White House lawyers begin Trump defence at Senate trial

WASHINGTON: White House lawyers began presenting their defence 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 took the floor for 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.
Democratic prosecutors from the House of Representatives, which impeached Trump on December 18, wrapped up their detailed case for the president’s removal late on Friday over his dealings with Ukraine.
Cipollone said the House prosecutors had not made their case.
“We don’t believe that they have come anywhere close to meeting their burden for what they’re asking you to do,” he said. “In fact, we believe when you hear the facts… you will find that the president did absolutely nothing wrong.”
The White House counsel said Democrats were asking the Senate to “overturn the results of the last election.”
“They’re asking you to tear up all of the ballots across this country on your own initiative,” he said. “Take that decision away from the American people.”
Trump’s lawyers will have 24 hours spread over three days to present their defence 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.
For a final eight-hour stretch, the 100 senators listened as Democrats argued that Trump abused the power of the presidency in pressuring Ukraine to launch investigations that would help him politically and then sought to block efforts by Congress to investigate.
Democrats said they had met the burden of proof as they warned Republicans that Trump would remain a grave danger to the nation if left in office.
“This is Trump first, not America first, not American ideals first,” Democratic congressman Adam Schiff, the lead House impeachment manager, told the chamber. “I ask you, I implore you,” he added, addressing Republicans who hold the power to allow witnesses to testify next week, against Trump’s wishes. “Give America a fair trial,” Schiff said. “She’s worth it.”
Trump’s team of lawyers take the floor to offer his defence beginning at 10 am Saturday, a time slot which Trump, a former reality TV star, referred to in a tweet as “Death Valley in TV.”
His side’s arguments will continue on Monday and Tuesday, before the chamber turns to questioning and then votes on whether to hear from witnesses, something Democrats have sought from the start.
“It’s going to be much more concise, it’s going to be easier to understand, and not swamped with the same information over and over again,” Republican Senator Mike Braun told Fox News of Trump’s upcoming defence.
Democrats argued on the floor that Trump’s refusal to allow top officials to testify and to supply subpoenaed documents to the Ukraine investigation supported the second charge against him, obstruction of Congress.
Trump blocked the executive branch from responding to 71 specific requests for documents, including five subpoenas, related to his pressure on Kiev to help his 2020 reelection effort, Democratic impeachment manager Val Deming told senators.
Trump also prevented 12 current and former administration officials, most of them subpoenaed, from testifying to the investigation, she said.
“President Trump’s obstruction of the impeachment inquiry was categorical, indiscriminate and historically unprecedented,” Deming said.
“Executive power without any sort of restraint, without oversight, and without any checks and balances, is absolute power,” she told the Senate hearing. “And we know what has been said about absolute power. Absolute power corrupts, absolutely.”