WASHINGTON – In a striking shift from President Donald Trump’s claims of “perfect” dealings with Ukraine, his defenders asserted Wednesday at his Senate trial that a trade of U.S. military aid for political favors – even if proven – could not be grounds for his impeachment.
Trump’s defense spotlighted retired professor Alan Dershowitz, a member of their team who said that every politician conflates his own interest with the public interest. Therefore, he declared, “it cannot be impeachable.”
The Republicans are still hoping to wind up the impeachment trial with a rapid acquittal. Democrats are pressing hard for the Senate to call additional witnesses, especially Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton. Bolton’s forthcoming book contends he personally heard Trump say he wanted military aid withheld from Ukraine until it agreed to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden – the abuse of power charge that is the first article of impeachment.
As Chief Justice John Roberts fielded queries in a question-and-answer session, Texas Republican Ted Cruz asked, Does it matter if there was a quid pro quo?
Simply, no, declared Dershowitz, who said that many politicians equate their reelection with the public good.
“That’s why it’s so dangerous to try to psychoanalyze a president,” he said.
Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democrat leading the House prosecutors, appeared stunned.
“All quid pro quos are not the same,” he retorted. Some might be acceptable some not. “And you don’t need to be a mind reader to figure out which is which. For one thing, you can ask John Bolton.”
With voting on witnesses later this week, Democrats, amid the backdrop of protesters swarming the Capitol, are making a last-ditch push to sway Republicans to call Bolton and others to appear for testimony and ensure a “fair trial.”
Trump faces charges from the House that he abused his power like no other president, jeopardizing Ukraine and U.S.-Ukraine relations by using the military aid as leverage while the vulnerable ally battled Russia. The second article of impeachment says Trump then obstructed the House probe in a way that threatened the nation’s three-branch system of checks and balances.
Over two days, senators are grilling the House Democrats prosecuting the case and the Republican president’s defense team. Dozens of questions were asked and answered Wednesday in rapid-fire fashion, with senators under orders to sit silently without comment, submitting their questions in writing. They expect to keep going Thursday.
Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer asked whether the Senate could really render a fair verdict without hearing from Bolton or acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, both potential eye witnesses to Trump’s actions.
“Don’t wait for the book. Don’t wait ’til March 17, when it is in black and white to find out the answer to your question,” Schiff told the Senate.
That publication date is now in doubt. The White House on Wednesday released a letter to Bolton’s attorney objecting to “significant amounts of classified information” in the manuscript, including at the top secret level. Bolton and his attorney have insisted that the book does not contain any classified information.
The White House action could delay the book’s publication if Bolton, who resigned last September – Trump says he was fired – is forced to revise his draft.
GOP senators are straining to balance the new revelations with pressure for quick acquittal. They have been sternly warned by party leaders that calling Bolton as a witness could entangle the trial in lengthy legal battles and delay Trump’s expected acquittal.
White House lawyers made exactly that point. Attorney Pat Philbin said in response to the Democrats’ first question: “This institution will effectively be paralyzed for months.” It was echoed by others.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell huddled privately with senators for a third consecutive day, acknowledging he didn’t yet have the votes to brush back Democratic demands for witnesses now that revelations from Bolton have roiled the trial.