Kennedy, Markey spar over experience in first Senate primary debate
Schiff pushes back: Defense team knows Trump is guilty
The House Democrats trying their impeachment case before the Senate slammed President Trump's defense arguments on Saturday, maintaining the president's lawyers are attacking the prosecutors for a simple strategic reason: They know their client is guilty.
Led by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the team of impeachment managers held a press conference after the White House legal team spent roughly two hours on the Senate floor seeking to unravel the Democrats' arguments, aired over the previous three days.
The Democrats claimed Trump's defense team was merely "distracting" from the meat of the case by focusing on disparate topics - including Schiff, the Mueller report and the esoteric impeachment process - rather than challenging the evidence they had meticulously laid out.
"The problem they have is they don't want to talk about the evidence," Schiff, the lead impeachment manager, told reporters in the Capitol.
"They don't want to talk about the conditioning of military aid; they don't want to talk about the solicitation of foreign interference. They just want to attack the House managers. That's what you do - and as a prosecutor I've seen it time and time again - when your client is guilty."
Schiff has come under heavy fire from Republicans as he's taken the lead in prosecuting the Democrats' impeachment case, which hinges on allegations that Trump abused his office in pressing Ukrainian leaders to find dirt on his political opponents, then covered it up as Congress sought to investigate.
On Saturday, both Trump's lawyers and the president's congressional allies repeatedly attacked the Intelligence Committee chairman for, what they said, was a misrepresentation of the facts earlier in the week.
"As we've been saying since the beginning of this process, Adam Schiff was aspiring to write the world's greatest parody," said Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.). "He was a fiction writer. He was relying on presumptions and assumptions and lies and hearsay."
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) argued that the Trump defense team had "entirely shredded" the case the impeachment managers laid out.
Schiff on Saturday calmly rebutted the criticisms.
Schiff was first asked about the Republican blowback Friday night when he brought up a CBS report that cited a White House confidant saying Trump has warned GOP senators that their heads will be on a "pike" if they vote to convict him.
"Look, there are going to be efforts to distract from the facts, there are going to be attacks on the managers," Schiff responded. "If the worst they can point to is that I referred to a published report by CBS, that's pretty thin gruel."
Schiff also rebuffed the suggestion by the president's defense team that he had coordinated with the anonymous government whistleblower whose allegations sparked the impeachment investigation.
"It is nonsense. I don't even know who the whistleblower is," Schiff said.
Schiff had previously told MSNBC that his committee had not had direct contact with the whistleblower, despite later reports that revealed the person behind the complaint had made contact with a Democratic House Intelligence staffer.
The whistleblower had come to the committee before filing the formal complaint, Schiff acknowledged Saturday, and staffers directed the anonymous figure to contact a lawyer and the inspector general of the intelligence community. That's the common practice, he said - one encouraged by leaders of the Intelligence panels in both parties.
"That's the practice for Democrats, for Republicans - in the House, in the Senate - when a whistleblower contacts the committee," he said. "They have every right to talk to our staff. It is encouraged that they do."
Such reassurances did little to soften the attacks from Republicans, who are going after Schiff with increasing intensity as he's risen to become the public face of the Democrats' effort to remove Trump from office.
The president himself is leading the charge, tweeting Saturday to encourage his millions of social media followers to watch his defense team's case "against lyin', cheatin', liddle' Adam 'Shifty' Schiff," among other prominent Democrats.
In his closing arguments Friday, Schiff sought to preempt such attacks, urging his Senate audience to ignore the personal bombardments and focus instead on the underlying evidence of the case.
These arguments, Schiff asserted on Friday, are further evidence that Trump's lawyers are more concerned with discrediting those challenging his conduct than they are dispelling the charges he faces on their merits.
"When your client is dead-to-rights, you don't want to talk about your client's guilt, you want to attack the prosecution," Schiff said. "It is a fairly elemental strategy. And I think that's all you're seeing here is that effort to distract."