President Donald Trump's defense team makes first day of opening arguments
Trump's lawyers argue the charges are not impeachable, raise the Bidens
Trump has called the Saturday trial session "Death Valley in T.V."
President Donald Trump's legal team Saturday took to the Senate floor to argue against the case made by the House impeachment managers over the past three days.
The president’s lawyers also will have 24 hours over three days to persuade senators that the articles of impeachment charged -- abuse of power and obstruction of Congress -- do not amount to impeachable offenses.
As Jay Sekulow, the president's personal attorney, predicted, they briefly brought up former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, after Democrats raised them repeatedly in an effort to preempt the expected White House defense.
They have argued that the president was justified in seeking an investigation into the Bidens by Ukraine because of a history of corruption involving the Ukrainian energy company Burisma.
Sekulow has said his team plans to save the bulk of their defense for their second day of arguments on Monday. He was accompanied by White House counsel Pat Cipollone and other White House lawyers on Saturday in an abbreviated session that lasted only about two hours.
“Next week is when you’ll see the full presentation,” Sekulow told reporters Friday.
Sekulow's comment came on the heels of a tweet by Trump equating Saturdays to “Death Valley in T.V.”, signaling that he doesn't want his lawyers to deliver the case on Saturday when fewer people might be watching.
Before Saturday's session began, Trump tweeted how Americans could watch his lawyers defend him.
Here is how the day unfolded.
12:01 p.m. Saturday session ends after about two hours
Just before Cipollone ends the Trump team presentation for the day, he once again targets Schiff by recalling that Independent Counsel Ken Starr testified before the House during the Clinton impeachment.
"Do you know who else didn't show up in the Judiciary Committee to answer questions about his report in the way Ken Starr did in the Clinton impeachment? Ken Starr was subjected to cross-examination by the president's counsel," Cipollone says. "Do you know who didn't show up in the Judiciary Committee? Chairman Schiff."
"Now, they've come here today and they basically said let's cancel an election over a meeting with the Ukraine, with Ukraine," Cipollone says. "And as my colleagues have shown, they failed to give you key facts about the meeting and lots of other evidence that they produced themselves."
"Impeachment shouldn't be a shell game," Cipollone says. "They should give you the facts."
In his closing remarks, Sekulow says,"Impeachment shouldn't be a shell game. We ask you, out of respect, to think about whether what you've heard would really suggest to anybody anything other that would be completely irresponsible abuse of power to do what they're asking you to do. To stop an election, to interfere in an election, and remove the President of the United States from the ballot? Let the people decide for themselves. That's what the founders wanted. That's what we should all want," he says.
11:40 a.m. Trump team says Pelosi had no authority to begin impeachment inquiry without full House vote
Deputy White House counsel Patrick Philbin begins by talking about "issues related to obstruction and due process," outlining what he says are errors with the process in which the House handled the impeachment inquiry.
He says House Speaker Nancy Pelosi didn't have the authority to begin impeaching the president without a full vote of the House.
"House Democrats skipped over that step completely. What they had instead was simply a press conference from Speaker Pelosi announcing that she was directing committees to proceed with an impeachment inquiry against the President of the United States. Speaker Pelosi didn't have the authority to delegate the power of the house to those committees on her own," he says.
"All of those subpoenas were invalid. And that is what the Trump administration pointed out specifically to the house. That was the reason for not responding to them because under long-settled precedent, there had to be a vote from the House to give authority."
Philbin says the idea that President Trump was offered due process is "simply inaccurate" and claims that 78 days in the House is the fastest impeachment inquiry in U.S. history.
"The president was given a choice of participating in a process that was going to already have the outcome determined. The speaker had already said articles of impeachment we going to be drafted. And there were no plans to hear from any fact witnesses. That's not due process. And that's why the president declined to participate in that process because the Judiciary Committee had already decided they were going to accept an ex parte record developed in manager Schiff's process, and there was no point in participating in that."
"They really weren't really interested in getting at the facts and the truth. They had a timetable to meet. They wanted to have impeachment done by Christmas, and that's what they were striving to do," he adds.
Philbin criticizes that the whistleblower complaint has not been made public, an attack that many Republicans have echoed throughout the investigation.
“We know from a letter that the inspector general of the intelligence community sent that he thought that the whistleblower had political bias,” Philbin says.
