As Trump's impeachment trial begins, his legal team fires blanks

The first day of Trump's impeachment trial was an opportunity for his defense team to bring its A game. There was just one problem: they had no A game to bring,
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By Steve Benen

The first day of Donald Trump's impeachment trial was a unique opportunity for the president and his legal defense team. After having several weeks to prepare, and with the eyes of the nation upon them, Americans could finally see Team Trump bring its A game, making the best possible case for the president's innocence.

It didn't take long, however, before an awkward truth became obvious: Team Trump had no A game to bring. As Jonathan Allen explained in an analysis piece for NBC News, the president's attorneys "failed him at the opening of his Senate impeachment trial on Tuesday."

Trump's squad ... chose not to defend his actions with a cogent explanation for them. Rather than rebutting hours of evidence presented by House Democratic impeachment managers, White House lawyers opted to repeat Trump's attacks on the process and the disjointed set of rejoinders he's delivered to Democrats in public.

"If you can't even rise to the challenge of trying to defend your client," NBC News legal analyst Glenn Kirschner said on NBC News Now, "it becomes painfully obvious that the emperor has no defense."

The most glaring problem with yesterday's proceedings was Trump's lawyers' willingness to brazenly lie, repeatedly, about matters large and small. They lied about the House process; they lied about Robert Mueller's findings; they lied about House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.); they lied about the genesis of the impeachment inquiry itself.

It reached a point at which Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), the Senate's longest serving member, tweeted during a break, "I would hope later today and in the days ahead, the President's lawyers remember they are addressing the United States Senate, and personal insults and falsehoods will not serve them well."

And while it made for an exasperating day -- if Trump were innocent, his lawyers should probably have been able to tell the truth -- the deceptions weren't the only problematic part of the defense's first day at trial.

At one point, Jay Sekulow, one of the president's controversial personal attorneys, insisted that it should be up to the courts to mediate disputes between the executive and legislative branches, which is the opposite of the argument the Trump administration has argued in the courts for months. Sekulow also pointed to the president asserting executive privilege, which Trump hasn't actually done.

Sekulow didn't even get the legal basis of executive privilege right.

Much of the defense team's presentations were a mishmash of conspiracy theories, insults, falsehoods, and an airing of grievances that didn't go anywhere. The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin noted that the proceedings exposed the fact that the president "has no coherent defense -- a notion bolstered by the lack of coherent lawyers and absence of serious arguments."

Cynics will note that this display may have been embarrassing, but it will also likely prove to be inconsequential. It's a Republican-led Senate, filled with members who are desperate to shield Trump from any kind of accountability, and if the defense team had spent the day peddling gibberish with finger puppets, there would still be 51 GOP senators who'd say, "That's good enough for me."

But to the extent that reality still has any meaning, the first day of Trump's impeachment trial was a disaster for the White House. Given an opportunity to demonstrate the president's innocence, his lawyers clumsily tried to change the subject, which probably ought to be seen as a bad sign for those concerned with Trump's guilt.

MORE: Today's Maddowblog