Republicans grew confident late Wednesday that the Senate will clear Donald Trump as early as Friday, ending his impeachment trial without calling any witnesses and handing him a major win days before the State of the Union address.
Mitch McConnell left Wednesday’s impeachment trial silent but with his side apparently growing confident that they can block Democratic efforts to call witnesses and contain a Republican rebellion to fewer than the four senators the minority would need.
One key move came during the day Wednesday when Cory Gardener, the Colorado senator who is seen as having the toughest re-election battle in November, said he would not vote for witnesses.
That left Mitt Romney, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, who together are not enough to force through witnesses – although there is the dramatic possibility of a tie.
And Trump’s defense bluntly threatened that if the Senate votes for John Bolton, the former national security advisor, to give evidence, they would demand Hunter Biden, the whistleblower, Adam Schiff and potentially many more be called too, tying the Senate up for months.
That would put the trial on track for a Friday vote which McConnell believes is essentially a foregone conclusion – because two-thirds of the Senate would need to vote to convict and remove Trump.
Vote count: Mitch McConnell left the Senate late Wednesday apparently believing he is going to be able to block any demand for witnesses at Donald Trump’s impeachment trial
Scene of drama: The Senate, where Adam Schiff was seen answering questions asked of the impeachment managers, is poised for another day of questions – and potentially a vote to clear Trump on Friday
Republican rebel: Mitt Romney now appears to one of only three senators from his party who will vote to call witnesses – not enough to force John Bolton and others to give evidence
But McConnell still faces a day of uncertainty with senators having another eight hours to ask questions Thursday of both sides.
Wednesday’s question and answer session saw Trump’s defense essentially tear up his long-term ‘perfect call’ defense to say that he could seek foreign assistance for his re-election campaign and hold military aid to do so because he sees his own re-election as in the public interest.
Only acting in his personal financial interest would be impeachable, according to the argument put forward by Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard professor and Jeffrey Epstein attorney who is the most flamboyant and famous member of Trump’s team.
On a day when the trial appeared to spark into life, there were a series of dramatic developments inside and outside the chamber including:
- The White House was revealed to have blocked John Bolton, the former national security advisor, from publishing his bombshell memoir in its current form, ruling that his disclosures about dealings with Ukraine contained ‘top secret material’;
- Trump trashed Bolton as writing a ‘nasty and untrue’ book, then gleefully tweeted an interview with Bolton in August in which he called the president’s calls to Ukraine’s president Zelensky ‘warm and cordial’;
- But Bolton himself was revealed to have urged the Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to investigate the firing of Marie Yovanovitch, the ousted ambassador to Ukraine;
- John Roberts, the chief justice, dramatically blocked Rand Paul, the Republican senator, from naming the alleged whistleblower, in a behind-the-scenes move which thrusts him to the center of the trial himself;
- Democrats acknowledged fighting for witnesses seemed an uphill battle, with Chick Schumer saying Republicans were under ‘huge pressure’ from Trump and McConnell;
- Inside the Senate Romney, the moderate Republican, asked pointed questions including precisely when Trump ordered the hold on military aid to Ukraine, without getting an answer;
- Trump’s defense said it was legal to accept information from a ‘foreign’ source on a campaign rival;
- And Lev Parnas, Rudy Giuliani’s indicted sidekick, arrived in the Capitol to watch the trial, which he did from a side room because his ankle monitor is not allowed in the public gallery.
But it was Dershowitz’s sweeping defense of Trump which commanded the most attention.
It came half-way through the afternoon, as he answered a question from Ted Cruz n whether a quid pro quo mattered.
‘Every public official that I know believes that his election is in the public interest, and mostly you’re right. Your election is in the public interest, and if a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment,’ he said during the senators’ question and answer period.
It was astonishing argument for sweeping executive power made by the flamboyant law professor whose fame has overshadowed the rest of the Trump defense.
Alan Dershowitz, one Donald Trump’s lawyers, argued any action taken by the president to benefit his re-election is in the public interest
Dershowitz gave an astonishing argument for sweeping executive power for President Trump
Adam Schiff called Dershowitz’s argument ‘very odd’
The assertion was interpreted that any action taken by a president in pursuit of his re-election campaign would not be impeachable and nothing a president did short of personal enrichment would be an abuse of power, which is one of the articles against Trump.
Adam Schiff, the lead Democratic impeachment manager, called Dershowitz’s argument ‘very odd.’
READ THE ARTICLES OF IMPEACHMENT AGAINST DONALD TRUMP
In 1,414 words, the articles of impeachment passed by the House of Representatives lay out two charges against President Donald Trump.
Article I: Abuse of Power
Using the powers of his high office, President Trump solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, in the 2020 United States Presidential election.