11:12 a.m. Inside the chamber: Both sides paying close attention
ABC News’ Senior Congressional Correspondent Mary Bruce reports from inside the Senate Chamber:
What a difference a day makes. The Chamber appears to have woken up. Both sides are paying very close attention. From my vantage point, I didn't see a single empty chair.
There's a lot more note-taking all around, but I am struck by how closely Democrats are paying attention today, especially compared to days past. Many more of them are taking detailed notes. And we know they have already begun submitting questions for the 16 hours of questioning that comes next.
On the Republican side, the president's allies look quite pleased. Lots of nodding and a few smirks Sens. Graham and Ernst. Sen. Wicker laughed out loud when (Trump lawyer Mike) Purpura alleged it was a "quid pro quo without a quo."
The standouts continue to be Sens. Collins, Murkowski and Romney who appear to be paying the closest attention on the GOP side.
One other big difference -- the public seats are packed today. Americans of all ages, intently listening as they observe history unfolding on the floor.
11:02 a.m. Sekulow asks senators to put themselves in President Trump's shoes
"Let me begin by saying that you cannot simply decide this case in a vacuum. Mr. Schiff said yesterday -- I believe it was his father who said -- you should put yourself in someone else's shoes. Let's for a moment put ourselves in the shoes of the President of the United States right now," Jay Sekulow says.
“Disagreeing with the president's decision on foreign policy matters or whose advice he's going to take is in no way an impeachable offense,” Sekulow says.
Sekulow says that Democrats base their quid pro quo argument off the basis that a White House meeting between Trump and Zelenskiy did not happen.
"As if an article of impeachment could be based upon a meeting not taking place in the White House, but taking place someplace else like the United Nations General Assembly where it, in fact, did take place," he says.
Sekulow also walks through President Trump's foreign policy toward other countries, attempting to show Ukraine was not treated any differently from others under Trump's foreign policy focused on "burden-sharing."
Sekulow argues that eliminating corruption in Ukraine was a central goal in U.S. policy in Ukraine to explain Trump's motives.
"I am not going to continue to go over and over and over again the evidence that they did not put before you because we would be here for a lot longer than 24 hours. But to say that the president of the United States did not -- was not concerned about burden sharing, that he was not concerned about corruption in Ukraine, the facts from their hearing, the facts from their hearing, establish exactly the opposite," Sekulow says.
10:45 a.m. Trump lawyer argues no mention of withholding aid on July 25 call
"As everyone knows by now, President Trump asked President Zelenskiy to do 'us' a favor," Purpura says. "And he made clear that 'us' referred to our country, and not himself," he says, repeated a claim Trump had made himself in a tweet that Democrats dispute.
"There was no mention of the paused security assistance on the call and certainly not from President Trump," he says.
Purpura homes in on comments made by Timothy Morrison, the former National Security Council Russia Director Republicans called to testify in the House Intelligence Committee's impeachment inquiry.
"Mr. Morrison further testified that there was nothing improper and nothing illegal about anything that was said on the call. In fact, Mr. Morrison repeatedly testified that he disagreed with Lieutenant Colonel Vindman's assessment that President Trump made demands of President Zelenskiy or that he said anything improper at all," Purpura says, before playing a clip from Morrison's testimony.
Purpura argues there was "no quid pro quo on the call" because Ukrainians weren't aware of the paused security assistance until Politico reported on it in August.
"There were numerous high-level diplomatic meetings between senior Ukrainian and U.S. officials during the summer after the review on the security assistance began, but before President Zelenskiy learned of the hold through the Politico article. If the Ukrainians had known about the hold, they would have raised it in one of those meetings, yet the Ukrainians didn't say anything about the hold at a single one of those meeting," Purpura says. "As soon as Ukrainians learned about the hold, they asked about it."
(Democrats have pointed to testimony from two House witnesses to indicate that Ukraine was aware of the hold before the August article.)
“The Democrats entire quid pro quo theory is based on nothing more than the initial speculation of one person. Ambassador Sondland. That speculation is wrong,” Purpura says, referring to the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland who has testified he was in direct contact with President Trump about the Ukraine aid matter.
(The person who actually directed the White House Office of Management and Budget to withhold the military aid to Ukraine -- acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney -- explicitly acknowledged the quid pro quo in the White House briefing room on Oct. 17, 2019.)
