WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s defense team wrapped up its opening arguments in the impeachment trial just before 3 p.m. Tuesday, urging senators not to remove him from office.
The House voted to impeach Trump in December, charging him with abuse of power — for withholding aid to Ukraine until the country agreed to announce an investigation into former vice president Joe Biden and his family — as well as obstructing Congress during the House’s impeachment inquiry on the issue.
“I have every confidence — every confidence in your wisdom you will do the only thing you can do, what you must do, what the Constitution compels you to do, reject these articles of impeachment for our country and for the American people,” White House Counsel Pat Cipollone told senators in his closing statement Tuesday afternoon. “It will show that you put the Constitution above partisanship. It will show that we can come together on both sides of the aisle and end the era of impeachment for good. … It will allow you all to spend all of your energy and all of your enormous talent and all of your resources on doing what the American people sent you here to do, to work together, to work with the president to solve their problems. So this should end now as quickly as possible.”
Now that the president’s defense has concluded, the trial has ended for the day. Senators will return Wednesday at 1 p.m. to begin a 16-hour question-and-answer period, for which senators can submit written questions to both legal teams. Since they are required to be silent as jurors in the trial, senators will write down their questions and Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the trial, will ask them.
During a press conference Monday morning, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he has not given Democrats guidelines as to what they can ask, but they’ll avoid duplicating any questions.
On Monday, Trump’s defense attorneys argued House Democrats failed to present enough evidence, even as an explosive report from the New York Times emerged suggesting Trump gave direct orders to John Bolton, his former national security adviser, to withhold aid to Ukraine until it announced the Biden investigation — exactly what he has been impeached for. Bolton’s account could fill the last gap in the House impeachment case by offering a firsthand account of Trump’s demand.
Trump’s legal team leveled a two-pronged attack at Bolton on Tuesday, saying the allegations in his upcoming book are not credible — but even if they were, they are not impeachable.
Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow dismissed the claims as Bolton looking to sell more copies of his book. He referred to the subject of the Times report as “an unpublished manuscript that maybe some reporters have an idea of maybe what it says. I mean, that’s what the evidence — if you want to call that evidence — I don’t know what you’d call that. I’d call it inadmissible.”
Several Republicans have said they want to see a copy of the manuscript, while Democrats and Republican Sen. Mitt Romney want to hear from Bolton personally in the Senate trial. Senators will vote on whether to allow witnesses at all in the case later this week, likely Friday.
But Sekulow also argued Tuesday that even if Bolton’s account were accurate, the president’s actions are not impeachable, because he has not committed any crime. Sekulow told the Senate that the articles of impeachment must be rejected “even if there was a quid pro quo, which we clearly have established there was not.”
Rep. Adam Schiff, who is leading the Democratic prosecution against Trump, dismissed Sekulow’s argument Tuesday. “Once again, the president’s team — in a way that only they could — have further made the case for calling John Bolton,” he told reporters.
Previously, Trump’s defense team has argued that the president’s actions were justified. They claimed over the course of arguments on Saturday and Monday: The president has the right to withhold aid when he wants, Democrats held ”secret” hearings hampering due process, and there was no quid pro quo — because, after all, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky never announced an investigation into Biden and the aid money was eventually released.
Democrats have countered that the aid was only released after government officials started raising questions about whether the hold was illegal and after a whistleblower filed a complaint about Trump’s request to Zelensky.
Michael Purpura, the deputy White House counsel, argued the president was awaiting information on anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine before releasing the security assistance. Schiff told reporters Monday that if the president were interested in corruption, he would have launched an actual investigation rather than requesting that Zelensky announce one.
“This case is about a president of the United States shaking down the president of Ukraine by withholding hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid and a coveted Oval Office meeting to get him to help in cheating in the next election,” Schiff told reporters during a break from the trial Tuesday.
Following the White House’s presentation Tuesday, Democratic Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama told reporters he is considering voting separately on the articles of impeachment, potentially voting to remove Trump from office for one, but not the other. “It’s not in for a penny, in for a pound,” he said.
The Q&A portion of the trial is expected to take up Wednesday and Thursday. Senators are then expected to vote on whether to include additional evidence outside of the House’s impeachment inquiry, including calling witnesses to testify. Democrats likely need 51 votes to allow witnesses, which means they would need at least four Republicans to break party lines on the issue. Republicans have largely resisted the idea of calling witnesses, but Romney and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine have said they are open to it.
“I would like to hear from John Bolton. I’ve said that for some time, in part because of the fact that he’s been one-on-one with the president,” Romney told reporters Monday.
Democrats have indicated that they are interested in hearing directly from Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. A central figure in the Ukraine saga, Mulvaney acknowledged in October that the president had withheld aid to the country in exchange for investigations into the Bidens as well as the 2016 election.