He did so through a scheme or course of conduct that included soliciting the Government of Ukraine to publicly announce investigations that would benefit his reelection, harm the election prospects of a political opponent, and influence the 2020 United States Presidential election to his advantage.
President Trump also sought to pressure the Government of Ukraine to take these steps by conditioning official United States Government acts of significant value to Ukraine on its public announcement of the investigations.
President Trump engaged in this scheme or course of conduct for corrupt purposes in pursuit of personal political benefit. In so doing, President Trump used the powers of the Presidency in a manner that compromised the national security of the United States and undermined the integrity of the United States democratic process.’
Article II: Obstruction of Congress
As part of this impeachment inquiry, the Committees undertaking the investigation served subpoenas seeking documents and testimony deemed vital to the inquiry from various Executive Branch agencies and offices, and current and former officials.
In response, without lawful cause or excuse, President Trump directed Executive Branch agencies, offices, and officials not to comply with those subpoenas. President Trump thus interposed the powers of the Presidency against the lawful subpoenas of the House of Representatives, and assumed to himself functions and judgments necessary to the exercise of the ‘sole Power of Impeachment’ vested by the Constitution in the House of Representatives.
In the history of the Republic, no President has ever ordered the complete defiance of an impeachment inquiry or sought to obstruct and impede so comprehensively the ability of the House of Representatives to investigate ‘high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
This abuse of office served to cover up the President’s own repeated misconduct and to seize and control the power of impeachment — and thus to nullify a vital constitutional safeguard vested solely in the House of Representatives.
‘If you say you can’t hold a president accountable in an election year where they’re trying to cheat in that election, then you are giving them carte blanche,’ he said. ‘All quid pro quos are not the same. Some are legitimate and some are corrupt.’
The query about quid pro quos and their legality came after Republican Senator Ted Cruz asked: ‘As a matter of law, does it matter if there was a quid pro quo? Is it true that quid pro quos are often used in foreign policy?’
Dershowitz answered for the president’s team, his first time speaking on the Senate floor Wednesday.
‘The only thing that would make a quid pro quo unlawful is if the quo were in some way illegal,’ he said.
‘It would be a much harder case if a hypothetical president of the United States said to a hypothetical leader of a foreign country, unless you build a hotel with my name on it and unless you give me a million dollar kick back, I will withhold the funds. That’s an easy case. That’s purely corrupt and in the purely private interests,’ he noted.
Democrats moved quickly to give Schiff an opportunity to respond, which he used to throw out a hypothetical situation regarding former President Barack Obama.
‘In every criminal case and I would assume in every impeachment case, yes, you have to show that the president was operating from a corrupt motive, and we have,’ he said.
He then argued if Obama asked a foreign government to investigate Romney, his opponent in the 2012 election, he would have been impeached.
‘That’s the parallel here. And to say, well, yes, we condition aid all the time. For legitimate reasons, yes,’ Schiff said.
He reminded senators of the weight of future elections on their shoulders, pointing out they were deciding if future candidates could ask for foreign help to win public office.
‘And the argument will be made, nope, Donald Trump was acquitted for doing exactly the same thing. Therefore it must not be impeachable,’ Schiff said.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Cruz later turned around Schiff’s scenario and asked the House managers: ‘In Mr. Schiff’s hypothetical, if President Obama had evidence that Mitt Romney’s son was being paid $1 million per year by a corrupt Russian company and Mitt Romney had acted to benefit that company, would Obama have authority to ask that that potential corruption be investigated?’
Their implication was directed at Hunter Biden, the son of Joe Biden who President Trump and his allies charge benefited financially for work abroad while Joe Biden was vice president.
Schiff responded: ‘First of all, the hypothetical is a bit off because it presumes that in that hypothetical that President Obama was acting corruptly or there was evidence he was acting corruptly with respect to his son.’
He added: ‘The reality is for a president to withhold military aid from an ally or in the hypothetical to withhold it to benefit an adversary, to target their political opponent is wrong and corrupt, period. End of story. And if you allow a president to rationalize that conduct, rationalize jeopardizing the nation’s security to benefit himself because he believes that his opponent should be investigated by a foreign power, that is impeachable. Now, if you have a legitimate reason to think that any U.S. person has committed an offense there are legitimate ways to have an investigation conducted. There are legitimate ways to have the Justice Department conduct an investigation.’
‘It’s remarkable to me that we even have to have this conversation. In our own FBI director has made it abundantly clear, and it shouldn’t require an FBI director to say this, that if we were approached with an offer of foreign help we should turn it down,’ Schiff said.
Senators used these cards to ask their questions to the prosecution and the defense
Senators Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz turned Schiff’s scenario back around on him
Trump’s private attorney Jay Sukelow struck back at Schiff’s argument, pointing to the FBI’s counter-intelligence of the 2016 Trump campaign and the infamous Steele dossier, which made the unproven claim Russia has black mail material on Trump, which the president has denied.
