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CBS News' senior White House and political correspondent Ed O'Keefe joins "CBS This Morning: Saturday" to talk about what can be expected as the impeachment trial of former President Trump draws closer to a vote, and if the Senate plans on calling witnesses.
JEFF GLOR: The Senate will reconvene this morning for closing arguments in the impeachment trial of former President Trump. Trump's defense team presented its case to senators yesterday. The final vote on his conviction or acquittal could come as soon as this afternoon with at least one major question looming. Will any witnesses be called to testify? Ed O'Keefe is at the White House. Ed, good morning to you.
ED O'KEEFE: Good morning, Jeff. The question of whether there will be witnesses remains an open one, and we won't know for certain until the trial reconvenes later this morning, but it's now moving at a pretty quick clip. The former president's attorney spent less than three hours on Friday arguing that the siege on the capitol was pre-planned by others, failing to mention that he had spent months on Twitter complaining about the election results and teasing a, quote, wild day on January 6th.
BRUCE CASTOR: Clearly, there was no insurrection.
ED O'KEEFE: Attorneys for former President Trump never once mentioned his unproven claims about a stolen election or tried to prove that he was robbed of a victory. Instead, they argued that Mr. Trump's language at a rally on the day of the siege on the US Capitol was protected first Amendment speech.
DONALD TRUMP: And we fight. We fight like hell.
ED O'KEEFE: And that the impeachment trial is the result of years of relentless partisan attacks.
MICHAEL VAN DER VEEN: It is constitutional cancel culture.
BRUCE CASTOR: This trial is about far more than President Trump. It is about silencing and banning the speech the majority does not agree with. It is about canceling 75 million Trump voters.
ED O'KEEFE: Playing to a television audience that included the former president watching in Florida, the attorneys accused house impeachment managers of selectively editing his past comments, but then they repeatedly played selectively edited video.
- Democrats are going to fight like hell.
- We fight like hell.
- I'm going to fight like hell.
- I will fight like hell.
ED O'KEEFE: Falsely equating that those out of context statements by Democrats make them just as guilty of using aggressive speech to stir their supporters. Later, Mr. Trump's team was unable to answer questions, even from Republican senators, about when the former president learned of the violence at the Capitol, and his actions to stop it. Attorney Michael Van der Veen also dismissed questions about whether he thought the former president won the election.
MICHAEL VAN DER VEEN: In my judgment, it's irrelevant. Were Mr. Trump's words insightful to the point of violence and riot? That's the charge. That's the question, and the answer is no.
ED O'KEEFE: House Democrats offered this.
STACEY PLASKETT: Those are the questions that we have as well, and the reason this question keeps coming up is because the answer is nothing.
ED O'KEEFE: 17 Republicans would need to join the 50 members of the Democratic caucus to convict Mr. Trump, but few have signaled they will. The day's proceedings ended on a high note as the Senate unanimously agreed to award the congressional gold medal, one of the nation's top civilian honors, to Officer Eugene Goodman, the capitol police officer who was seen on security footage directing senators away from danger and then directing a mob away from the Senate chamber. He spent most of this week watching the trial in the chamber as a new member of the Senate Sergeant at Arms Office. Jeff.
JEFF GLOR: That was a great scene. Ed, we also learned there was really another shakeup in Trump's defense team before Friday's presentation. What can you tell us about that?
ED O'KEEFE: That's right. CBS News has learned that the attorney David Schoen had threatened to quit over some disagreements over a trial strategy and exactly how to use that video that was featured during Friday's proceedings, but the former president convinced him to stay on. Throughout the week, it was clear that the defense attorneys for the president had struggled with their presentation and appeared to be at times recalibrating on the fly, another sign of how tricky it is to be associated with him, to work and defend the former president in this kind of a setting.
- Ed, you mentioned in your piece that few Republicans have signaled that they would vote to convict. Give us some sense of the overall Senate reaction right now and sort of that political fallout if Republicans were to vote to convict.
ED O'KEEFE: Well, look, our polling this past week showed that a majority of the country believes the former president should be convicted by the Senate, but Republicans look at another number in our survey. 73% of Republicans polled say that supporting the former president is most important, and a large percentage in the poll also say that if the former president were to, say, start his own political party, they'd go join it.
So there is real time immediate short term political risk for some of these senators who may be thinking it's worth convicting, but understand that there's risk to themselves and to the future of the Republican Party. We do expect at least five or six Republicans to join the Democrats. Whether we get more than that, again, we won't know until a vote is held.
MICHELLE MILLER: And Ed, meanwhile, the work in Washington continues. What's the status on President Biden's $1.9 trillion plan, that stimulus package?
ED O'KEEFE: It's an important question, Michelle, because as the Senate this week was focused on the impeachment trial of the former president, over in the House, they were working on that COVID relief plan. That work will continue in the coming week, and it's expected Democrats will approve it in the next two weeks. It'll then head over to the Senate. One key Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, signaled this week that she'd been in touch with the president about finding a way still to get Republicans to support the plan. They certainly, let's say, hope, here at the White House, Republicans will sign on.
- I think that was a very nice homage back there to the hearts that were put out, I believe, by the first lady--
ED O'KEEFE: That's right.
- For the president, as a surprise.
ED O'KEEFE: Yes, and within eyesight of our cameras. I'm just waiting to see what they'll do for Christmas. I wonder if they'll have any large lawn ornaments here.
- Don't steal anything, Ed. All right, Ed. Thank you. We appreciate the report.
ED O'KEEFE: Take care.