Jan 26, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump team opts to not burn down the house

Trump attorney Jay Sekulow holds the Mueller report as Rep. Adam Schiff and other impeachment managers listen. Photo: Senate TV via AP
Trump attorney Jay Sekulow holds the Mueller report as Rep. Adam Schiff and other impeachment managers listen. Photo: Senate TV via AP

On opening day of the defense casePresident Trump's legal team didn't try to burn down the house by going after the Bidens.

The state of play: The team put on a fairly conventional legal rebuttal — trying to poke holes in the House impeachment managers' case, and arguing that Democrats just don't have enough evidence of wrongdoing to throw Trump out of office — especially in a year when he's up for re-election.

  • "They have the burden of proof, and they have not come close to meeting it," White House counsel Pat Cipollone said.

In the chamber: 

  • Sen. Collins, Murkowski and Gardner were the most diligent notetakers of the Senate Republicans who are being eyed as possible votes to call witnesses.
  • Sen. Mitt Romney, sitting at the back of the chamber, and Sen. Lamar Alexander mostly sat back and listened.
  • Republicans mostly paid close attention to most of the presentations, though a few began looking away or reading as White House deputy counsel Patrick Philbin spoke. Democrats looked more bored.
  • Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer listened closely, scowling.

2020 watch:

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders sat slumped back in his seat, fidgeting or resting with his chin in his hand (though he leaned forward with a puzzled look when Philbin criticized Schiff).
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren spent a long time hunched over a legal pad, writing and not appearing to pay close attention — though she sat up and listened to Cipollone's closing remarks.
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar took some notes and listened to some of the arguments, but often looked away and stared around the room.

What to watch: Whether the Trump team stays focused on the legal issues or veers into attacks on the Bidens when they resume arguments Monday at 1 p.m.

  • Either way, Cipollone said the team doesn't plan to take the full 24 hours — because they don't think they need it.

Go deeper: Impeachment trial draws shrugs — by design

Go deeper