WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s lawyers concluded their defense Tuesday in the Senate impeachment trial, asserting Democrats can’t remove the president from office because they disagree with his policies.
“To have a removal of a duly elected president based on a policy disagreement — that is not what the Framers intended,” Trump attorney Jay Sekulow told senators. “And if you lower the bar that way: danger, danger, danger. Because the next president, or the one after that — he or she will be held to that same standard.”
The Senate is expected to begin up to 16 hours of questioning both the House Democratic impeachment managers and Trump’s attorneys on Wednesday. The question-and-answer time will be equally divided between Democrats and Republicans.
A vote could take place as early as Friday on whether the trial should hear from witnesses and see more evidence — a possibility that seemed unlikely until revelations by former National Security Adviser John Bolton appeared to contradict Trump on his dealings with Ukraine, the central issue in the proceedings.
Republicans huddled in a private meeting in the office of Senate Majority Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, to discuss the witness issue. McConnell has said he opposes calling witnesses, but he said Tuesday he did not yet have the votes to prevail, according to multiple news organizations.
The president faces two articles of impeachment, for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, in connection with his withholding of military aid to Ukraine last year and an Oval Office meeting with that nation’s president in an effort to secure an announcement by Ukraine of investigations into Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
Trump’s lawyers entered their third and final day of opening statements with almost 15-and-a-half hours left to make their case. Both the defense and the House Democrats that prosecuted the president were allotted up to 24 hours over three days to present. But Trump’s team used only about two hours to wrap up its arguments.
While the House impeachment managers filled almost all their time laying out documentary and testimonial evidence supporting why they believe Trump should be convicted, the president’s counsel quickly dismissed the impeachment articles as meritless.
“All you need in this case is the Constitution and your common sense,” White House counsel Pat Cipollone told senators as he concluded his team’s remarks. “The articles of impeachment fall short of any constitutional standard, and they are dangerous.”
Sekulow argued that the impeachment articles against his client stemmed from Democratic disapproval of the way Trump conducts foreign relations. Impeaching a president for such a disagreement could set a dangerous precedent, he warned senators.
In his fiery and sometimes frustrated final remarks, Sekulow also addressed a bombshell that shook the Capitol on Monday: Bolton’s unpublished book manuscript.
He writes that Trump told him in August that he wanted to withhold military aid to Ukraine until its president, Volodymyr Zelensky, announced investigations into the Bidens and the 2016 election, multiple unnamed sources who have seen a draft of the forthcoming book told the New York Times.
Trump lashed out Monday on Twitter in response: “I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens. In fact, he never complained about this at the time of his very public termination. If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book.”
Sekulow wrote off reports of the manuscript as “inadmissible.”
“You cannot impeach a president on an unsourced allegation,” he said in his closing statement.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said the defense’s argument against the Bolton manuscript is a “diversion” — and another reason why new witnesses need to be called in the trial.
“If you don’t believe the newspaper report, call the witnesses,” he told reporters after Tuesday’s proceedings.
Sekulow said the trial was a not only a Democratic attempt to reverse the last election, but also a ploy to disqualify Trump in the 2020 presidential race and strip voters of the right to pick the president.
He also said that some senators vying to be the next president would rather be in Iowa than Washington, considering the state’s caucuses are scheduled for next week. Four senators — Michael Bennet from Colorado, Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota, Bernie Sanders from Vermont and Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts — are running to be the Democratic nominee in the 2020 elections.
Klobuchar whispered to Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, to her left and Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania, to her right after Sekulow called out the candidates.
Cipollone urged senators to “end the era of impeachment for good” as he capped off the defense’s case, telling them they should instead focus on representing the needs of their constituents as they were elected to do.
A majority of senators focused on listening instead of note-taking on this final day of defense. McConnell didn’t even have a notebook on his desk.
But some lawmakers who have been particularly attentive throughout the trial’s proceedings — like Sen. Susan Collins from Maine, who’s considered one of the Republicans who could break from their party to support the calling of new evidence — continued scribbling on their notepads.
As the trial transitions from opening statements to the questioning of the prosecution and defense by senators, Democrats continued calling on their Republican colleagues to support subpoenaing new evidence.
At least four Republicans would need to join 47 Democrats and independents in supporting new witnesses in order to reach the 51 votes for the motion to pass.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, chatted with Republican colleagues during a recess Tuesday before literally crossing the aisle into the Democrats’ territory on the Senate floor to talk with Sens. Ben Cardin of Maryland and Tim Kaine of Virginia. Murkowski has said she’s interested in hearing what Bolton has to say.
Other members of Murkowski’s party have expressed differing opinions on hearing testimony from the former national security adviser.
“I don’t think the testimony of Ambassador Bolton would be helpful…there’s no article there that is ground for impeachment or removal,” Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, told reporters.
While Democrats continue calling for witnesses, they said they’re not interested in a “this for that” trade with Republicans.
“We are considering impeachment of a president for an illegal quid pro quo,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, said after the trial Tuesday. “We should consider the witnesses for what they have to say — the truth that they have to offer — not as part of some quid pro quo deal.”