Schiff ‘talked about it would be wrong if the FBI or if the Department of Justice was starting a political investigation of someone’s political opponent, and I’m thinking to myself, but isn’t that exactly what happened?,’ Sukelow said.
TRUMP’S TEAM: OBAMA PROBED HIM AND HILLARY GOT FOREIGN ASSISTANCE
‘The president and Justice and the FBI engaged in an investigation of the candidate for president of the United States when they started their operation called cross fire hurricane. He said it would be targeting a rival.
‘Well, that’s what that did. He said it would be calling for foreign assistance in that. Well, in the particular facts of Crossfire Hurricane, it has been well-established now that, in fact, Fusion GPS utilized the services of a former foreign intelligence officer, Christopher Steele, to put together a dossier and that Christopher Steele relied on his network of resources around the globe, including in Russia and other places to put together this dossier, which then James Comey said was unverified and salacious, but yet it was the basis upon which the department of justice and the FBI obtained FISA warrants, and this was in 2016, against a rival campaign. So we don’t have to do hypotheticals. That’s precisely the situation,’ he added.
JOHN BOLTON OVERSHADOWS THE TRIAL WITH BATTLE OVER WHETHER HE SHOULD SPEAK
Democrats went straight to John Bolton, the president’s former national security adviser they want to testify in the trial. Republicans focused on the legal and technical aspects of impeachment in their first questions.
Both in their questions and in the House impeachment managers response, Democrats made the case over and over again to hear from Bolton.
Bolton turned the trial on its head when The New York Times published revelations from his forthcoming memoir, ‘The Room Where It Happened,’ that claimed Trump was with holding nearly $40 million in U.S. aid to the Ukraine until the country agreed to investigate the Bidens.
Trump has denied the charge.
MODERATE REPUBLICANS MAKE A STAND ON WHEN TRUMP FIRST CARED ABOUT THE BIDENS
But Republican moderates sent their own message to Trump’s team that – regardless of the outcome of Bolton’s evidence – they have their own concerns, asking for precise details which appeared highly critical of the president’s actions.
Collins and Murkowski jointly asked for evidence that Trump expressed concern about Joe Biden before the former vice president announced his presidential run.
Deputy White House Counsel Patrick Philbin said he could not point to a specific instance where President Trump mentioned concern about corruption in the Ukraine before Joe Biden got into the 2020 presidential race.
‘I can’t point to something in the record that shows President Trump at an earlier time mentioning specifically something related to Joe or Hunter Biden,’ he said.
He did offer a timeline of events, noting Rudy Giuliani was the president’s personal lawyer who was working to fight corruption in the Ukraine.
‘Mr. Giuliani, the counsel for the president is looking into what is going on in Ukraine and anything related to 2016 and other things related there and he is given information and tips about this and he starts to pursue that as well. He is digging into that in January of 2019,’ he said.
He added: ‘We know that Mr. Giuliani is the president’s private counsel and so I cannot represent specific conversations they have, because they would be privileged, but we know from the testimony that the president said in a May 23rd oval office meeting with respect to Ukraine, talk to Rudy. Rudy knows about Ukraine, and so the president is getting some information from Rudy Giuliani. And months before Joe Biden announced the candidacy, he is interviewing people and getting information about it.’
But Democrats argued senators need to hear from Bolton.
‘The important thing is that you can get a witness who talked to the president firsthand about what the president thought he was doing,’ Rep. Zoe Lofgren reminded senators during the proceedings.
Schiff reminded senators if they ‘have any question about the president’s motivation’ in with holding U.S. aid to the Ukraine, to subpoena Bolton.
‘Don’t wait for the book,’ he told senators, ‘to find the answer for your question.’
He also argued President Trump ‘identifies the state as being himself.’
‘You’re not a king,’ Schiff said to the president. ‘That argument may be thought of with favor by various presidents over history, it has never been supported by any court in the land.’
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries reminded the lawmakers that ‘the Senate in its history has had 15 different impeachment trials. In every single trial, there were witnesses, every single trial. Why should this president be treated differently, held to a lower standard, at this moment of presidential accountability? And in fact, in many of those trials, there were witnesses who testified in the Senate who had not testified in the House.’
WE’LL KEEP YOU TIED UP FOR MONTHS IF YOU WANT WITNESSES, TRUMP’S TEAM WARN SENATORS
But Trump’s legal team warned calling witnesses would drag the trial out for months, leaving senators trapped as a court of impeachment and unable to conduct its legislative business.
White House deputy counsel Patrick Phil told senators if they called witnesses, the Senate would be ‘effectively paralyzed’ for months.
