Day Five of the Trump impeachment trial began early and lasted only two hours — to the relief of nearly all involved. I’m sure everyone needed either a break or, in the case of the four Democratic senators still running for president, to get back on the campaign trail as quickly as possible.
After three long days of hearing the House managers make their case against Donald Trump, this was the first day that Trump’s defense team was allowed to present its case, and in honor of their decision to go short, I will, too.
The lawyers were, well, extremely lawyerly — low key and sticking to what they said were the facts (columnist Dana Milbank called them alternative facts, but still) of the case.
It’s not what you’d necessarily expect from Trump’s defense team, and I wonder if we’ll see something more demonstrative on Monday when the trial resumes — maybe something closer to Trump’s early-Saturday tweet calling Adam Schiff the “lyin’, cheatin’, liddle’ Adam “Shifty” Schiff” and going downhill from there.
But if you missed it, the lawyers did take their shots. White House counsel Pat Cipollone said, reflecting the president, that Trump had done “nothing wrong.” I waited to hear whether anyone would say the July 25 call was “perfect,” but, sadly, no.
Cipollone also charged that the House managers were attempting “to perpetrate the most massive interference in an election in American history, and we can’t allow that to happen.” That line had to make Trump sit up.
From there, we heard the basic rebuttal arguments from the lawyers that we’ve been hearing for quite some time. Some highlights:
The lawyers said there couldn’t be any quid pro quo in the infamous July 25 call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky because the Ukranians didn’t yet know the military aid was being suspended. As it turns out, Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Laura Cooper had testified that Ukraine officials were asking about the $390 million in aid on that very day. And don’t forget, of course, that when Mick Mulvaney was asked by a reporter whether withholding of the aid wasn’t, in fact, a quid pro quo, Mulvaney answered, “We do that all the time,” then adding, “I have news for everybody. Get over it. There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy.”
As expected, they went after the whistlerblower and the fact that he or she didn’t testify, even though Schiff had said, at first, that the whistleblower would. We heard that the whistleblower may have been liberally biased, may have had some connection to Joe Biden and that the public should know more. Schiff did, in fact, say he welcomed the whistleblower’s testimony. But Democrats ended up finding direct testimony covering all that the whistleblower had charged. And, of course, almost immediately Trump was insisting that the whistleblower be named.
There was also the usual — and semi-hilarious — complaint from the defense about Schiff’s mob-boss interpretation of the rough transcript of the July 25 call, which Trump and his allies have complained was misleading and/or an out-and-out lie. Trump went as far to say hat Schiff should be arrested for “treason.” Of course he did. But Schiff had qualified his interpretation of Trump’s point by saying it represented the essence of the call. And in case anyone on the House committee that Schiff was addressing was confused, the actual rough transcript was already public before Schiff spoke.
We didn’t hear from Alan Dershowitz or Ken Starr, neither of whom was in the room Saturday. But we can expect to hear from them, I’ll assume, on Monday. We also didn’t hear any real attack on the Bidens, Joe or Hunter, and I’d be shocked if we didn’t get that in great detail on Monday and Tuesday. My biggest question at this point is how hard they’ll go at Joe Biden. If the Trump team is winning now — meaning Democrats don’t yet have the four Republicans they need to vote with them in order to subpoena witnesses and documents — there is the danger of overreach.
Democrats, meanwhile, resisted the urge to be brief. On Saturday morning, the House managers delivered to the Senate 28,578 pages of evidence they had collected in preparation for the case against Trump. The Trump team is unlikely to attempt to match that.
In the end, the Saturday trial could have been skipped altogether except that it had already been scheduled. The trial will once again get a lot more real, I’d imagine, come Monday.
Catch up with all Littwin’s columns on the impeachment trial here.