Jan 24, 2020

Trump impeachment team looks at shorter trial defense

White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley and Trump's personal lawyer Jay Sekulow return from a dinner recess Thursday night at the Senate impeachment trial. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Trump's team is considering using just a portion of the 24 hours they're given for arguments in his impeachment trial.

Why it matters: A truncated defense would likely reflect a decision not to contest facts or defend Trump point by point, but rather to try to diminish the legitimacy of Democrats' overall case and end the trial as quickly as possible.

  • But if the White House moves too abruptly, it risks angering the small group of Republican senators Democrats have been courting to cross party lines to allow new witnesses and evidence in the trial.

What we're hearing: Just because Trump's team can use up to three days to present their case doesn’t mean they will. Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow himself appeared to tease the idea it could wrap as early as Saturday — though other White House and Senate GOP aides later downplayed the notion they would cut back to just one day.

  • "We’re not going to try to run the clock out," Sekulow told reporters Thursday, adding that whether the defense concludes “Saturday or Monday or Tuesday,” he is confident “the case will be made defending the president."
  • Meanwhile, two sources familiar with the Trump team's plans told Axios they don't anticipate using all 24 hours.
  • Instead, the team plans to adjust their arguments to what some of the more vulnerable Senate Republicans need to get them over the acquittal line.
  • "They'll use their time to get their facts out there, however long that may be," one of the sources said, adding that Trump's team recognizes that some Republicans are eager to hear a full-throated defense of Trump that wipes away any doubts about his culpability.
  • Another aide added that even if Trump's lawyers only use half of the time they're allotted, they'll likely split it up over at least two days — in part because of TV ratings. "No one wants to watch this on their Saturday."

But one thing they all agree on is they don't need to fill the hours just for the sake of it, with the sources noting that both House prosecutors and former President Bill Clinton's defense team each used fewer than 12 hours during the 1999 trial.

The bottom line: When your strategy is "concede nothing, admit nothing, apologize for nothing," it doesn't have to take very long.

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Trump worries about TV ratings for his impeachment defense

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President Trump expressed frustration on Twitter over the fact that his "lawyers will be forced to start on Saturday, which is called Death Valley in T.V."

Why it matters: The White House originally pushed for opening arguments to last two days instead of three. Even if Trump's lawyers only use half of the time they're allotted, they'll likely split it up over at least two days — in part because of TV ratings, reports Axios' Alayna Treene. "No one wants to watch this on their Saturday."

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Just days ago, Republicans were optimistic President Trump’s defense team could cruise to an acquittal by the end of this week, but many believe his lawyers now face a steep climb to stop a vote to allow new witnesses and drag out the impeachment proceedings.

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