Trump impeachment defense wraps up after less than allotted 24 hours

Key Points
  • President Donald Trump's legal team finishes its defense of the president on Tuesday after three days of arguments.
  • Trump's team used approximately half of its allotted 24 hours to lay out its defense. 
  • A question period will begin Wednesday, but the more urgent matter is whether the Senate will allow witnesses to testify.
White House counsel Pat Cipollone speaks during opening arguments in the U.S. Senate impeachment trial of U.S. President Donald Trump in this frame grab from video shot in the U.S. Senate Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 21, 2020.
U.S. Senate TV | Reuters

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump's legal team finished presenting its defense of the president at his impeachment trial on Tuesday, the third day of Trump's defense arguments.

"The articles of impeachment fall far short of any constitutional standard," said White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, who led Trump's defense. 

"What they're asking you to do is throw out a successful president on the even of an election," Cipollone said, a decision that would "weaken our democratic institutions."

"The election is months away, and I'm asking you to let the American people choose their president," he added. "We urge the Senate to reject these articles of impeachment."

The final arguments concluded three days of defense statements that focused largely on making the case that Trump's decision to withhold foreign aid to Ukraine last year while he sought investigations into his political rivals was not, as Democrats claim, an abuse of power.

Rather, Trump's lawyers argued, it was a policy decision based on the president's genuine suspicions about corruption in Ukraine and his dislike of foreign aid in general. 

These arguments were undercut over the weekend, however, by the news that an upcoming memoir by Trump's former national security advisor, John R. Bolton, claims that Trump explicitly told Bolton in person last summer that foreign aid to Ukraine would not be released until Ukraine agree to investigate Trump's political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. 

Trump has denied Bolton's account, but its existence strengthened the argument being pressed by Senate Democrats, that the senators need to call additional witnesses to testify in the president's trial, chief among them, John Bolton. 

The question of witnesses is expected to be put to a vote in the full Senate on Friday. In order for witnesses to be included, four Republican senators would need to defect from their party and vote with Democrats.

The revelations contained in Bolton's book increased the odds that four moderate Republicans would break with their party and vote to call witnesses, although the situation remained fluid on Tuesday afternoon. 

Following the Trump defense team's closing arguments, Republican senators planned to huddle in the Capitol to discuss the next steps in the trial, and assess where members of the caucus stood on the question of witnesses. 

A question period will begin Wednesday with eight hours of questions alternating between Republicans and Democrats, and it will continue Thursday with another eight hours. 

The defense team was given 24 cumulative hours to present its opening statements, but only used approximately half of them. The lawyers kicked off their arguments in an abbreviated session Saturday morning, accusing Democrats of pursuing Trump's impeachment simply to remove him from the ballot in the 2020 presidential election.

Democrats were quick to dismiss the defense as having failed to refute the key allegation at the center of the impeachment case: That Trump had sought foreign intervention in the 2020 presidential election.

The House voted last month to impeach Trump on articles of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, both related to his dealings with Ukraine. It remains unlikely that two thirds of the Senate will vote to remove Trump, as the Constitution requires.