'We will be very efficient': Trump defense opens with warning against removal, attack on Schiff - 4 takeaways

\'We will be very efficient\': Trump defense opens with warning against removal, attack on Schiff - 4 takeaways  

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump's lawyers went for short and sweet during Saturday's impeachment trial, taking only two hours of their first day at the Senate podium to outline their case for exonerating the president - a marked contrast to House Democrats' marathon and often scathing presentations.

Trump's defense team will resume its presentation Monday.

But in Saturday's 120-minute opening, the president's lawyers attacked House Democrats' credibility and accused them of omitting exculpatory evidence. They portrayed Trump as innocent of all charges and warned the senator-jurors against removing him from office - saying that would be an abuse of power and imploring them to let American voters determine Trump's fate in November.

Saturday's proceedings marked the first opportunity for Trump's attorneys to defend their client in the Senate trial. House Democrats had presented their case over the previous three days, using almost all of the 24 hours allotted to them to outline their case that Trump abused the power of his office and obstructed Congress' investigation.

What happened Saturday: USA TODAY's latest updates on the Trump impeachment trial

Democrats say Trump abused his power by soliciting foreign interference from Ukraine in the 2020 election and then covered it up by blocking witness testimony and refusing to turn over documents to impeachment investigators.

Here are four takeaways from the impeachment trial on Saturday:

'Good news': Trump's attorneys woo senators with promise to be quick

In a clear bid to win over weary senators, White House counsel Pat Cipollone opened the president's case by promising not to take up too much of their precious weekend and to keep their whole presentation well under the 24 hours set aside for Trump's defense.

"We will finish efficiently and quickly," he promised at the start of the day.

Senators are not allowed to speak during the proceedings, so there was no applause for Cipollone. But Republicans have made it clear they found the House Democrats' presentation repetitive and a bit tedious.

Plus, lawmakers are not used to weekend Senate sessions or late nights in the chamber, which they endured for four days as the chamber decided on rules and the Democrats laid out their evidence and arguments.

So senators were likely relieved when Cipollone made good on his vow and wrapped up by noon. "Good news. Just a few more minutes from us," he said after only two hours - 60 minutes shorter than senators had expected to be stuck in their seats.

Fact-check: Fact-checking the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump

Cipollone: It would be 'very, very dangerous' to oust Trump

Cipollone quickly focused on the gravity of the Senate impeachment trial proceedings and accused Democrats of trying to undo the 2016 presidential election - and interfere with the 2020 contest.

"They're asking you to do something very, very consequential and … very, very dangerous," Cipollone said. "They're asking you not only to overturn the results of the last election but … asking you to remove President Trump from the ballot in an election that's occurring in approximately nine months. They're asking you to tear up all of the ballots across this country" and "take that decision away from the American people."

Cipollone said it would be "a completely irresponsible abuse of power" to convict Trump based on the Ukraine allegations.

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Democrat case portrayed as riddled with omissions, exaggerations

The Trump defense team's first target was Rep. Adam Schiff, the California Democrat and Intelligence Committee chair who led the House impeachment proceedings.

Mike Purpura, deputy counsel to Trump, sought to undermine Schiff's credibility by opening with a clip of Schiff reading the supposed transcript of Trump's now-infamous July 25 phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky.

In the clip, Schiff appears to exaggerate the substance of the call and suggests Trump had directly asked his Ukrainian counterpart for "dirt" on a political opponent.

Schiff later said it was a "parody." But Purpura used it to attack Schiff's credibility and paint a broader picture of the House Democrats' case as misleading.

"That's fake. That's not the real call," he said. "That's not the evidence here."

As Purpura played the clip, Schiff sat motionless, his eyes glued to Purpura and a TV screen showing the video. He had his hands clasped in his lap and ignored a note passed over on a legal pad.

Purpura and other Trump attorneys also picked at the Democrats' factual presentation, saying they omitted testimony that exonerated the president or didn't fit their narrative.

They walked through Trump's July 25 call with Zelensky, which Democrats say shows the president pressuring Zelensky for an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading 2020 Democratic candidate.

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In the call, Trump asks Zelensky to "do us a favor." Trump mentions Biden several times and also asks Zelensky to probe a debunked theory that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 presidential election in favor of Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent.

Purpura said Democrats focused solely on those elements, failing to mention that Trump also complained that Europeans were not doing enough to help Ukraine in its war with Russia.

"Germany does almost nothing for you. All they do is talk and I think it's something that you should really ask them about," Trump said to Zelensky.

That's proof, Trump's lawyers said, that Trump was reluctant to give Ukraine nearly $400 million in U.S. assistance because he wanted other countries to step up. Democrats say Trump froze the aid as leverage to coerce Zelensky into investigating Biden and the 2016 election conspiracy theory.

Trump team: no abuse of power, no obstruction

Trump's lawyers said there was no factual or legal basis for the two official impeachment charges that make up the House Democrats' case: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Democrats say Trump used his presidential power - freezing the Ukraine assistance and withholding a coveted White House meeting Zelenky was seeking - as leverage to get political favors from the Ukrainian leader. And they say he obstructed Congress by directing subpoenaed witnesses not to testify and refusing to turn over requested documents.

Trump's attorneys argued that the president invited Zelensky to the White House on at least two occasions - during a congratulatory phone call after Zelensky won his election and in a follow-up letter. The president's attorneys failed to mention on Saturday that Zelensky's aides tried repeatedly, without success, to get Trump officials to nail down a specific date.

Trump's ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, testified there was a "quid pro-quo" - a White House meeting in exchange for a public promise from Zelensky to open the investigations. But on Saturday, Trump's team suggested Sondland and other witnesses were making assumptions and had no first-hand knowledge to support that claim.

Who's who on Trump's legal team: Patrick Cipollone, Jay Sekulow, Alan Dershowitz, Ken Starr, Pam Bondi

Patrick Philbin, deputy counsel to Trump, said the White House did not comply with House Democrats' subpoenas because they were not legally valid.

He argued that the House did not follow correct rules in authorizing the impeachment inquiry - thus making the subpoenas void.

In fact, Philbin suggested the entire impeachment inquiry was illegitimate because the full House never voted to open a probe.

"There was no vote to authorize the committee to exercise the power of impeachment," he said. So Schiff's committee didn't have the authority to issue subpoenas.

He said Trump was not allowed to have counsel in the initial closed-door interviews with key witnesses, and was only invited to participate at the end of the probe.

"The entire proceedings in the House … lasted 78 days. It's the fastest investigatory process for a presidential impeachment in history," he said. And for all but 7 days of that, "the president was completely locked out."

"That's not due process," Philbin said.

Contributing: Christal Hayes and Savannah Behrmann

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump impeachment trial takeaways: Defense finishes day of arguments


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