House Democrats prosecuting the impeachment trial of President Trump are sounding a warning on Saturday as the president’s team is set to take the Senate stage in his defense: “Expect a lot of lies.”
“We can expect a master class in distraction, deflection and a distortion of the truth,” a Democratic aide working on the trial told reporters Saturday morning.
Over the last three days, the Democrats’ seven-member team of impeachment managers spent roughly 24 hours on the Senate floor laying out their case that Trump abused his power in pressing Ukrainian leaders to investigate his political rivals and then obstructed Congress as Democrats sought to examine that pressure campaign.
Their presentation leaned heavily on the testimony of a long list of diplomats and national security officials who expressed dire concerns that Trump and his allies were conducting a shadow foreign policy in Kyiv designed to advance Trump’s personal political fortunes but one that ran counter to official U.S. policy objectives and threatened national security.
Democrats maintain that their case is a slam dunk — “we have laid out an overwhelming, compelling case,” said a second aide — and are now expecting Trump’s lawyers to all but ignore the Democratic evidence and instead shift their focus to issues such as process and former Vice President Joe Biden.
“What we expect today … is the exact opposite of what you would expect a defense to be,” said a third aide. “The question that everyone needs to ask themselves is, are the attorneys going to be discussing any of the evidence that we presented … or are they going to be distracting from the evidence? Are they going to be talking about Joe Biden or, worse yet, Hunter Biden or the Steele dossier or the whistleblower or the Intelligence Committee’s investigation or process?
“These are all effort to distract from the evidence,” that aide added.
The second aide was more terse.
“You can expect a certain amount of cherry-picking,” said the second aide. “You can expect a lot of lies.”
Previewing Trump’s defense on Friday, Jay Sekulow, one of the president’s lawyers, accused Democrats of pursuing Trump’s impeachment for the sole purpose of damaging his reelection prospects in November.
“[They’re] really trying to remove the president from the ballot in 2020,” he said. “We are, what, 10 ½ months out from an election? And they don’t trust the American people to make a decision.”
Sekulow said the defense team will, indeed, delve into the Bidens and the Steele dossier, an opposition research document that included allegations of Trump’s contacts with Russian officials in 2016.
“How do you not bring up the Steele dossier?” asked Sekulow.
Democrats have countered with accusations that Trump withheld reams of material evidence while blocking firsthand witnesses from testifying in the investigation. If the defense argument is going to claim there’s insufficient evidence to convict Trump, they contend, then it should release the disputed documents and allow testimony from figures such as John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser who has offered to appear under subpoena.
“If they are arguing that there is no direct evidence, why is that?” said the third aide. “They are the ones who have blocked the direct evidence.”
Saturday’s proceedings, marking the first day of Trump’s defense argument, are expected to be much shorter than previous days — a “sneak preview,” in Sekulow’s words. On Monday, Trump’s lawyers are expected to resume their case, though it remains unclear if they’ll use the entire 24 hours allotted under Senate rules.
Democrats argue the nation’s well-being and the legacies of GOP senators are on the line if they do not focus on the facts underlying the case.
“If he’s not removed, it enables and empowers not only this president to continue doing it again, but it would allow any future president to do something along these lines,” said the second aide.