President Donald Trump’s lawyers on Saturday argued a robust version of one of his favourite phrases to tweet: “Read the transcript!”
It was the first day of defence arguments in Trump’s impeachment trial as the Senate gathered for two quick hours in a rare Saturday session. The White House lawyers had said it would be a “sneak preview” of their defence, continuing Monday, and they spent the morning rebutting the House impeachment managers’ arguments by charging that they were politically motivated.
To begin, they read parts of a rough transcript of a July call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that is at the heart of the House impeachment case. While Democrats point to the conversation as a prime reason to remove the president, the White House lawyers say it points to Trump’s innocence. Trump often tweets, sometimes in all caps, that people should read the transcript in an effort to clear himself.
Highlights of Friday’s session and what’s ahead as senators conduct just the third impeachment trial of a president:
The House is charging that Trump abused power in a broad campaign to push Ukraine to investigate Democrats, including presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. They point to the July call, in which Trump asked Zelenskiy to probe Biden. At the time, Trump had ordered the U.S. to withhold military aid from Ukraine.
The defence argued that there’s no evidence that the military aid was a “quid pro quo” for the investigations. They said Trump was concerned about general corruption in the country and noted he eventually released the aid.
Deputy White House counsel Michael Purpura argued that everyone knows that when Trump asked Zelenskiy to “do us a favour,” he meant the U.S., not himself. Democrats have disagreed and said Trump didn’t release the aid until he “got caught.”
The defence lawyers said the House managers didn’t know what Trump’s motivations were.
Trump’s defence team used just two hours of the senators’ time on and promised not to run out the 24-hour clock allotted for the days ahead the way House Democrats nearly did prosecuting the case.
The White House team also displayed quick-cut video presentations on the Senate’s overhead screens, turning soundbites from key players in the impeachment case into fast-snapping clips. It all seemed to command the attention of senators, likely a welcome change of pace for those who had grown tired of the prosecution’s long and often repetitive presentations.
Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow gave his word to the senators, “We’re not going to play the same clips seven times.” That prompted smiles from some senators.
The president’s team arrayed in the well of the chamber also looked different than the House managers _ defending Trump were four white men. One woman, attorney Pam Bondi, is also on Trump’s team. The seven-person House manager team reflected a cross section of America that included women and people of colour.