Team Trump flubs quid-pro-argument in embarrassing fashion

Honestly, Jay Sekulow's argument to reporters yesterday would've generated derisive laughter at a high-school debate tournament.
Jay Sekulow
In this Oct. 23, 2015 file photo, Jay Sekulow speaks at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va.Steve Helber / AP
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By Steve Benen

There was a curious moment in the first day of Donald Trump's Senate impeachment trial in which one of the president's attorneys, Jay Sekulow, chided House impeachment managers for using a curious phrase.

"'Lawyer lawsuits'?" Sekulow asked incredulously. "'Lawyer lawsuits'? ... The managers are complaining about 'lawyer lawsuits'? The Constitution allows lawyer lawsuits. It's disrespecting the Constitution of the United States to even say that in this chamber -- 'lawyer lawsuits.'"

No one had any idea what he was talking about, but eventually it became clear that one of the House managers referenced "FOIA lawsuits" -- in reference to the Freedom of Information Act -- and Sekulow misunderstood. Nevertheless, the White House, true to form, refused to acknowledge the misstep, and said Sekulow's mistake was actually correct.

It was a reminder that Trump's legal team, led in part by a controversial attorney who leads a televangelist's legal operation, may not fully be up to the task at hand.

Yesterday, the problem grew even more acute.

In an exchange with reporters during the first break, Jay Sekulow, Trump's personal lawyer, rebutted a reference by Schiff to a quid pro quo.

"You've noticed that Adam Schiff today talked about quid pro quo," Sekulow said. "Notice what's not in the articles of impeachment: allegations or accusations of quid pro quo. That's because they didn't exist. So, you know, there's a lot of things to rebut."

White House officials liked the line so much that it used its official Twitter account to promote Sekulow's argument, which was most unfortunate.

While it's true that articles of impeachment do not literally use the exact Latin phrase, "quid pro quo," the first article accuses Trump of pressuring Ukraine into targeting his domestic opponents and "conditioning official United States Government acts of significant value to Ukraine on its public announcement of the investigations. President Trump engaged in this scheme or course of conduct for corrupt purposes in pursuit of personal political benefit."

In other words, the articles of impeachment accuse the president of a quid pro quo, which is what Schiff accurately referenced yesterday.

Honestly, Sekulow's argument to reporters yesterday would've generated derisive laughter at a high-school debate tournament.

New York's Jon Chait added, "It's probably inevitable, given the nature of the defendant and the charges against him, that Trump's lawyers will bungle the facts and the law. But is it really necessary for the president of the United States to employ a lead attorney who is unable to understand words?"

MORE: Today's Maddowblog