Pressure Grows for Witnesses in Trial 01/28 06:57
President Donald Trump's legal team is raising a broad-based attack on the
impeachment case against him even as it mostly brushes past allegations in a
new book that could undercut a key defense argument at his Senate trial.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Donald Trump's legal team is raising a
broad-based attack on the impeachment case against him even as it mostly
brushes past allegations in a new book that could undercut a key defense
argument at his Senate trial.
Former national security adviser John Bolton writes in a manuscript that
Trump wanted to withhold military aid from Ukraine until it committed to
helping with investigations into Democratic rival Joe Biden. That assertion
matters because Trump and his lawyers have repeatedly insisted that he never
tied the suspension of security aid to political investigations.
The revelation clouded White House hopes for a swift end to the impeachment
trial, as Democrats demanded witnesses and some Republicans expressed openness
to the idea. It also distracted from hours of arguments Monday from Trump's
lawyers, who declared anew that no witness has testified to direct knowledge
that Trump's delivery of aid was contingent on investigations into Democrats.
Bolton appeared poised to say exactly that if summoned by the Senate.
"We deal with transcript evidence, we deal with publicly available
information," attorney Jay Sekulow said. "We do not deal with speculation."
Trump is charged with abusing his presidential power by asking Ukraine's
leader to help investigate Biden at the same time his administration was
withholding hundreds of millions of dollars in security aid. A second charge
accuses Trump of obstructing Congress in its probe.
Republicans are to conclude their arguments Tuesday.
On Monday, Trump's attorneys, including high-profile lawyers Ken Starr and
Alan Dershowitz, launched a historical, legal and political attack on the
entire impeachment process. They said there was no basis to remove Trump from
office, defended his actions as appropriate and assailed Biden, who is
campaigning for the Democratic nomination to oppose Trump in November.
Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi devoted her presentation to Biden
and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukraine gas company when his
father was leading the Obama administration's diplomatic dealings with Kyiv.
The legal team argued that Trump had legitimate reasons to be suspicious of the
younger Biden's business dealings and concerned about corruption in Ukraine and
that, in any event, he ultimately released the aid without Ukraine committing
to investigations the Republican president wanted.
Trump has sought, without providing evidence, to implicate the Bidens in the
kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. Though anti-corruption
advocates have raised concerns, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by
either the former vice president or his son.
Democrats say Trump released the money only after a whistleblower submitted
a complaint about the situation.
Starr, whose independent counsel investigation into President Bill Clinton
resulted in his impeachment --- he was acquitted by the Senate --- bemoaned
what he said was an "age of impeachment." Impeachment, he said, requires an
actual crime and a "genuine national consensus" that the president must go.
Neither exists here, Starr said.
"It's filled with acrimony and it divides the country like nothing else,"
Starr said of impeachment. "Those of us who lived through the Clinton
impeachment understand that in a deep and personal way."
Dershowitz, the final speaker of the evening, argued that impeachable
offenses require criminal-like conduct --- a view largely rejected by legal
scholars. He said "nothing in the Bolton revelations, even if true, would rise
to the level of an abuse of power or an impeachable offense."
"Purely non-criminal conduct, including abuse of power and obstruction of
Congress, are outside the range of impeachable offenses," Dershowitz said.
Elizabeth Warren, a presidential campaigner like Biden but also a Senate
juror, told reporters she found Dershowitz's arguments "nonsensical."
Even as defense lawyers laid out their case as planned, it was clear
Bolton's book had scrambled the debate over whether to seek witnesses. Trump's
legal team has rejected Bolton's account, and Trump himself denied it.
"I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations
into Democrats, including the Bidens," Trump tweeted. "If John Bolton said
this, it was only to sell a book."
Republican senators face a pivotal moment. Pressure is mounting for at least
four to buck GOP leaders and form a bipartisan majority to force the issue.
Republicans hold a 53-47 majority.
"John Bolton's relevance to our decision has become increasingly clear," GOP
Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah told reporters. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said she
has always wanted "the opportunity for witnesses" and the report about Bolton's
book "strengthens the case."
At a private GOP lunch, Romney made the case for calling Bolton, according
to a person unauthorized to discuss the meeting and granted anonymity.
Other Republicans, including Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, said if Bolton
is called, they will demand reciprocity to hear from at least one of their
witnesses. Some Republicans want to call the Bidens.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell didn't know about Bolton's book, his
office said. But the GOP leader appeared unmoved by news of the Bolton book.
His message at the lunch, said Indiana GOP Sen. Mike Braun, was, "Take a deep
breath, and let's take one step at a time."
Once the president's team wraps up its arguments, senators have 16 hours for
written questions to both sides. By late in the week, they are expected to hold
a vote on whether or not to hear from any witnesses.
While Democrats say Bolton's revelations are reminiscent of the Watergate
drip-drip-drip of new information, Republicans are counting on concerns
subsiding by the time senators are asked to vote. They are being told that if
there is agreement to summon Bolton, the White House will resist, claiming
That would launch a weekslong court battle that could drag out the
impeachment trial, a scenario some GOP senators would rather avoid.
Trump and his lawyers have argued repeatedly that Democrats are using
impeachment to try to undo the results of the last presidential election and
drive Trump from office.
Democrats, meanwhile, say Trump's refusal to allow administration officials
to testify only reinforces that the White House is hiding evidence. The White
House has had Bolton's manuscript for about a month, according to a letter from
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said: "We're all staring a White
House cover-up in the face."
Rep. Adam Schiff, who leads the House prosecution team, called Bolton's
account a test for the senators.
"I don't know how you can explain that you wanted a search for the truth in
this trial and say you don't want to hear from a witness who had a direct
conversation about the central allegation in the articles of impeachment,"
Schiff said on CNN.
Bolton's account was first reported by The New York Times and was confirmed
to The Associated Press by a person familiar with the manuscript. "The Room
Where It Happened; A White House Memoir" is to be released March 17.
Joe Biden, campaigning in Iowa, said he sees no reason for testimony by him
or his son.
"I have nothing to defend. This is all a game, even if they bring me up," he
told reporters. "What is there to defend? This is all -- the reason he's being
impeached is because he tried to get a government to smear me and they
wouldn't. Come on."