Trump impeachment lawyers Jay Sekulow and Pat Cipollone echoed Fox in impeachment trial opening statements

Sekulow impeachment opening statement

Trump impeachment trial lawyers Jay Sekulow and Pat Cipollone gave opening statements that sounded like unhinged and falsehood-filled monologues on Fox News.

Sekulow is a frequent presence on Fox News -- since August 2017, he has appeared on the network at least 61 times. Members of Trump’s impeachment team -- which includes several Republican members of the U.S. House and attorneys enlisted by Trump -- have appeared on the network's weekday programming more than 1,300 times during the same time period.

Following their opening statements, both Sekulow and Cipollone were criticized for making false assertions in their defenses of the president. Many of the false claims -- as well as wild allegations about why Trump is being impeached -- made by the attorneys during their opening statements echoed what has been said on Fox News:

Closed-door impeachment hearings in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF)

  • Referring to the House’s closed-door hearings that preceded televised impeachment hearings, Cipollone claimed, “Not even Mr. Schiff’s Republican colleagues were allowed into the SCIF.”

  • Cipollone’s false claim -- a substantial number of House Republicans had access to the SCIF -- echoed false complaints made on Fox News about information access. In October, Hannity described the closed-door hearings as a “top-secret, Venezuela-style impeachment coup attempt” before falsely claiming that “Republicans can’t even read what’s going on.”

The findings of the Mueller report

  • Sekulow claimed that special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on his investigation into Trump found that “there was no obstruction.”

  • After the release of the special counsel report in May, Fox News host Pete Hegseth falsely claimed that Trump can “rightfully” say there was “no obstruction” and that he's “exonerated.” Likewise, Fox’s Gregg Jarrett falsely suggested Mueller presented no evidence of obstruction of justice by Trump. In fact, Mueller found 10 different instances in which the case could be made that Trump obstructed justice, explicitly concluding that Trump was not exonerated on the question of obstruction. 

The constitutionality of the House impeachment inquiry

  • Sekulow said the House impeachment inquiry process “violates the Constitution of the United States."

  • Hannity, while making similar process complaints on Fox, called the House impeachment inquiry “unconstitutional” on more than one occasion. The House, however, has broad authority to set its own process in impeachment proceedings, and the U.S. Constitution does not include any requirements for the process that the House violated. 

Adam Schiff’s (D-CA) summary of Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian president

  • Cipollone said that when Schiff made a statement to the House Intelligence Committee about a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the congressman “manufactured a fraudulent version of that call -- he manufactured a false version of that call, he read it to the American people, and he didn’t tell them it was a complete fake.”

  • Fox News host Sean Hannity claimed in October that “Schiff actually had to fabricate his own version of the transcript.” In fact, during Schiff’s remarks in September, he explicitly noted that he was trying to describe “the essence” of Trump’s phone call, “shorn of its rambling character and in not so many words,” and was not intending to quote Trump verbatim. 

Schiff and the whistleblower

  • Cipollone claimed that “it turned out that [Schiff’s] staff was working with the whistleblower” whose complaint about Trump’s conduct triggered the impeachment inquiry.

  • Fox News figures including Hannity, host Tucker Carlson, and senior political analyst Brit Hume have all made similar allegations. In reality, a CIA officer first approached one of Schiff’s aides with his concerns. According to The New York Times, the aide then “followed procedures” by recommending that the officer obtain a lawyer and referring him to an inspector general to file a whistleblower complaint. 

Trump’s impeachment and the Russian collusion investigation

  • Sekulow alleged that “when the Russia investigation failed, it devolved into the Ukraine. A quid pro quo.”

  • Trump favorite Fox News host Jeanine Pirro has used similar language, saying in September that “once he gives the transcript, once it’s disclosed tomorrow, … then they’re going to run around like they did with Mueller, and Russia, Russia, Russia, racism, racism, recession, now Ukraine."

Why Trump is being impeached

  • Sekulow asked during his remarks, “Are we here before this great body because since the president was sworn into office, there was a desire to see him removed?”

  • Clinton impeachment figure and Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich claimed in October that “what you are seeing is a three-year war, which really is an effort to have a coup against the Constitution by the Democrats in the House.”