Trump Team Nears End of Impeachment Trial Defense; Bolton Controversy Simmers

WASHINGTON (Reuters) —
U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Jay Sekulow and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone arrive at the U.S. Capitol for the president’s Senate impeachment trial in Washington, D.C., January 28, 2020. (Reuters/Mary F. Calvert)

President Donald Trump’s lawyers launched their final day of arguments in his U.S. impeachment trial as the Senate’s top Democrat on Tuesday rejected a Republican proposal to let senators review former national security adviser John Bolton’s explosive, unpublished book manuscript on a classified basis.

President Trump’s lawyers made the case to the Senate on Monday that the Republican president’s actions as described in Bolton’s manuscript – even if true – do not represent an impeachable offense. Trump’s legal team was due to deliver its third and final day of arguments urging his acquittal starting at around 1 p.m. (1800 GMT), with plans to finish by dinner time.

Directly contradicting Trump’s account of events, Bolton, in the manuscript, said the president told him he wanted to freeze $391 million in security aid to Ukraine until Kiev pursued investigations into Democrats, including Democratic political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, the New York Times reported.

Bolton’s allegations go to the heart of impeachment charges against Trump. Democrats have said Trump abused his power by using the security aid – passed by Congress to help Ukraine battle Russia-backed separatists – as leverage to get a foreign power to smear a political rival.

Trump is seeking re-election on Nov. 3. Biden is a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination to face Trump.

The trial will determine whether Trump is removed from office after being impeached by the Democratic-led House of Representatives last month on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress arising from his conduct toward Ukraine.

Trump is expected to be acquitted in the 100-seat Senate, where Republicans hold 53 seats and a two-thirds majority is needed to remove him from office under the U.S. Constitution.

Senate Republicans, who have so far refused to allow any witnesses or new evidence in the trial, faced mounting pressure from Democrats and some moderates in their own party to summon Bolton.

Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow alluded to the Bolton issue when he addressed the Senate, telling the senators they were taking part in “the most solemn of duties under our constitutional framework – the trial of the leader of the free world, the duly elected president of the United States. It is not a game of leaks and unsourced manuscripts. That’s politics, unfortunately.”

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally who was at the White House on Tuesday morning, said he supported making Bolton’s manuscript available on a classified basis, but opposed hearing from Bolton as a trial witness.

“Looking at the manuscript makes sense to me. But we’re not going to just call John Bolton. If you call John Bolton, we’re calling everybody. We’re not just going to call one witness,” Graham told reporters.

Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer opposed the Republican proposal.

“What an absurd proposal. It’s a book,” Schumer told reporters about the proposal floated by Graham and fellow Republican Senator James Lankford, saying there was no need to read the manuscript in a classified setting “unless you want to hide something.”

Schumer criticized Trump’s legal team for stating during its arguments to the Senate that there was no eyewitness testimony detailing abuse of power by Trump, “when we know that John Bolton has eyewitness testimony and is willing to testify.”

Schumer made a fresh appeal for four Republican senators – the number needed for a majority – to join Democrats in voting to call witnesses. Schumer also indicated Democrats would reject any effort at a so-called witness swap with Republicans.

“The Republicans can call who they want. They have the ability. They have the majority,” Schumer said.

Lankford late on Monday urged Bolton to speak publicly outside of the impeachment trial.

“John Bolton is no shrinking violet,” Lankford said in a video posted to his social media page. “My encouragement would be: If John Bolton’s got something to say, there’s plenty of microphones all over the country – that he should step forward and start talking about it right now.”

Bolton left his White House post last September. Trump has said he fired Bolton. Bolton said he quit after policy disagreements.


White House Deputy Counsel Patrick Philbin, also addressing the Senate for Trump’s legal team, kicked off his presentation by criticizing what he called the “infinitely malleable” premise for the abuse of power charge approved by the House against the president. He pressed the point that the charges brought against Trump do not represent actual impeachable offenses.

“They don’t have a standard that really defines a specific offense. They don’t have a standard that really defines in coherent terms that are going to be identifiable what the offenses are,” Philbin told the assembled senators, slamming this as “an unconstitutionally vague standard.”

Trump has denied telling Bolton he sought to use the Ukraine aid as leverage to get Kiev to investigate the Bidens. He has denied any quid pro quo – a Latin term meaning a favor for a favor – in his dealings with Ukraine.

The Senate may resolve the issue of whether to call witnesses in a vote on Friday or Saturday. Some moderate Republican senators, including Mitt Romney and Susan Collins, said the disclosures were likely to sway at least four Republicans to call Bolton to testify, which would give Democrats the votes necessary in the Republican-led Senate to summon him.

The focus was on whether two other moderate Republicans, Lamar Alexander and Lisa Murkowski, would vote to hear from Bolton.

“The question is: Do they want to hear the truth or do they want to hide the truth?” Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow told reporters.

Romney told Reuters on Tuesday that the idea of a “one-for-one” witness deal, with one witness called by Democrats and one by Republicans, “has merit,” but added: “I wouldn’t suggest any particular names.”

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