White House lawyers begin Trump defense at Senate trial

Washington: White House lawyers began presenting their defense of President Donald Trump on Saturday at his historic Senate impeachment trial for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone began presenting opening arguments at an extraordinary weekend session of the 100-member Senate, which will decide whether the 45th US president should be removed from office.

"You will find the president did absolutely nothing wrong," Cipollone said.

Democratic prosecutors from the House of Representatives, which impeached Trump on December 18, wrapped up their case for the president's removal late Friday.

Trump's lawyers will have 24 hours spread over three days to present their defense of the president to the Senate, where Republicans hold a 53 to 47 seat majority. They plan to speak for up to three hours on Saturday and resume their presentation on Monday.

President Trump's defense team itemized six key facts that won't change as :

* The president didn't condition security assistance on anything. The paused funds not mentioned on the call.
* President Zelinsky of Ukraine says there was no quid pro quo
*Pres of Ukraine did not know funds were paused.
*No investigation took place
*security assistance flowed on Sept 11 and there had been no investigations.
*President Donald Trump has been a better friend of Ukraine than his predecessor.

@realDonaldTrump said : Our case against lyin’, cheatin’, liddle’ Adam “Shifty” 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!

Trump's legal team began their defence of the president by signalling again they intend to put forth an aggressive rebuttal of House Democrats' charges that he tried to "cheat" to win the 2020 presidential race while also warning senators they are being asked to remove their client from the ballot.

About an hour into the defence team's first day of case-making, Jay Sekulow, one of the president's attorneys, attacked House Democrats' motives. "This case is really not about presidential wrongdoing," he said. "This entire impeachment process is about the House managers' insistence they are able to ready everybody's thoughts, they can read everyone's intentions even when the principle speakers ... insist those interpretations are wrong."

Michael Purpura: Ukraine says no quid pro quo, democrats claim to know Zelensky’s mind better than he does

That came after the team's lead attorney also panned the House prosecutors' case, foreshadowing a morning of Mr Trump's attorneys trying to plant seeds of doubt about the Democratic lawmakers' motives. They argued the opposition party left out key evidence and urged senators to question if they had heard the full truth about the president and Ukraine over the last three days.

"We don't believe they have come anywhere close to meeting their burden for what they have asked you to do," White House Counsel Pat Cipollone said in his opening statement. "You will find that the president did absolutely nothing wrong. ... We are going to confront them on the merits of their argument."

The latter comment was the latest indication that the Trump lawyers will opt against a case that tries to claim the commander in chief did not seek to trade a nearly $400 million military aid package and a White House visit for Ukraine's new president for that government investigating his political rivals at home.

"They're asking you to tear up the ballots," he said, adding Democrats want senators to decide the next election rather than the American people.

"They didn't tell you what that would mean for our country ... forever into our future," Mr Cipollone said.

Deputy White House Counsel Michael Purpura followed Cipollone and made clear the team has no intention of claiming Trump did not use the military aid to get what he wanted from Zelensky. Instead, they will argue he operated within the limits of US law.

"The president did absolutely nothing wrong," Mr Purpura said. "The Democrats allegation that the president engaged in a quid pro quo is false." He ran senators through several moments during the House's public impeachment hearings during which current and former Trump administration witnesses testified Ukrainians leaders did not know the military aid package was frozen by Mr Trump. He also provided statements from Zelensky and others he said showed they did not feel any pressure by the president or his surrogates to do his bidding by investigating the Bidens. "There can't be a quid pro quo without the quo," Purpura said in one of the proceeding's most pithy and memorable lines.

He contended his boss' actions were in line with the powers of the Office of the President, a stark contrast to Democrats' claim that he abused those authorities and violated the Constitution. What's more, Mr Purpura said "once the Ukrainians learned about the hold, they asked about it," asking senators to question why those same officials, had they known before it became public via news reports, "said nothing at all to their US counterparts" during multiple meetings while the military package was on hold behind the scenes in Washington. "It's absolutely fatal to the House managers case," he said, accusing the Trump team of "purposely trying to muddy the waters" by not including it in their case.

The two White House attorneys' opening comments signalled the president's lawyers intend to push back hard on many of the allegations House Democratic impeachment managers made during their three days of case-making on the Senate floor.

They also are expected to make their own raft of charges against former vice president Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, over the latter's business dealings in Ukraine while his VP father was looking into government corruption there.

"We'll have to be addressing that since they opened that up," a source working on the Trump defence team said Friday evening. The same source described Saturday's session as a chance for Mr Trump's lawyers to preview their case, with the bulk of their presentation coming Monday and Tuesday.

The president's defence team began previewing the case they intend to make in greater detail Monday and Tuesday just over 12 hours after House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff delivered a passionate closing argument as House Democrats wrapped up their prosecution.

(With  AP and Independent)

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