‘It’s not just a question of, should we hear one witness,’ he said. ‘That’s not what the real question is going to be. For this institution, the real question is what is the precedent that is going to be set for what is an acceptable way for the House of Representatives to bring an impeachment of a president of the United States to this chamber, and can it be done in a hurried partisan fashion? They didn’t even subpoena John Bolton below or try to get his testimony. Now to say this body will become the investigative body, that this body will have to do all the discovery and this institution will be effectively paralyzed for months on end, because it has to sit as a court of impeachment, while now discovery is done.’
He also pointed out it would drag out because in addition to Bolton, President Trump would want witnesses of his own. The president has said he’d like to hear from Hunter Biden and the whistleblower.
‘It’s not a question of a lot of people talk right now about John Bolton, but the president would have the opportunity to call his witnesses, just as a matter of fundamental fairness. And there would be a long list of witnesses if the body were to go in that direction. It would mean this would drag on for months and prevent this chamber from getting its business done,’ he said.
But Philbin stumbled when asked when the White House received a review copy of Bolton’s manuscript. Bolton submitted to the National Security Council for review, which he was required to do as a former employee with a security clearance to ensure no classified information was revealed.
‘At some point, I don’t know off of the top of my head the exact date,’ Philbin said.
Trump also has said he hasn’t seen the manuscript – but tweeted that it was ‘nasty and untrue’ and contained ‘national security’ information, which he could only know for a fact if he had been briefed on it.
Schiff warned more information could come out after the Senate trial ended, specifically pointing to the March 17 publication date for Bolton’s memoir.
And he went back to Philbin’s answer on Bolton’s manuscript.
‘I listened carefully to the answer of the question and maybe you listened more carefully than I did, but what I thought that I heard them say about the manuscript and when did they know it, the statement was precisely worded. The NSC unit reviewing the book did not share the manuscript, and that is a different question than whether the White House lawyers found out what is in it, because you don’t have to circulate the manuscript to have someone walk over to the White House and say, you do not want John Bolton to testify,’ he argued.
‘So it is a very carefully worded one. I don’t know what the White House lawyers knew and when they knew it, but they did represent to you repeatedly that the president never told a witness that he was freezing the aid to get Ukraine to do these investigations. And we know that’s not true. You know that from the witnesses that we have heard from, but we also know at least if the reporting is correct and you should find out if it is that John Bolton tells a very different story,’ he added.
Philbin was asked about the point Schiff made and denied the president’s lawyers had an early warning of what was in Bolton’s book.
Chuck Schumer asked the first question for Senate Democrats
Democratic senators all had thick binders placed on their desks while Republican lawmakers’ had mainly empty desks although a few had pieces of paper to take notes.
The first question – chosen by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – went to moderates in the Republican Party – submitted jointly by Senators Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Mitt Romney.
Chief Justice John Roberts read the questions – which were submitted in writing by each side, taking turns from Republicans and Democrats to pose their inquiries.
IF TRUMP HAD MORE THAN ONE MOTIVE, WHAT DO WE DO? MODERATES ASK
‘If President Trump had more than one motive for his alleged conduct, such as the pursuit of personal political advantage, rooting out corruption and the promotion of national interests, how should the Senate consider more than one motive in its assessment of article I?,’ was Collins’, Murkowski’s and Romney’s question.
Philbin answered for the president’s defense, arguing a mix motive meant the case should be dismissed.
‘Once you’re into mixed motive land, it’s clear that their case fails. There can’t possibly be an impeachable offense at all. Think about it. All elected officials, to some extent, have in mind how their conduct, their policy decisions will affect the next election. There’s always some personal interest in the electoral outcome of policy decisions. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s part of representative democracy,’ he said.
‘The bottom line is once you’re into any mixed motive situation, once it is established there is a legitimate public interest that could justify looking into something, just asking a question about something, the managers’ case fails and fails under their own terms,’ he added.
The first Democratic question came from that party’s Senate Leader Chuck Schumer. He asked about the Democrats desire to call Bolton, acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and others as additional witnesses.
‘Is there any way for the Senate to returned a fully informed verdict in this case without hearing the testimony of Bolton, Mulvaney, and the other key eyewitnesses or without seeing the relevant documentary evidence?,’ was the question.
Schiff answered on behalf of the House managers.
‘The short answer to that question is, no. There’s no way to have a fair trial without witnesses. And when you have a witness as plainly relevant as John Bolton, who goes to the heart of the most serious and egregious of the president’s misconduct, who has volunteered to come and testify, to turn him away and to look the other way, I think, is deeply at odds with being an impartial juror,’ he said.
Schiff also addressed the question from Senate moderates.
‘I would also add in response to the last question, that if any part of the president’s motivation was a corrupt motive, it was a causal factor in the action to freeze the aid or withhold the meeting, that is enough to convict under criminal law,’ he said.