WASHINGTON, January 21, 2020 — In a 10-minute speech before the Senate on Tuesday, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow threw everything but the kitchen sink onto the floor of the Senate, winking and nodding toward a number of stories that didn’t have much at all to do with the President’s defense strategy.
“It’s worth noting, they said nothing about the resolution,” House Impeachment Manager Adam Schiff (D-CA) commented after Sekulow’s presentation concluded, referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) resolution for an extra-speedy impeachment trial. “They had no defense of the McConnell resolution because there is none.”
Instead, over and over, Sekulow blew the kind of smoke that’s gotten airtime on Fox News, but that likely won’t help Trump’s legal case.
Almost immediately when he started his speech, Sekulow took a shot at Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman.
“Manager Schiff just tried to summarize my colleague’s defense of the President,” Sekulow said. “He said, not in those words, of course, which is not the first time Mr. Schiff has put words into transcripts that did not exist.”
Trump and others have long taken aim at Schiff for paraphrasing Trump during a September impeachment hearing. Schiff didn’t claim to be quoting Trump when he said the President’s infamous Zelensky call “reads like a classic organized crime shakedown.” But Trump has nonetheless repeatedly accused Schiff of lying about what he said, even implying it was treasonous.
Next up was a reference to the “Fast and Furious” scandal of the Obama years. It has for years remained a hobbyhorse of right-wing media — like Sekulow’s radio show. But it’s got nothing to do with Trump’s impeachment.
“Members, [there are] managers right here before you today who have said that executive privilege and constitutional privileges have no place in these proceedings,” Sekulow said. “On June 28th, 2012, Attorney General Eric Holder became the first United States attorney general to be held in both civil and criminal contempt. Why? Because President Obama asserted executive privilege.”
Obama did invoke executive privilege to prevent Eric Holder, then attorney general, from fully cooperating with the House’s investigation in 2012. But the differences between then and now are myriad — among other things, Trump never actually invoked the privilege during the House investigation. He just ordered Executive Branch officials not to cooperate.
Next came Robert Mueller and Peter Strzok.
“I remember, in the Mueller report there were discussions about insurance policies,” Sekulow said. “The insurance policy didn’t work out so well. So then we moved to other investigations. I guess you would call it re-insurance, or an umbrella policy. And that didn’t work out so well. And here we are today.”
There actually wasn’t any discussion in the Mueller report of an “insurance policy,” but this was Sekulow’s reference to a text message between two Justice Department officials that has fueled Trump’s anti-DOJ complaints for years.
Specifically, it was a message from the (since-fired) FBI official Peter Strzok sent to then-FBI lawyer Lisa Page in August 2016. Strzok discussed how unlikely it was that Trump would be elected then said: “I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40,” he wrote to Page. He later said he was discussing the need to move aggressively to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Then came a dig at Democrats for holding onto the articles of impeachment for several weeks.
“Thirty-three days they held on to those impeachment articles, 33 days,” Sekulow said. “It was such a rush of national security to impeach this President before Christmas that they then held them for 33 days.”
Republicans have obsessed over the delay between the House of Representatives’ approval of the impeachment articles against Trump and the articles’ actual transmission to the Senate.
Democrats have essentially acknowledged that this delay was meant to pressure Republican senators to voice their support for hearing witnesses at Trump’s trial — which a few vulnerable Republicans did do. But on a more basic level, Democrats expressed a fear in December that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would try to fast-track the impeachment trial and quickly let Trump off scot-free. McConnell’s proposed impeachment procedures, which would end the trial in a matter of mere days, appear to have confirmed that fear.