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Trump Defense Team Makes Opening Arguments


President Trump's defense team began its arguments today in his Senate impeachment trial. NPR election security editor Phil Ewing has been covering the story. Phil, thanks so much for being with us.


SIMON: How did the president's lawyers begin their arguments?

EWING: Well, they said Democrats haven't proved that Trump did anything wrong and that he shouldn't be removed from office. We heard from White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who reminded senators they're being asked to do something here that no Senate has ever done, remove a president. And the case has to be airtight to do that. And he said it isn't.

SIMON: Did the legal team try to poke holes in the arguments Democrats have been making?

EWING: They did. But they also said today's session was kind of a preview of coming attractions of what they want to do with time Monday and Tuesday. In the time they did use on Saturday, a president - a lawyer for the president, Mike Purpura, emphasized that there's very little direct evidence, he said, tying Trump to the events of the Ukraine affair.

Trump wanted Ukraine's president to launch investigations that he thought might help him in the 2020 election. Democrats say he did so by effectively trying to extort Ukraine by freezing military assistance last year. Purpura, the president's lawyer, said that the Ukraine's president never said he felt any pressure from Trump. And he quoted one of Democrats' own witnesses, EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland, saying that he had been inferring what Trump wanted in U.S. policy. He'd never been told directly that there was some scheme in effect to twist the arm of the Ukrainians.

SIMON: One notable difference in today's session - it was a lot shorter. Is that any kind of hallmark for the weeks to come?

EWING: It may be. The White House counsel Pat Cipollone and other attorneys for the president have said they don't need to take all 24 hours they have under the rules to give their side of the story, so they may give back some time to the Senate because they say they don't need it all to make their case.

And just to give you a sense about what's ahead - once they have finished, there'll be written questions from senators, and the legal teams will respond. And then we'll hit a kind of crossroads for this proceeding. Democrats have been hammering about the need for witnesses and evidence, and there'll be a vote on that. But four Republicans would have to join Democrats to agree to bring those things in. We don't know yet whether that will happen, but that could lead to a new phase in this impeachment trial in the coming week.

SIMON: NPR's Phil Ewing, thanks so much.

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

Philip Ewing is an election security editor with NPR's Washington Desk. He helps oversee coverage of election security, voting, disinformation, active measures and other issues. Ewing joined the Washington Desk from his previous role as NPR's national security editor, in which he helped direct coverage of the military, intelligence community, counterterrorism, veterans and more. He came to NPR in 2015 from Politico, where he was a Pentagon correspondent and defense editor. Previously, he served as managing editor of Military.com, and before that he covered the U.S. Navy for the Military Times newspapers.