Team Trump Trips Over GOP Questions About Facts Of The Ukraine Gambit

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 29: In this screengrab taken from a Senate Television webcast, Legal Counsel for President Donald Trump, Deputy White House Counsel Patrick Philbin, answers a question from a senator during i... WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 29: In this screengrab taken from a Senate Television webcast, Legal Counsel for President Donald Trump, Deputy White House Counsel Patrick Philbin, answers a question from a senator during impeachment proceedings against U.S. President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol on January 29, 2020 in Washington, DC. Senators have 16 hours to submit written questions to the House managers and the President's defense team. (Photo by Senate Television via Getty Images) MORE LESS

Through eight hours of senator questions Wednesday, President Trump’s legal team stumbled the most when facing questions about the underlying facts of the case against the President — including questions posed by GOP senators.

Twice, Trump’s lawyers struggled to distinguish how the President’s obsession with investigating Joe Biden could be separated from the political advantage of smearing a possible electoral opponent. They also fumbled a softball question about Hunter Biden’s allegedly corrupt activities in the Ukraine.

All three questions were put forward by Republicans, as Democrats have mostly aimed their questions at the House managers.

The difficulty the Trump team has had with grappling with the facts bolstering the Democrats case may be the reason many Republicans are coalescing around an acquittal argument that will assert the President did nothing wrong in his Ukraine gambit. It also explains why other Republicans are glomming onto a far-outside-the-norm legal theory put forward by the Trump team asserting that abuse of power, which the House alleges, is not an impeachable offense.

The first instance of the friendly fire the Trump team took on from the GOP came from a question posed by Sens. Susan Colins (ME) and Lisa Murkowksi (AK), two moderates who are considering voting in favor of additional witnesses testifying at the Senate trial.

They asked the Trump team whether Trump mentioned Biden in connection with the broader anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine prior to the April announcement of Biden’s presidential candidacy.

After some meandering about the House’s impeachment process, White House attorney Pat Philbin conceded that he couldn’t “point to something in the record that shows President Trump at an earlier time mentioning specifically something related to Joe or Hunter Biden.”

Instead, he pointed to the pre-April efforts by Trump private attorney Rudy Giuliani to dig up dirt in Ukraine. But even that is a dicy answer, given the Giuliani has said publicly that those efforts were not about foreign policy, but rather driven by his  personal representation of Trump.

The picture didn’t get much clearer when the Trump team got another bite of the apple via a question from Sens. Deborah Fischer (R-NE), Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Jim Risch (R-ID) — all Trump loyalists.

They asked more generally about when the U.S. government developed concerns about the Burisma, the Ukrainian energy that hired Hunter Biden to its board while Vice President Joe Biden was leading an anti-corruption campaign in Ukraine.

This time, Philbin tied an even closer link between Trump’s Biden interest and the rogue efforts of Giuliani and his associates to orchestrate a smear campaign against Biden. Philbin rattled off an anti-Biden dossier Giuliani turned over to the State Department and claims pushed by then Hill columnist John Solomon, among other reports about the Bidens.

In doing so, he validated key facts and events in the House’s impeachment case, rather than undermined them. The House Intelligence Committee impeachment report surfaced evidence of coordination between Solomon, Giuliani and his associates, while arguing that the push to investigate Biden was being driven by channels outside the U.S. policy making apparatus, rather than as part of an official anti-corruption campaign. Nowhere did Philbin’s answer point to concerns about Burisma coming internally from the U.S. government, beyond the demands from Trump himself.

Even a gimme question from Sens. John Kennedy (R-LA) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) asking what Hunter Biden did for the money that Burisma paid him, posed issues for the defense. Trump attorney Pam Bondi appeared unsure of the key points she was aiming to drive home about Biden’s tenure at the Burisma, at one point spending several seconds, while turning pages in her binder, to finish a sentence detailing when Biden left the board. The DNC quickly cut and tweeted out a clip of the flub.

Trump’s team seemed more at ease when airing their complaints about the House’s impeachment process, or attacked the House managers.



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