Trump bolsters his impeachment defense team with last-minute additions

President Donald Trump heads into his impeachment trial this week with the backing of his party and a made-for-TV cast of lawyers.

At the last minute, the president is adding several Republican all-stars to his legal team, including Reps. Jim Jordan (R-OH), Mark Meadows (R-NC), and Lee Zeldin (R-NY), all lawmakers who played major roles defending Trump against impeachment last year, Fox News reported. The Senate trial resumed Tuesday with hours of intense debate over the rules of the procedure.

Trump stacks legal team with Republican stars

The debate Tuesday came after a weekend of build-up, as Democratic impeachment managers traded barbs with the White House over the merits of the case against Trump. The White House dismissed the impeachment as an effort to overturn the 2016 election and influence the 2020 election, but Democrats insist that the evidence to justify Trump’s removal from office is “overwhelming.”

With both sides steeling for battle, the president has added loyalists like Jordan, Meadows, and Zeldin to his team of lawyers. The lawmakers played prominent roles in opposition to Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) during the House phase of the inquiry, which included attacks on Schiff for leaking transcripts of testimony from closed-door sessions in the Capitol basement and public faceoffs in hearings led by Schiff.

Also joining the team are rising GOP stars like Elise Stefanik (R-NY), who attracted national notoriety for attacking Schiff in the public impeachment hearings. A senior Trump official said that the lawmakers were selected for their knowledge of the case through months of defending Trump during the House phase of the impeachment.

“We are not planning for them to present statements on the Senate floor,” a senior administration official told Fox News. “The group will continue to give critical guidance on the case because of their strong familiarity with the facts and evidence.”

Trial resumes with furious debate

Tuesday provided the first real sign of action after about a month of stalemate that ended with Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) failing to secure a pre-trial agreement to let more witnesses testify. With Republicans behind him, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) hopes for a fast trial — but Democrats fired back by claiming that a “cover up” is in the works by the president and his congressional allies.

With controversy over witnesses looming, the impeachment managers and Trump’s lawyers debated rules for the trial Tuesday about the time each side will get to argue its case. Democrats said that McConnell’s resolution, which granted both sides 24 hours apiece — but only a two-day time frame — to make their arguments was just another attempt to jam through an acquittal for the president with as little ceremony as possible. “If Leader McConnell is so confident the president did nothing wrong, why don’t they want the case to be presented in broad daylight?” Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said.

Schumer’s amendment to call more witnesses was shot down, but Democrats gained a small victory when it became clear at the start of debate that McConnell — under pressure from moderate Republican Susan Collins (R-ME) — had made unexpected changes to the resolution, extending the timeframe for opening debate to three days. It also calls for evidence gathered by the House to be automatically read into the Senate record.

Concessions from GOP?

Although McConnell appears to have the upper hand in the matter of witnesses, it remains uncertain exactly how long the trial will go on as Collins and a handful of others continue to challenge McConnell’s long-established plans for a rapid trial. But even these senators, which include Mitt Romney (R-UT), have said that they will not vote on witnesses before opening arguments are done.

This week’s votes will lay down ground rules before another, separate vote over witnesses. It’s unclear if Republicans will fight fire with fire by calling Hunter Biden, but they have raised the possibility. As uncertainty reigns over whether a rapid trial or a protracted circus will ensue, a partisan spectacle is beginning to manifest. Democratic leaders insisted that calling Hunter would be, in Schiff’s words, an “abuse” of power.

Although Democrats gained some ground Tuesday, Republicans are heading into Trump’s trial with a clear advantage. Trump’s acquittal by two-thirds of the Republican-led Senate is seen as virtually assured.

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