WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s legal defense team on Monday argued that the Senate should acquit because the impeachment articles lack legitimacy after the House tore up their long-standing procedures and dismissed the president’s executive privilege.
But missing from the lengthy lectures on the history of impeachment; detailed accountings of evidence House managers failed to disclose; and a focus on Hunter Biden’s lucrative post at Burisma, a Ukrainian energy firm, was the talk of the Capitol: John Bolton’s forthcoming book.
Over the entire session, only one of Trump lawyers mentioned the bombshell New York Times report in which the former national security adviser wrote that Trump told him he wanted to withhold security aid to Ukraine until it announced investigations into the Bidens.
Asked by reporters about the Bolton report as they streamed into the Senate chamber for the 1 p.m. trial, many Republicans dodged the questions or dismissed the significance of the former security adviser's account — except for four or five senators that Democrats hope will vote to call witnesses later this week.
Meanwhile, House Democrats sent out a steady stream of refutations of the Trump defense team’s case.
Here are highlights from the Senate impeachment trial on Monday.
To knock down the articles of impeachment, Trump’s defense turned to Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel whose investigation led to the impeachment and acquittal of President Bill Clinton. Starr, who called impeachment “hell,” argued that House Democrats failed on abuse of power charges by citing no specific crime. “Will law professors agree with this? No. But with all due respect this is not an academic gathering. You are in court,” Starr said. And the obstruction charge failed because House Democrats conducted an unprecedented and illegitimate impeachment inquiry, choosing to “tear asunder their procedures” and to “toss out their own rule book,” Starr said. “Here we have tragically for the country … in Article II of these impeachment articles a runaway House. It is a runaway not only from its long-standing procedures, it is a runaway from the Constitution's demand of fundamental fairness.”
Focus on Hunter Biden
Trump’s defense team spent two hours arguing that Trump had a good reason to be concerned about then Vice President Joe Biden’s forcing out a Ukrainian prosecutor general who had probed Burisma, which gave Biden’s son Hunter a lucrative post. Trump lawyer Pam Bondi laid out the news reporting and actions by the United Kingdom and U.S. State Department officials about the appearance of a conflict. Trump lawyer Eric D. Herschmann questioned the fact that Biden was following the policy of the United States and its western allies. “From 2014 to 2017, Vice President Biden claimed to be on a crusade against corruption in the Ukraine,” Herschmann said. “But during this whole time what else was happening? His son and his business partner were raking in over $1 million a year for what was regarded as one of the most corrupt Ukrainian companies in the energy sector, owned and controlled by one of the most corrupt oligarchs.”
Dershowitz: Bolton Revelation Irrelevant
The only Trump attorney to mention the Bolton report was Alan Dershowitz, the retired Harvard law professor. “Nothing in the Bolton revelations, even if true, would rise to the level of an abuse of power or an impeachable offense,” Dershowitz declared. “You cannot turn conduct that is not impeachable into impeachable conduct simply by using words like quid pro quo and personal benefits.” Dershowitz said that’s because the articles of impeachment use standardless and vague terms — “abuse of power” and “obstruction of justice” — instead of actual crimes. That is a position he acknowledged is contrary to the academic consensus that he also took during the Clinton impeachment. But he insisted, “My switch in attitude is purely academic and purely nonpartisan.”
Defense: Giuliani a bit player
The Trump defense team sought to downplay the role of Rudy Giuliani — the private lawyer Trump referred his diplomats to about Ukraine and urged that nation's president to talk to. And Giuliani has publicly urged Ukraine to investigate the 2016 U.S. election and the Bidens. But Trump lawyer Jane Raskin downplayed Giuliani’s role. “So yes, Mayor Giuliani was President Trump's personal attorney, but he was not on a political errand,” she said. “He was gathering evidence regarding Ukrainian election interference to defend his client against the false allegations being investigated by special counsel [Robert] Mueller.” Raskin questioned why House managers didn’t call him as a witness and concluded: “Mr. Giuliani is just a minor player, that shiny object designed to distract you.”
Will Bolton Be Called?
After the Bolton report broke, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Monday morning asked, “How can Senate Republicans not vote to call that witness and request his documents?” Some Republicans appeared to be open to the idea. "I think it's increasingly likely that other Republicans will join those of us who think we should hear from John Bolton," Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah.) told reporters. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.) said she is “likely” to vote for witnesses and the book “strengthens the case for witnesses.” And Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said she is “still curious” about what Bolton would say. But Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) summed most of his party’s view: “I think a lot of our members will look at this and say it doesn’t change the basic facts of the case. I don’t think it does.”