Dems mount preemptive strike on Trump’s defense

Senate Democrats lauded what they called a “masterful presentation” by the House impeachment managers — ones that were led on Thursday by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the lead manager, and Garcia.

“They are pre-empting the president’s lawyers, who we know will make false arguments. And they are meeting those arguments before the president’s lawyers get their chance because they won’t be rebutted,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters.

“[Trump’s lawyers] were trucking in all these totally false and discredited theories, conspiracy and otherwise,” Schumer added. “But the House managers sort of drove a knife through the heart of those false arguments ahead of time.”

The House impeached Trump last month for allegedly pressuring Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Biden, as well as a debunked theory that Ukraine — not Russia — hacked and ultimately hid a Democratic Party server. Democrats emphasized that the theory that Ukraine interfered with the 2016 election was actually a brainchild of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who they noted cheered the fact that Trump and his allies gave credence to the claim.

Trump’s lead personal attorney for the impeachment trial, Jay Sekulow, sought to downplay Democrats’ presentation.

“You’re hearing video clips of testimony — we’ve got lawyers that are going to be put forward when our side of the case goes that represent multiple schools of thought on what is and is not an impeachable offense,” Sekulow said, contending that Trump’s alleged conduct does not meet the constitutional threshold for impeachment.

Trump’s allies in the House and Senate said the Democratic arguments would do little to affect the trajectory of the trial, which has long seemed headed toward a party-line acquittal. They said the White House’s defense would remain intact despite the Democratic effort to undercut their case.

“I want the public to understand that the claims [the House impeachment managers] are making that there’s no ‘there’ there in the Bidens — nobody’s looked,” said Graham, a top Trump ally. “Somebody should, and I’ve looked and I’ve got a lot of questions.”

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said he recognized Democrats’ effort to preempt Trump’s defense but added, “I don’t think they did a very good job.”

“They know they have a problem with Biden and they’re trying to explain it,” Scott said.

In fact, Republican senators and Trump’s own legal teams suggested Democrats’ focus on the Bidens could motivate them to spend more time during their own portion of the trial digging into the Bidens’ relationships in Ukraine.

“What I don’t understand is for the last five hours it’s been a lot about Joe Biden and Burisma,” said Sekulow. “They kind of opened the door for that response.”

But Senate Democrats walked out of the chamber Thursday during breaks in the trial buoyed by the offensive push to head off the Trump defense.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, another New York Democrats, said the House managers were “nipping [the White House legal team’s efforts] in the bud.”

“I think that’s important too, because when we receive the president’s counsel’s presentation on Saturday, we will have these rebuttals already in our minds,” Gillibrand said. “So I think it was effective.”

Marianne LeVine and Jesse Naranjo contributed to this report.