Over the course of 12 hours and three session days, President Donald Trump’s defense team laid out their argument against the articles of impeachment brought against Trump by the House of Representatives in front of the United States Senate.
Their argument relied heavily on the memorandum of the phone call between Trump and Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky that occurred on July 25, 2019, public statements made by Ukranian officials, and additional statements taken from the testimonies given in front of the house.
(During the course of the proceedings the defense team repeatedly referred to the memorandum as a transcript, this is inaccurate because it implies the memorandum is a verbatim account of the phone call, when in reality it is a reconstruction of the phone call using the notes and memory of those who listened to it.)
The defense team argued that the House’s claim that Trump abused his power in a Quid Pro Quo with Ukranian officials was unfounded.
According to the defense team, Trump did not use his offer of a meeting to Zelensky to put pressure on him, but rather it was simply difficult to schedule the meeting due to the leaders’ conflicting schedules. Also, despite the House’s claims that it was important for Zelensky to personally visit the White House itself, it was reportedly Zelensky who offered to hold the meeting in Poland. According to the defense team, this meeting in Poland was scheduled and didn’t take place only because Trump felt it necessary to stay home and deal with a hurricane that had occurred in the United States just prior to the meeting.
Zelensky and Trump did eventually have a meeting on the sidelines of the UN. This meeting didn’t happen at the White House and occurred well after the announcement of the impeachment investigation, but the defense team argued that the meeting was planned well in advance and that, based on Dr. Fiona Hill’s testimony to the House, a meeting with the president is what was important, not necessarily a visit specifically to the White House.
Also, according to the defense, Trump could not have used the withheld security aid to pressure Zelensky in the July 25 phone call because no where in the memorandum is the security aid specifically mentioned and, according to several of the testimonies given to the House, top Ukranian officials were not even aware that the aid had been blocked until more than a month later at the end of August.
Several times the defense team brought up the fact that Zelensky himself has said he felt no pressure.
“We had, I think, good phone call. It was normal,” said Zelensky during his public UN meeting with Trump. “Nobody pushed me.”
The defense team also attacked the House’s claim that there was no reason for the hold on the security aid, when in the memorandum Trump himself brings up concerns about burden sharing and corruption in regards to international aid given to Ukraine. According to the defense team, Trump withheld the aid because of these valid concerns, and doing so was in line with the administration’s foreign policy and something that had been done in regards to several other countries. The defense team argued that Trump eventually released the aid, not because of the announcement of the impeachment investigations, but because these concerns were addressed.
The defense team also combatted the House’s claim that Trump obstructed Congress, arguing that all Trump really did was uphold the rights of the executive branch.
According to the defense team, the executive branch had legal reasons to ignore each individual request and subpoena from the House impeachment committee. They also mentioned that the president had every right to direct senior advisors not to comply with House subpoenas in accordance with the executive branch’s power of testimonial immunity.
The defense team claimed that the executive branch was within its legal right to ignore all of the subpoenas issued prior to the passing of the House’s resolution regarding the impeachment investigation. They said that this was because the authority to issue subpoenas had not been granted to the committee until after the resolution was passed. (It is worth noting that, while this is somewhat a matter of constitutional interpretation, according to the Congressional Research Service, “In the past, House committees, under their general investigatory authority, have sometimes sought information and researched charges against officers prior to the adoption of a resolution to authorize an impeachment investigation.”)
The defense team attacked the House’s decision to not pursue the subpoenas in court, arguing that the House’s fears over a lengthy, drawn-out court process were not justifiable given the court’s ability to expedite the process.
The defense team also attacked the credibility of the proceedings on the basis that due process was not given to Trump during the House’s investigation, especially when it came to Trump’s ability to cross-examine the witnesses. (It is worth noting that an impeachment investigation is not a criminal trial. The House sets the rules for the investigation and does not have to allow the president to participate in the investigation.)
The defense team argued that if the president is removed from office for acting within what they have claimed to be his rights as the head of the executive branch, then it would cripple the executive branch and disrupt the balance of power within the government.