President Donald Trump’s defense team wrapped up their opening arguments in the Senate impeachment trial on Tuesday. Their argument, spooled out over three days, is that Trump was justified in his actions and that impeachment is nothing more than partisan retribution from political rivals.
These arguments come at a time when new evidence related to the Ukrainian scandal has been surfacing from various sources. With opening arguments over, the Senate could vote on Trump’s guilt or innocence as early as this week. However, that vote may be delayed if Senators vote to allow the testimony of additional witnesses.
What did Trump’s defense team argue?
Trump’s team laid out his defense first on Saturday, January 25, with a two-hour summary, followed by two longer sessions the following Monday and Tuesday. The president’s defense team ultimately failed to use the full 24 hours allotted to each side for their opening arguments.
Part of the defense’s argument was that Trump was justified in investigating Hunter Biden (the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, currently running for the democratic presidential nomination) and his alleged illegal activities in Ukraine. Trump is expected to fight corruption, the defense argued, which was the purpose of the investigation he sought into the Bidens.
Trump was impeached after evidence arose that the president withheld military aid from Ukraine in order to force Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to publicly state his government was investigating the Bidens. These actions have been called an abuse of power used by Trump to further his own political goals.
The defense also claimed that the Democrats’ reason for impeaching Trump was to “overturn” the 2016 election and prevent him from winning in 2020.
Who are the members of Trump’s defense team?
Like the House managers, the individuals that make up Trump’s defense team, led by Pat Cipollone, reflect a range of legal experience. Cipollone is the current White House counsel. Prior to working at the White House, Cipollone was in private practice and had ties to the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group.
Two of the more prominent members of Trump’s team are Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr.
Dershowitz, who has regularly defended Trump in television appearances, is a professor at the Harvard Law School and was part of the defense team for O.J. Simpson, who was accused of killing his ex-wife, and the now-deceased Jeffrey Epstein, the convicted sex offender accused of sex crimes against minors.
An investigation by Ken Starr, independent counsel in the 1990s, led to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment and Senate trial, at which Clinton was acquitted. After serving as independent counsel, Starr became the president of Baylor University. However, Starr was forced out after an investigation found the university had covered up rape accusations involving dozens of students and athletes.
Jay Sekulow is one of Trump’s personal attorneys, along with Rudy Giuliani, and was originally brought on to help Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. His experience includes arguing cases before the Supreme Court.
Robert Ray was the independent counsel after Starr and has been in private practice since 2002. Mike Purpura and Patrick Philbin are both deputy White House counsels who joined the office in January 2019.
Finally, Pam Bondi is a former Florida attorney general who was found to have accepted donations from Trump before ending a fraud investigation into Trump University. She has been serving as an adviser to the president since leaving office in 2019.
What will happen next in the impeachment trial?
The Republican-led Senate initially voted to block additional witnesses or evidence from being included in the trial beyond what the House had already presented. However, now that both sides have presented their arguments, Senators will be given another opportunity on Friday, January 31, to vote on allowing witnesses.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell originally had enough votes among Republicans to block any additional witnesses. However, explosive new information that has come out since the trial began has led some Republicans to indicate that they would vote to allow witnesses. It’s now being reported that McConnell warned his caucus that they don’t have the votes necessary to block additional witnesses from being called.
Among the most noteworthy new information to come out is a New York Times report on an upcoming book by former National Security Adviser John Bolton. In an unpublished manuscript, Bolton wrote that Trump withheld security aid to Ukraine to force the country’s government to publicly open an investigation into the Bidens.
Additionally, a recently released video appears to show Trump demanding that the former ambassador to Ukraine, Maria Yovanovitch, be removed from her post. Yovanovitch was a key witness in the House inquiry that led to Trump’s impeachment. She was allegedly the victim of a smear campaign designed to get her removed so Trump could pursue his political interests in Ukraine.
The trial continues on Wednesday and Thursday with Senators submitting written questions for the two legal teams, which Chief Justice John Roberts will read aloud. If no new witnesses or evidence are allowed, the senators could vote as early as Friday, January 31, to either acquit Trump or to remove him from office.