Impeachment trial: What to expect from Trump's defence team
Trump listens as Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt speaks on proposed changes to the National Environmental Policy Act, at the White House [File: Evan Vucci/AP Photo] [Daylife]
For three days, Democrats of the House of Representatives have unleashed a torrent of facts and legal logic, peppered with video clips and underpinned by slideshow presentations to show Trump orchestrated an improper pressure campaign on Ukraine, covered it up and should be removed from office.
Now it is the president’s turn and his legal team plans a blistering counterattack that will target Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and seek to undercut the fairness and constitutionality of the House’s case.
Led by White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Trump personal lawyer Jay Sekulow, the group will give a three-hour preview starting at 10am (15GMT) on Saturday of their defence of the president, which will provide talking points for Trump’s Republican allies in more widely watched Sunday talk shows. More will unfold in greater detail on Monday.
“I would call it a trailer, coming attractions,” Sekulow told reporters on Friday.
“We have three hours to put it out, so we’ll take whatever time is appropriate during that three house to kind of lay out what the case will look like,” Sekulow said.
“Next week is when you see the full presentation.”
Trump was impeached on December 18 for abuse of power related to his dealings with Ukraine and obstruction of Congress for his refusal to participate in the House’s impeachment investigation.
As the defence team kicks off it’s opening arguments, here’s what to expect:
Trump did ‘nothing wrong’
White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said Cipollone, Sekulow and their team are prepared to prove the president did nothing wrong.
Appearing on the Fox News, Grisham said that while Democrats in the Senate, continue to “scream impeachment”, the president and his administration “have a very strong case and an excellent legal team that will come out over the next few days and show he did absolutely nothing wrong.”
A focus on Joe Biden
Sekulow said the defence team plans to address Joe Biden and his son Hunter when they give their arguments.
Trumps defenders have argued that Trump was pushing legitimate investigations into appearances of a conflict of interest as Hunter Biden served on the board of Ukrainian gas company while his father, then the US vice president, was tasked with fighting corruption in the country.
The House managers “opened up the door as wide as a double door on the Hunter Biden, Joe Biden Burisma issue”, he said.
“I guess they were trying to get ahead of it, but we’re going to address,” he said.
There has been no evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens.
Rudy Guiuiani claims Biden ‘bribes’
Appearing on Fox News, Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani said on Friday he has information about the Bidens in Ukraine.
“I’m going to present over the next two to three weeks shocking crimes at the highest levels of government while the Senate is listening to a totally phony group of stories about non-impeachable offences,” Giuliani said, without elaborating.
Giuliani made several claims about supposed bribes concerning the Bidens during the interview on Friday morning, Fox reported.
Hunter Biden and Burisma
Giuliani travelled to Ukraine in December 2019 where he met with former officials to discuss prior Ukrainian investigations into Burisma, a natural gas company.
Mykola Zlochevsky, the former head of Burisma, was investigated by never charged by Ukrainian anti-corruption authorities. Giuliani said Zlochevsky hired former vice president Biden’s son, Hunter, to serve in a paid position on the board of Burisma as “protection”.
Zlochevsky fled the country and is suspected of siphoning huge sums of state funds out of Ukraine, according to reports.
Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Ruslan Ryaboshapka, who took office in late August, launched a wide-ranging audit of 13 prior criminal cases involving Burisma and Zlochevsky to see whether they had been conducted properly, Ryaboshapka told reporters in Kyiv in November.
Executive privilege and immunity
Trump’s team is expected to issue argue that a president does not have to produce witnesses or documents at the whim of the House.
House Democrats charged Trump with obstruction of Congress for refusing to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry, but did not pursue judicial enforcement of subpoenas when the White House moved to prevent key witnesses from testifying.
Cipollone in letters to the House claimed the president and his people enjoyed blanket immunity from congressional investigations.
Trump has framed the issue as a matter of defending the institutional prerogatives of the presidency to protect the rights of future presidents.
“If I were the president I would defend the presidency as much as I could,” Republican Senator and Trump defender Lindsey Graham told reporters. “I would fight the House at every turn because they did this in 48 days.”
Trump’s defence team will likely use the argument in trying to presude senators not to allow additional witnesses.
Most constitutional scholars reject the executive privilege and immunity arguments Trump’s lawyers have claimed so far and the issue is not likely to be resolved in the Republican-controlled Senate.
“The president will do everything he can to silence Bolton. He will invoke executive privilege,” said Laurence Tribe, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School.
“Even if Bolton resists, Trump will try to go to court and there will be an issue whether it has jurisdiction or the Senate itself has to make a decision. There could be protracted litigation,” Tribe told Al Jazeera.