Donald Trump’s lawyers have begun their defence of the president in his Senate impeachment trial, arguing that removing him from office would undermine American democracy.
“When you hear the facts…. you will find that the president did absolutely nothing wrong,” Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, told the Senate.
Mr Cipollone began his arguments at 10am eastern time, following five days of a Senate trial in which Democrats laid out their case that the president had abused his power and attempted to obstruct Congress.
“[Democrats] are asking you not only to overturn the results of the last election but also they are asking you to remove President Trump from the ballot for the election that is coming in the next nine months,” Mr Cipollone said.
Mr Cipollone said the Democrats were attempting to perpetrate “the most massive interference in an election in American history and we can’t allow that to happen.”
“It would violate our constitution, it would violate our history, it would violate our commitment to the future.”
Democrats allege that the president put improper pressure on the president of Ukraine to announce an investigation into his political rival Joe Biden and Mr Biden’s son Hunter.
They say Mr Trump withheld aid to Ukraine and refused a White House visit for its president Volodymyr Zelensky in an attempt to pressure him into announcing an investigation into Hunter Biden’s business activities in the country. Republicans point out the aid was eventually released without such an investigation having been announced.
Speaking during the proceedings late on Friday afternoon, Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic chair of the House judiciary committee, said: “The impeachment clause exists to protect Americans from such a president.”
Mr Trump’s defence team intend to speak for only a few hours on Saturday morning, before presenting their rebuttal in more detail next week.
They will have a total of 24 hours to argue their case, following which there will be 16 hours of questions to both sides.
Michael Purpura, the deputy White House counsel, on Saturday accused Democrats of leaving out key facts from their case. He argued that on his call with Mr Zelensky, Mr Trump had not mentioned security assistance and had not linked military aid to a Ukrainian investigation.
The decision not to present a lengthy defence case on Saturday follows pressure from the president himself, who appeared to be concerned that his side’s arguments would not be seen by enough television viewers.
Mr Trump tweeted on Friday: “After having been treated unbelievably unfairly in the House, and then having to endure hour after hour of lies, fraud & deception by Shifty Schiff, Cryin’ Chuck Schumer & their crew, looks like my lawyers will be forced to start on Saturday, which is called Death Valley in T.V.”
Democrats would need 20 Republicans to vote with them to remove Mr Trump from office, making it highly unlikely they will succeed. But many are hoping they can still persuade four Republicans to vote with them to allow new witnesses and documents to be submitted.
The battle over public opinion, meanwhile, remains open. A poll undertaken by Emerson and released on Thursday showed 51 per cent of Americans support Mr Trump being removed, while 58 per cent want to hear new witnesses.