor, Schumer is the Democratic leader in the Senator, Pelosi is the speaker of the House and AOC is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes, a leftist leader of the party.
Sekulow reached back to the investigation of the allegations of collaboration between the Russians and Trump in the 2016 election that were disproved by an investigation by Independent Counsel Robert Mueller.
The Democrats had pinned their hopes on the Russian allegations to remove Trump and when that failed, they raked up the Ukraine issue, Sekulow said.
Pakistan came up briefly during the defence arguments when Sekulow cited Trump’s freezing military aid to Islamabad because it was not cooperating on counter-terrorism.
He brought it up as an example of Trump freezing aid for cause while trying to refute the Democratic argument that he withheld aid to Ukraine because he wanted Zelentsky to order the probe.
As in Pakistan’s case, Trump had a legitimate reason — to ensure the Zelentsky government was against corruption.
Criticising the Democrat’s reliance on the US intelligence agencies, Sekulow said that he did not have to “blindly trust some of the advice he was being given by the intelligence agencies” because of the false reasons given by a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent to get a warrant for surveillance of a junior Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page.
The Justice Department’s inspector-general found factual errors in the application for the warrant and the secret court that issued the warrant also criticised the FBI in a rare public statement.
The Trump team said that he was right to seek an investigation of alleged corruption in Ukraine and he did nothing wrong because the military aid was released without the probe and, therefore, there was not quid pro quo.
Sekulow projected statements by various witnesses who said their allegations about Trump withholding aid to Ukraine and other matters were based on their own interpretation.
Speaking a news conference after the trial session ended, Schiff said that he wanted to call other witnesses who may have direct knowledge of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine precisely because as Sekulow said there were no direct evidence.
The Democrats want to call former National Security Adviser John Bolton and Trump’s acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.
At the news conference a prosecutor, Jerry Nadler who heads the House Judiciary Committee reiterated the description of Trump as a dictator that he made during arguments on Friday night and said he should be removed to “safeguard democracy.”
Democrats say that request to Zelentsky to probe the Bidens was inviting foreign intervention in US elections because Joe Biden is the leading Democratic Party candidate for the nomination to oppose him.
Moreover, they say that he froze about $400 million in Congressionally-approved military aid for pressure Zelentsky to order the probe and this endangered US national security as Ukraine is at war with Russia.
Schiff and the other prosecutors said delaying the aid was an attempt at a quid pro quo.
Zelentsky has said that he did not feel pressured by Trump.
Hunter Biden, who was removed from the Navy allegedly due to drug use and had no energy business experience landed a directorship in a Ukrainian gas company with monthly payments reportedly between $50,000 and $83,000 while his father was overseeing Washington’s dealings with Kyiv.
The former vice president has publicly admitted that he got the Ukrainian leaders to fire the prosecutor investigating his son’s company.
The Republicans say the son’s appointment was unethical and the father had the prosecutor removed to protect his son’s company.
In their arguments, the Democratic prosecutors said there was nothing wrong in Hunter Biden getting the job and his father had the prosecutor dismissed because he was corrupt.
Even if the Senate approves calling the witnesses, Trump could exercise his executive privilege to stop them from testifying, in which case they could go to court to compel their appearance at the Senate trial extending its duration by months if not weeks.
The House charged him with obstruction of Congress because he refused to allow some of this staff to testify and release documents requested by the House investigators.
The Republicans want a quick end to the trial but they can counter the Democrat’s request for witnesses by calling former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, to testify in order to embarrass them and their party.