White House Counsel Pat Cipollone on Saturday opened the defense case at President Trump’s impeachment trial by accusing the Democratic prosecutors of attempting the biggest election meddling scheme in U.S. history.
Mr. Cipollone, addressing the Senate a day after House impeachment managers completed nearly 24 hours of presenting their case, said the Democrats left out key evidence in a quest to undo the 2016 election and tear him from the ballot in 2020.
“They are asking you to tear up all the ballots across this county,” he said. “I don’t think they spend one minute talking about the consequences of that for our country.”
He then accused the Democrats of the same offense they have charged Mr. Trump: attempting to cheat in an election.
“They are here to perpetrate the most massive interference in an election in U.S. history,” said Mr. Cipollone.
It was the first time Mr. Trump’s defense team had presented a defense in a formal setting since the impeachment process began Sept. 24.
The House impeached Mr. Trump in a party-line vote Dec. 18 on two counts, abuse of power for asking Ukraine to investigate political rival Joseph R. Biden and obstruction of Congress for not cooperating with the impeachment investigation.
The House impeachment managers argued that they had “overwhelming evidence” of wrongdoing by Mr. Trump, including using Oval Office power to strongarm Ukraine into smearing Mr. Biden.
Mr. Cipollone promised that the defense team would present the exculpatory evidence left out by House impeachment managers.
“Ask yourself,” he told the senators who will decide whether to remove Mr. Trump from office, “why am I just hearing about this now after 24 hours of their presenting their case.”
He began by reading the rough transcript of Mr. Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky. The call is at the heart of the charge that Mr. Trump abused his power, withholding nearly $400 million in military aid and a White House visit for Mr. Zelensky, to pressure Kyiv to investigate Mr. Biden.
Mr. Cipollone noted that the Democrats’ prosecution team only read selective excerpts from the transcript.
The Democratic impeachment managers, led by Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, frequently focused on Mr. Trump’s remark in the transcript asking Mr. Zelensky for “a favor” in investigating Mr. Biden, a former vice president and current frontrunner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Mr. Cipollone read a portion of the transcript in which Mr. Trump discusses getting European countries, including Germany and France, to provide more military assistance for Ukraine.
“They left out the entire discussion of burden sharing,” said Mr. Cipollone.
The White House has argued that pressing for more burden-sharing was one of the reasons for the holdup of the military aid.
House impeachment managers had argued that the administration did not take any action to increase burden sharing for Ukraine during the nearly two-month delay of sending the military aid.
The president’s counsel has 24 hours over three days to present their case. Mr. Cipollone said they likely would not need all of the time to refute the arguments made by House Democrats.
“We don’t believe they have come anywhere close to meeting their burden for what they are asking you to do,” he said.