Impeachment TV: Networks Cover Initial Arguments From Donald Trump’s Team

Ted Johnson

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Donald Trump’s legal team laid out their case against his removal from office in a truncated day of the impeachment trial on Saturday, with senators gathered for less than three hours to hear the president’s team outline why he had done nothing wrong in his interactions with Ukrainian leaders.

Broadcast and cable networks covered the rare weekend session, with an initial focus on a comment made by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the lead impeachment manager, as he was concluding his case against the president on Friday.

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Schiff cited a CBS News report that “a Trump confidant said that key senators were warned, ‘Vote against the president and your head will be on a pike.’ I don’t know if that’s true.” Republicans were visibly upset over the remark, and it continued to reverberate on Saturday morning.

On CBS News, chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett told anchor Norah O’Donnell that the Trump confidant was summarizing the “general political atmosphere around Senate Republicans: Do you vote for witnesses and documents or do you vote to convict the president, and the message being conveyed is, ‘You vote against the president. Your head will be on a pike.'”

He added, “I believe that reporting. It’s my reporting. I believe that to be an accurate representation of the political atmosphere around this, and it is consistent with what the RNC, the Republican National Committee has said about this process. ‘It’s madness’. What the White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, said on the Senate floor, ‘This is ridiculous and outrageous. So if you vote against the president, you are voting for madness, outrageousness and ridiculousness. And the consequences will be high.”

O’Donnell then said, “I’m curious why there is such shock about this.”

In his opening remarks, Cipollone told senators that Democrats have “not even come close to meeting” the burden of proof that Trump was engaged in a scheme to withhold military aid from  Ukraine unless its leaders announced an investigation of the Bidens. He pointed to aspects of the transcript summary of the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. Cipollone argued that in one part of the call, Trump was talking about “burden sharing,” or the need for European countries to step up and offer aid to Ukraine.

Cipollone also spelled out the implications of removing Trump, telling the Senate, “They are asking you to remove President Trump from the ballot for an election that is occurring in nine months.”

“They are asking you to do what the Senate has never done,” he said.

Later, Schiff told reporters that Trump’s side “they didn’t contest any facts.” He argued that the thrust of the July 25 call was not on burden sharing. Schiff said that the day after the call, Trump asked Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the EU, about investigations, an indication of where the president’s concerns were.

Even though there was no mention of “quid pro quo” in the July 25 call, Schiff said, “that is not what you will see in a shakedown scheme even if it is done by organized crime.”

The Saturday session came after three days of opening arguments from the House impeachment managers, making the case for the removal of the president. Earlier this week, Trump complained that his side was starting on the weekend, grousing in a tweet that Saturday mornings were “Death Valley in TV.” That may be true, but his team will have plenty of time to also make their case on Monday and Tuesday.

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