"The House managers are aware that the Ukrainians lack of knowledge on the hold is fatal to their case, so they desperately tried to muddy the water," he says.
Purpura argues that none of the witnesses called to testify in the House inquiry could say definitively whether the withheld security aid was tied to investigations into the Bidens.
10:24 a.m. Republicans attack Schiff's credibility using videos as Democrats did
Another member of the president's legal team, Mike Purpura, opens his presentation with a video from November of lead House impeachment manager Adam Schiff in which he reads a parody version of the July 25 phone call transcript, comparing it to an organized crime "shakedown."
(Schiff, before speaking, said he was summarizing the "essence" of Trump's comments "shorn of its rambling character," Schiff said.)
Ukraine didn't know about the aid, he said, playing Volker and Taylor's testimony about Ukrainians questioning them about the hold following the August Politico article.
(Democrats have pointed to testimony from two House witnesses – Cooper and Croft – to indicate that Ukraine was aware of the hold before the August article.) “The Democrats entire quid pro quo theory is based on nothing more than the initial speculation of one person. Ambassador Sondland. That speculation is wrong,” he said. [10:55:08 AM]
"Once you sweep away all of the bluster and innuendo, the selective leaks, the closed-door examinations of the Democrats' hand-picked witnesses, the staged public hearings, what we're left with are six key facts that have not and will not change," Purpura says.
He then lays out what he calls the "six key facts."
"First, the transcript shows that the president did not condition either security assistance or a meeting on anything. Second, President Zelenskiy and other Ukrainian officials repeatedly have said there was no quid pro quo and no pressure on them to review anything. Third, President Zelenskiy and high-ranking Ukrainian officials did not even know -- did not even know -- the security assistance was paused until the end of August. Over a month after the July 25 call. Fourth, not a single witness testified that the president himself said that there was any connection between any investigations in security assistance, a presidential meeting or anything else. Fifth, the security assistance flowed on September 11th, and a presidential meeting took place on September 25 without the Ukrainian government announcing any investigations.
"Finally, the Democrats' blind drive to impeach the president does not and cannot change the fact as attested to by the Democrats' own witnesses that President Trump has been a better friend and stronger supporter of Ukraine than his predecessor," he says.
"When it comes to sending U.S. taxpayer money overseas, the president is focused on burden-sharing, and corruption," he argues. "There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking a foreign leader to help get to the bottom of our forms of foreign interference in American presidential election."
10:14 a.m. Cipollone says Democrats 'hid evidence'
Cipollone says "they hid evidence from you."
He says the president's team will show evidence that House managers "decided over their three days and 24 hours that they didn't have enough time -- or made a decision not -- to show you. And every time you see one of these pieces of evidence, ask yourself, 'why didn't I see that in the first 3 days.'
Cipollone cites a transcript of July 25, phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy -- saying Democrats did not mention how they discussed that European nations were not doing enough to support Ukraine.
"They come here to the Senate and they ask you, remove a president, tear up the ballots in all of your states, and they don't bother to read the key evidence of the discussion of burden-sharing that's in the call itself. Now, that's emblematic of their entire presentation," Cipollone says. "They have the burden of proof. And they have not come close to meeting it."
10:05 a.m. Senate trial resumes with Trump's lawyers taking the floor
"We are going to be very respectful of your time..." says White House counsel Pat Cipollone as he begins what he says will be a limited presentation.
"You heard the House managers speak for nearly 24 hours over three days," he says. "We don't anticipate using that much time."
Then he comes out swinging against the House managers' arguments.
"We don't believe that they have come anywhere close to meeting their burden for what they're asking you to do," he tells senators.
"They're asking you not only to overturn the results of the last election, but as I've said before, they're asking you to remove President Trump from the ballot in an election that's occurring in approximately nine months," he says. "They're asking to you do something that no senate has ever done. And they're asking to you do it with no evidence."
"The American people decide elections," Cipollone adds. "They have that coming up in nine months."
"So we will be very efficient. We will begin our presentation today. We will show you a lot of evidence that they should have showed you, and we will finish efficiently and quickly so that we can all go have an election," he says.
ABC News' Benjamin Siegel reports, in a call with reporters earlier this morning, House Democrats said they expect the arguments from Trump’s legal team to be a “master class” in “distraction” and a “distortion” of truth."
Just before the trial resumes, House manager Jerry Nadler and House staffers brought over carts of documents and legal files.