On Monday, Donald Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate enters its second week. On Saturday morning, members of the President’s legal team began delivering their opening arguments. In a two-hour session, the attorneys Jay Sekulow and Pat Cipollone repeated the message that Trump’s surrogates have been touting throughout the impeachment process, painting it as a partisan attempt to overturn the 2016 election. “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,” Cipollone said. Another element of their defense was trivializing Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, portraying both the withholding of military aid and a smear campaign against Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch as minor matters.
The President’s lawyers will have two more days to present their opening arguments, and they have already said that they will keep their presentations shorter than the Democratic House managers did. During the House managers’ presentations, last week, some senators were ostentatiously bored: Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina, handed out fidget spinners to colleagues, and Marsha Blackburn tweeted and read a book. Despite these sorts of responses from some senators, John Cassidy writes, the House managers clearly proved their point: “Nobody who watched even some of the House managers’ presentation could be in any doubt that there was, indeed, an illicit scheme to coerce Volodymyr Zelensky, the President of Ukraine, into announcing an investigation into a Ukrainian company that employed Hunter Biden; that this scheme was carried out with Trump’s knowledge, and at his behest; and that the President and his staff did all they possibly could to prevent the details from emerging.”
The defense team, which includes the legal celebrities Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth Starr, neither of whom spoke on Saturday, is likely to take a more bombastic approach than the House managers as the trial continues. Jeffrey Toobin writes that “the showmanship that’s likely to be on display should not obscure what’s really going on,” which is that the President’s defenders, and the Republican leadership of the Senate, will be working not only to contradict the House managers’ description of events but also to insure that the trial will not include any new witness testimony or documentary evidence. Senators agreed to vote on that question later in the week, after both sides have presented their opening arguments.
You can follow the developments on the live stream above.