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In this image from video, personal attorney to President Donald Trump, Jay Sekulow, argues against an amendment proposed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to subpoena John Bolton during the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. (Senate Television via AP)AP

For Trump's legal defense team, the truth was never good enough

In their opening arguments, Trump's legal team peddled brazen falsehoods. In their closing arguments, his lawyers did the same thing.


On the first day of Donald Trump's Senate impeachment trial, the president's legal defense team set an early tone for the proceedings, presenting a series of claims that were plainly false. As we discussed soon after, the lawyers lied about the House process; they lied about Robert Mueller's findings; they lied about House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.); and they lied about the genesis of the impeachment inquiry itself.

With this in mind, it seems oddly fitting that Team Trump's closing arguments also appeared designed to deceive those who heard them.

At one point yesterday, for example, Jay Sekulow, one of the president's most controversial lawyers, pointed to a three-year-old tweet from Mark Zaid, an attorney representing the intelligence community whistleblower who first helped shine a light on Trump's illegal extortion scheme. Zaid wrote at the time that a "coup has started," adding that impeachment would ultimately follow.

To hear Sekulow tell it, Zaid was signaling a years-long plot that he proceeded to execute. As Vox's Aaron Rupar explained, this wasn't even close to being true.

[W]hat Sekulow didn't tell people is that it was actually in response to another tweet from CNN's Jake Tapper about Trump firing then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates. Trump, you might recall, fired Yates after she announced she wouldn't defend court legal challenges to Trump's executive order banning people from seven Muslim-majority countries from traveling to the United States, citing concerns about the order's legality.

Read in that context, Zaid's tweet is clearly meant as commentary on Trump's early moves to purge government of any and all officials who wouldn't carry out his policy directives, not as an announcement of Zaid's intentions. And, as CNN's Daniel Dale notes, any lingering doubts should've been cleared up by another tweet Zaid posted days later about "the coup [the Trump administration] just perpetrated to take over the country."

Around the same time, a Washington Post analysis highlighted comments from Mike Purpura, another member of the president's legal defense team, who "proceeded to offer an untrustworthy presentation of the available evidence and to disclose only partially what is known about the alleged actions by Trump that are at the center of his impeachment trial."

This came against a backdrop in which, late last week, Deputy White House Counsel Patrick Philbin argued, with a straight face, that his client didn't "necessarily" push for Biden-related investigations -- despite the fact that we all saw Trump do exactly that while on camera, speaking from the White House South Lawn.

At a certain level, none of this should come as too big of a surprise. The evidence and the facts paint an ugly picture for the president -- even many Republicans now concede Trump is guilty -- so it stands to reason that his legal defense team would find it necessary to take liberties with reality. The alternative is to remain silent, which isn't much of an option under the circumstances.

What's more, while the Senate proceedings are considered a "trial," it's not a literal Article III judicial proceeding. In an actual courtroom, lawyers know that lying is likely to lead to court sanctions; on Capitol Hill, Trump's lawyers know they can lie more or less with impunity.

But for those interested in the truth, what does it tell us about the president's culpability that his legal team found it necessary to repeatedly try to deceive the Senate and the public?

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