Trump's lawyers prepare defense after Democrats wrap up arguments in impeachment trial

US President Donald Trump holds a news conference at the 50th World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, in this Jan. 22, 2020 file picture. — Courtesy photo
US President Donald Trump holds a news conference at the 50th World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, in this Jan. 22, 2020 file picture. — Courtesy photo

WASHINGTON – Lawyers of US President Donald Trump prepared to deliver his first full-throated defense on Saturday in the Senate's historic impeachment trial, after Democratic lawmakers concluded their there-day-long opening arguments on Friday with a warning that he was a threat to democracy and would abuse his power again if he was not removed from office.

Capping 24 total hours of arguments, Democrats tried to cement their case that Trump abused his office by pressuring Kiev to investigate Joe Biden, a former vice president and 2020 Democratic presidential contender, and then obstructed Congress’ inquiry into the matter by barring witnesses and withholding documents.

The president’s legal team will open its defense arguments on Saturday, and will have up to 24 hours over three days to make its case. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Saturday’s session would begin at 10 a.m. ET (1500 GMT) and run for several hours.

The Democratic-led House of Representatives last month passed two articles of impeachment, setting the stage for a trial in the Republican-led Senate on whether to oust Trump before he seeks a second term in a November election.

Representative Hakeem Jeffries, another of the Democrats prosecuting the case, said Trump was “calling the shots” in soliciting Ukraine’s interference in the 2020 US election and others in the White House assisted him in trying to hide evidence of the misconduct when it was exposed.

“President Trump tried to cheat, he got caught and then he worked hard to cover it up,” said Jeffries, who added there was a “toxic mess” in the White House that needed to be cleaned up on behalf of the American people.

Democrats have accused Trump of pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a July 25 phone call to investigate Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma. They say Trump temporarily withheld $391 million in US military aid to Ukraine as leverage for his demands.

Democrats also said Trump’s refusal to comply with congressional subpoenas for documents and testimony in the impeachment inquiry was a textbook case of obstruction. They showed video clips of Trump’s attacks on several witnesses in the inquiry and said it amounted to “witness intimidation.”

“This is a determination by President Trump that he wants to be all-powerful. He does not have to respect the Congress. He does not have to respect the representatives of the people. Only his will goes. He is a dictator,” Democratic Representative Jerrold Nadler said.

Trump’s allies have argued his conduct does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense. The US Constitution sets out the impeachment process for removing a president who commits “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

“He has shown neither remorse nor acknowledgement of wrongdoing,” said Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, who has spearheaded the prosecution of Trump in the trial. “Do you think if we do nothing, it’s going to stop now?”

Schiff urged Republican senators to show “political courage” and agree to hear from more witnesses in the trial. Republicans voted along party lines earlier in the week to block Democratic requests for four administration witnesses, including former National Security Adviser John Bolton.

“I implore you, give America a fair trial. She’s worth it,” Schiff said.

Democrats this week have outlined their charges that Trump only grew interested in corruption in Ukraine when it appeared that Biden could become a serious political threat.

ABC News said on Friday it had heard an audio recording from April 2018 in which Trump is heard saying he wants the dismissal of then-US ambassador in Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.

“Get rid of her!” Trump said in the recording, according to ABC News.

If true, that would bolster Democrats’ argument that Trump associates spent nearly a year trying to oust Yovanovitch because they saw her as an obstacle in their efforts to pressure Ukraine.

Trump fired Yovanovitch in May 2019. In an interview with Fox News, Trump said he had the right to fire ambassadors if he wished.

“I want to have ambassadors that are chosen by me,” he said.

The president is expected to be acquitted in the Senate, where a two-thirds vote is required to convict and remove a president from office. No Republican senator has voiced any support for his ouster. — Agencies