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The Impeachment Defense From Trump's Legal Team


We're going to start with the impeachment trial of President Trump. Over the last three days, House impeachment managers presented their arguments for why President Trump should be convicted and removed from office. This morning, the president's defense team had their first chance to respond, which they did over the course of two hours. It was essentially a preview which was at times legally dense, in other times pointedly personal. But it all led to a single message - the president did nothing wrong.

NPR's Tim Mak has been following the proceedings, and he is with us now. Tim Mak, welcome. Thanks for joining us.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey there.

MARTIN: So tell us more about the main thrust of the argument from the president's legal team.

MAK: So they had two major arguments. Firstly, the president's team is saying that the Democrats did not give the whole picture during their opening arguments. They're saying that the Democrats did not lay out all the facts and could not be trusted. Now, that's their first argument. The second argument is that lead impeachment manager Adam Schiff and his team never address this issue of removing the president from office and from the ballot in the 2020 elections. Take a listen to White House counsel Pat Cipollone.


PAT CIPOLLONE: They're 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 on your own initiative, take that decision away from the American people.

MAK: The president's legal team attacked the process. They said that the subpoenas that were issued by the House Intelligence Committee were not issued properly. They attacked Congressman Schiff's credibility. And they asked why the public had not yet heard from this whistleblower whose complaint helped trigger this impeachment inquiry.

MARTIN: And while the Democrats weren't able to rebut any of this on the Senate floor, they did hold a press conference after today's proceedings, which is exactly what the Republicans had been doing earlier in the week when the Democrats had the floor. What did the Democrats say in response?

MAK: Well, firstly, in his closing remarks Friday evening, Schiff had tried to do some prebuttal. He had noted that the president's lawyers would use a number of these arguments, which they eventually did use. And today, after the first two hours of defense arguments, Schiff said that the defense had no credible argument against why the Senate should hear from witnesses in this trial.


ADAM SCHIFF: The one question they did not address at all is why they don't want to give the American people a fair trial, why they want this to be the first impeachment case in history without a single witness and without a single document being turned over.

MAK: So, to sum it up, Schiff said that the president committed misconduct and that the defense team does not want more details of that misconduct to come out.

MARTIN: So, as we said, we only heard about two hours today, which is something of a preview, maybe an executive summary. So, looking forward to next week, what can we expect to see as this next phase of the trial continues to unfold?

MAK: Right. Well, the president's legal team has up to 24 hours to mount their defense. And so far, they've only used two hours of their time, so they'll continue to present their arguments on Monday and then into Tuesday if they so choose. Then the trial turns to a major question that's been the backdrop for the past week - will the Senate vote to subpoena additional witnesses and documents as part of the trial?

So Democrats need to convince at least four Republicans to join them if they want to succeed in, for example, subpoenaing former National Security adviser John Bolton to appear before the Senate. And so far, there is no clear indication that Democrats have met that threshold. And if there aren't going to be witnesses and documents subpoenaed, the trial could be done by late next week.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Tim Mak joining us in the studios here.

Thank you, Tim.

MAK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tim Mak is NPR's Washington Investigative Correspondent, focused on political enterprise journalism.