President Donald Trump’s White House counsel delivered the first two hours of their opening argument in the Senate impeachment trial Saturday, focusing on the evidence that House Democrats left out in three days of presentations.
Led by Pat Cipollone, the president’s attorneys used their time to argue that Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and the House impeachment managers had concealed the facts from the Senate — facts their own impeachment inquiry produced.
“What we intend to do today is go through their record, that they established in the House, and we intend to show you some of the evidence that they adduced in the House — that they decided, over their three days and 24 hours, that they did’t have enough time, or made a decision not to show you,” Cipollone said. “And every time you see one of these pieces of evidence, ask yourself: ‘Why didn’t I see that in the first three days?’ They had it. It came out of their process. Why didn’t they show that to the Senate?” He noted that it was “an important question,” because the choice House Democrats were asking the Senate to make was “something very, very consequential … and dangerous.”
Cipollone began by noting that Democrats had falsely claimed the president did not care about other countries giving aid to Ukraine, when Trump had mentioned it directly in the transcript of the July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. He also noted that the Democrats’ own witnesses had testified Trump had done more to help Ukraine than his predecessor: “You will hear that from the witnesses in their record that they didn’t tell you about.”
The lead White House lawyer then turned briefly to the question of due process in the House, arguing that if House Democrats were confident of the facts, they would have run a fair process that allowed all of the facts to emerge.
Cipollone suggested that Democrats “don’t really believe in the facts of their case.” He added: “For all their talk of ‘election interference, they’re here to perpetrate the most massive interference in an election in American history.”
Next, Deputy White House Counsel Michael Purpura went straight for Schiff, playing a video of him reading a fake version of the transcript at the opening of House Intelligence Committee hearings. The point was not just to attack Schiff’s credibility — which they would do more thoroughly later — but to show that Democrats had to fake the facts of the case, because the facts were actually against them.
Purpura then outlined six facts that would each, on their own, sink the Democrats’ case: 1. There was never any link between investigations and U.S., or a White House meeting, on the Ukraine call; 2. There was never a “quid pro quo” and Ukraine felt no pressure; Ukraine did not even know there had been a temporary pause in “security assistance”; 4. None of the witnesses could testify that Trump ever said anything about a link between aid and investigations; 5. Ukraine received the aid and a meeting anyway; and 6. Trump gave more support to Ukraine than Obama had done.
Moreover, Purpura pointed out, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) had called for an impeachment inquiry before ever seeing the Ukraine call transcript.
He brought up numerous examples of President Trump showing concern about corruption and burden-sharing in Ukraine, contradicting repeated claims by House Democrats that Trump only had domestic politics in mind. And Purpura accused Democrats of falsely claiming that Javelin missiles had been affected by the temporary hold on aid.
Next, Purpura argued that Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman — one of the Democrats’ star witnesses — testified that his concern about the Ukraine call had not been that a law had been broken, but “deep policy concerns” that Trump was not following the bureaucrats’ preferences. “The president sets the foreign policy. In a democracy such as ours, the elected leaders make foreign policy, while the unelected staff, such as Lt. Col. Vindman, implement the policy.”
Purpura noted that others who listened on the call had no concerns whatsoever about it. He played clips of former National Security Council official Tim Morrison telling the House Intelligence Committee he had no concerns.
And he played a clip of Ambassador Kurt Volker testifying that the Ukrainians were not even aware of the hold on aid until the media reported it. “They didn’t tell you about this testimony from Ambassador Volker,” he said. “Why not?”
Throughout his presentation, Purpura played clips that, he noted, the House managers had concealed from the Senate — including clips of U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland testifying that President Trump said there was “no quid pro quo” with Ukraine. The flaws in the Democrats’ case, he said, would be “fatal” to the prosecution in any court.
The Democrats, he said, knew that the evidence was not on their side — so they claimed to be “mind-readers,” relying on what Sondland admitted were his own presumptions and assumptions, before talking directly to the president. They were also claiming that the Ukrainian officials who claimed there was no quid pro quo were being dishonest.
Next, White House attorney Jay Sekulow reminded the Senate that the president had been falsely accused of “Russia collusion,” and subjected to an unjust FBI investigation called “Crossfire Hurricane.” He noted that the Democrats had tried to “relitigate the Mueller case” in their opening statement, claiming Trump had been influenced by Russia.
If the president had doubted some of the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies about 2016 election interference, he said, that was why: he and his campaign had been the victims of unlawful surveillance by those same agencies.
It was a “straw man,” Sekulow said, for the House Democrats to argue, falsely, that Trump believed that only Ukraine had interfered in the election. The interference by Russia did not preclude interference by Ukraine as well, he noted.
Sekulow pointed out, citing Dr. Fiona Hill, that Ukraine did not simply not want a meeting at the White House, but any meeting with the president, which Trump duly provided by meeting with him at the UN General Assembly on September 25.
And Sekulow also noted, as Purpura had, that Trump had a long-standing concern about corruption in Ukraine. He cited testimony from the Democrats’ own witnesses that Trump had spoken about corruption with the previous president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, as far back as the first months of his administration in 2017.
Finally, Counsel to the President Patrick Philbin addressed Democrats’ claim that the White House had, in an act of “blanket defiance,” resisted all subpoenas and requests for evidence without any legal justification. He argued that was false, because “in every instance … there was a legal explanation of the justification for it.” He noted that the Office of Legal Counsel had advised the White House in every case, adding that many of the subpoenas were invalid because they were issued before the House had actually voted to authorize an impeachment inquiry, as required.
Philbin took apart Democrats’ argument that due process was not required int he House, quoting House manager Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-CA) himself in 2016, declaring that impeachment requires a “rigorous level of due process.”
Finally, Philbin went straight for Schiff, the lead House impeachment manager himself, noting that he had changed his tune about having the “whistleblower” testify after he was discovered to have lied to the public about whether his committee had previous contact with him (or her). He also played a clip of Schiff claiming in 2017 that he had seen “more than circumstantial” evidence of Russia collusion — evidence that, everyone now knows, failed to materialize.
We wanted to point these things out, simply because — for this reason: Chairman Schiff has made so much of the House’s case about the credibility of interpretations that the House managers want to place — on not hard evidence, just on inferences. They want to tell you what President Trump thought, they want to tell you, “Don’t believe what Zelensky said, we can tell you what Zelensky actually thought. Don’t believe what they other Ukrainians actually said about not being pressured, we can tell you what they actually thought.” That it is very relevant to know whether the assessments of evidence he’s presented in the past are accurate. And we would submit that they have not been, and that is relevant for your consideration.
Copilot then closed by noting that Schiff had failed to show up in the House Judiciary Committee to answer questions about his own report — unlike Kenneth Starr in the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. “Why didn’t he show up?”
He added that Trump had, in fact, invited Zelensky to the White House without preconditions, several times — including in the transcript of the July 25th Ukraine call — and that Zelensky had accepted, also suggesting that meeting elsewhere would be acceptable. He proposed meeting in Poland — a meeting Trump had to cancel because of a hurricane in the U.S. “Why didn’t they tell you that?”
Cipollone took issue with House managers’ repeated claims that the White House would not and could not contest the facts of the case. It was Democrats, he said, who had a fear of the facts — “Facts that are critical. Facts that, they know, completely collapse their case.”
Noting that the White House would continue its presentation Monday, Cipollone asked Senators to think about why House impeachment managers had left out the full presentation of facts from their own inquiry.
He added that what Democrats were asking the Senate to do was to commit an “abuse of power” against the voters’ right to choose their own president.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.