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What to expect from Trump’s legal team and House managers during impeachment trial

On Monday, President Trump’s legal team released its first official defense in advance of his Senate impeachment trial, which begins Tuesday. The president’s attorneys say Trump didn’t condition military aid to Ukraine on investigations into the Bidens. Meanwhile, the House impeachment managers were preparing their counterarguments. Lisa Desjardins reports and joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    A calm before a political storm.

    On the evening before the next phase of the impeachment trial of President Trump, Lisa Desjardins reports on how both sides of the fight are staking out their positions.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    A quiet Capitol. Few TV cameras, most cell phones were present to capture the House impeachment managers walking to survey the Senate chamber this morning.

    Meantime, movement from the White House as well. The president's legal team, led by White House counsel Pat Cipollone and the president's personal lawyer Jay Sekulow, laid out its first official legal defense of the president.

    In a 110-page legal brief sent to the Senate today, attorneys rejected the House articles of impeachment as — quote — "flimsy" and the product of a "brazenly political act by House Democrats."

    The brief has two key substantive defenses. First, it argues the President Trump didn't condition security assistance or a president meeting on announcements of any investigations, as the articles of impeachment assert.

    Second, that President Trump didn't commit obstruction by blocking testimony and documents, but, rather, was asserting his own legal rights and privileges.

    The brief doesn't deny the president tried to pressure Ukraine to open investigations into the 2016 election and former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Instead, the White House argues that pressure was legal and legitimate.

    The defense team was visible on Sunday talk shows, where several, including former Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz, also argued that, wrong or not, the president's actions were not impeachable.

  • Alan Dershowitz:

    You have a lot of evidence, disputed evidence — it could go both ways — but the vote was to impeach on abuse of power, which is not within the constitutional criteria for impeachment, and obstruction of Congress.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This came two days after House Democrats filed their own 111-page brief.

    Led by Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, the House team is pushing to get more documents and witnesses which have been blocked by the White House.

    Schiff told ABC News yesterday that the CIA and NSA specifically are withholding documents.

  • Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.:

    The intelligence community is reluctant to have an open hearing, something that we had done every year prior to the Trump administration, because they're worried about angering the president.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Meantime, Capitol Hill is beefing up security ahead of tomorrow's trial, set to start in the afternoon.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Lisa joins me now.

    So, Lisa, just in the last few minutes, you have learned more about what to expect tomorrow from Leader McConnell's office.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    An important document.

    Senator McConnell just released his plan, his proposal for these trial rules. We looked over it. It's four pages' long. We are going to take you through it in just a second.

    First, let's talk about tomorrow, because that's when they will debate those rules. Here's what will happen tomorrow when they convene in this trial at 1:00 Eastern time.

    All of tomorrow, we expect just to be about process, the trial rules. Now, Democrats can propose amendments to Mr. — Senator McConnell's ideas. Every time they do that, it will get two hours of debate for each amendment they propose.

    So it could be a long day, because I think Democrats will have many amendments they want to propose, at least a few. Then only the attorneys and managers can argue the case. Senators cannot deliberate out loud.

    Only the managers will be making the case about these resolutions.

    Now let's talk about what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is proposing, something we have been waiting for, for a good week, more than that. Here's what he wants to do.

    Basically, arguments, it looks like, will be about 1:00 each afternoon to 1:00 a.m. Essentially, he's giving each side 24 hours to present their arguments over two days. They can divide that how they will, but that will be about 12 hours for each day of arguments.

    What's that mean for everyone?

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Looks like House managers will be presenting their case Wednesday and Thursday of this week, the case to remove the president.

    The case defending the president would then likely be presented by President Trump's attorneys Friday and Saturday, again, looking like those would be at least 12-hour days. That doesn't include breaks.

    During all of that time, I remind you, Judy, senators must sit in their seats and they cannot ask questions. They will be able to ask questions next week. They can write the questions down. Looks like they will have a day or two of questions then.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, Lisa, these are very long days, until 1:00 a.m., potentially, in the morning.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes. Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But it may not go that long. Is that right? We don't know.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It will be up to the managers if they want to use all of their time on the House side, and the same for the president's team.

    They can use up to 24 hours. They can use less, if they choose to. So that's a decision they will have to make.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, now, both sides have filed their so-called legal briefs. What are we seeing in terms of their arguments?

    We heard some of that in your report.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, you're going to see this argument over whether what the president did was impeachable at all.

    Also, Judy, watch for fights over the founding fathers. We're going to see them quoted often by both sides.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, finally, security, you were telling us, it's just a different situation now at the Capitol.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This may be the one chance to really talk about this. It is — movements are highly restricted at the Capitol right now.

    And, in fact, today, I want to show a picture of something that went up in the press gallery, which all the reporters have to go through. That's a magnetometer. You can see that really doesn't fit in, in the scenery there.

    Every reporter will have to go through that, both when they're entering the chamber one by one. And it's going to make movements difficult. Reporters cannot have any devices in the chamber, just like senators.

    And then that brings us to the next photo. This is a cubby for senators to leave their cell phones at the door when they enter the chamber.

    Judy, reporters, also — this is a restriction I have never seen before. We will not be able to really move around, as senators can. It will be hard for us to communicate with some senators often even when they take breaks.

    So our access is severely limited. We will see how that changes over the week. But, right now, it's raising questions about what we can learn about their process, because we won't hear from them, and we will have trouble accessing them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    For sure.

    And we will be following whatever you can learn in the coming days.

    Lisa, thank you very much.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You're welcome.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we ask that you all please join us tomorrow, Tuesday, for our special live coverage of the impeachment trial of President Trump.

    It is starting at 12:30 p.m. Eastern here on your PBS station and online on our Web site, on YouTube, and on social media pages.

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