President Donald Trump’s lawyers hit the Senate floor Monday for the second day of defense arguments in his impeachment trial, amid what Democrats called a bombshell from a forthcoming book by the president’s former national security adviser, John Bolton.
The Bolton book wasn’t a direct topic during the arguments. But the president’s lawyers addressed the underlying allegation that Trump withheld military aid from Ukraine for weeks to pressure the former Soviet republic to investigate dealings there by former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.
The president’s lawyers also made their strongest case yet as to why Trump had reason to inquire about the Bidens and Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company where the younger Biden had a lucrative job from 2014 to 2019.
Democrats’ allegation that Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy by putting a hold on the $391 million in aid was the basis for the House’s Dec. 18 impeachment of the president on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress—neither of which is a federal crime.
Here are highlights from the sixth full day of the Senate impeachment trial, in which House Democrats are asking the Senate to convict Trump and remove him from office.
1. Bolton Book Fallout
The New York Times reported Sunday that Bolton’s upcoming book will say Trump told his national security adviser that he would keep a hold on military aid to Ukraine until that country investigated the Bidens’ dealings there.
Portions of the Bolton book apparently were leaked to the Times. The White House has had a copy of the book since Dec. 30 for a national security review and clearance.
Titled “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir,” the book is set to be released March 17.
Trump responded shortly after midnight on Twitter, asserting at one point early Monday: “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.”
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer had a far different take Monday morning, before the Senate convened for the impeachment trial at 1 p.m.
“This is stunning. It goes right to the charges against the president. Ambassador Bolton essentially confirms the president committed the offenses charged in the first article of impeachment,” Schumer told reporters, adding:
It boils down to one thing. We have first-hand evidence of the president’s actions for which he is on trial. [Bolton] is ready and willing to testify. How can Senate Republicans not vote to call that witness and request his documents? Anyone, anyone who says the House case lacks witnesses and then votes to prevent eyewitnesses from testifying is talking out of both sides of their mouth.
Schumer said the excerpt of Bolton’s book is evidence of a widespread cover-up and shows the need to call acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney as a witness at the impeachment trial.
“There seems to be a giant cover-up among so many of the leading people in the White House who knew and said nothing about it, let alone tried to stop it,” Schumer said, later adding: “If Senate Republicans are not going to vote to call Mr. Bolton and Mr. Mulvaney and the other witnesses now, if they are not going to ask for notes and emails, they are going to be part of the cover-up too. We have this out in the open. It’s up to just four Senate Republicans [to join Democrats in voting to hear from witnesses].”
A few minutes later, during an arrival ceremony Monday for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House South Portico, Trump took a question about whether the manuscript of Bolton’s book would make it more likely his former national security adviser would testify to the Senate.
“I haven’t seen the manuscript, but I can tell you nothing was ever said to John Bolton.” Trump said. “But I have not seen a manuscript.”
Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, told reporters that the Senate shouldn’t be distracted from the defense of the president being presented Monday.
“Do not get distracted by the shiny objects of saying ‘We need witnesses’ or Bolton’s new manuscript or anything else,” Collins said. “Don’t lose sight of the fact that the facts haven’t changed.”
The Senate is expected to vote on witnesses Friday.
2. ‘Acting Under Constitutional Authority’
The president’s lawyers hit back
both directly and indirectly on the Bolton manuscript.
“Nothing in the Bolton manuscript
would rise to the level of an abuse of power or impeachable offense,” said Alan
Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor and Democrat who voted for Hillary Clinton
in 2016, but is now part of the Trump legal team.
“That is clear from the history, that is clear from the language of the Constitution,” Dershowitz said, adding:
You cannot turn conduct that is not impeachment into impeachable conduct simply by using words like quid pro quo and personal benefit. It is inconceivable that the framers [of the Constitution] would have intended so politically loaded and promiscuously deployed a term as ‘abuse of power’ to be weaponized as a tool of impeachment. It is precisely the kind of vague, open-ended, and suggestive term that the framers feared and rejected.
Other lawyers tackled the underlying allegation that Trump wanted Ukraine to investigate the Bidens—as well as possible Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election—in exchange for getting the $391 million in congressionally approved security assistance.
“The president wasn’t ‘caught,’ as the House managers allege. The managers are wrong,” deputy White House counsel Mike Purpura said. “All of this, together with what we discussed on Saturday, demonstrates that there was no connection between security assistance and investigations.”
This assertion appeared to take on directly news reports of what a section of the Bolton book will say.
Trump’s personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow, didn’t address the Bolton book at all when he took the microphone. But he did argue that Trump was acting within his rights as president.
“It is our position as president’s counsel that the president was at all times acting under his constitutional authority, under his legal authority, in the national interests pursuant to his oath of office,” Sekulow told senators.
“Asking a foreign leader to get to the bottom of issues of corruption is not a violation of an oath,” he said.
3. The Bidens and Burisma
Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, now on Trump’s defense team, laid out a timeline for potential conflicts of interest entangling Joe Biden, who oversaw the Obama administration’s Ukraine policy, and his son, Hunter Biden, who held a lucrative seat on the board of Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company.
“The United Kingdom’s Serious Frauds Office opens a money laundering investigation into the oligarch [Mykola] Zlochevsky and his company, Burisma,” Bondi said. “The very next month, April 2014, according to a public report, Hunter Biden quietly joints the board of Burisma. Remember, early 2014 was when Vice President Biden began leading Ukraine policy.”
Bondi noted that public records show the younger Biden’s business partner Devon Archer, also a Burisma board member, met with the elder Biden at the White House two days before the company announced Hunter Biden had joined the board.
“Not even 10 days after Hunter Biden joins the board, British authorities seize $23 million in British bank accounts connected to the oligarch Zlochevsky, the owner of Burisma,” she said, adding:
Did Hunter Biden leave the board then? No. The British authorities had also announced that it had started a criminal investigation into potential money laundering. Then, only then, did the company choose to announce that Hunter Biden had joined the board.
In 2016, Biden, as vice president, threatened to withhold $1 billion in U.S. aid from Ukraine unless the Eastern European nation fired Viktor Shokin, the state prosecutor who was investigating Burisma while Biden’s son was on the board.
Bondi noted that news coverage of the appearance of a conflict over the younger Biden’s employment in Ukraine began to pop up in 2014. She read from news clips from The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The New Yorker, and showed part of a story from ABC News about Hunter Biden’s seat on the Burisma board.
Hunter Biden, Bondi said, was paid “significantly more” than most members of corporate boards before leaving Burisma in October 2019.
“Hunter Biden [was] paid over $83,000 a month, while the average American family of four during that time each year made less than $54,000,” Bondi said, adding:
Hunter Biden had no experience in natural gas, no experience in the energy sector, no experience with Ukrainian regulatory affairs. As far as we know, he doesn’t speak Ukrainian. So naturally, the media has asked questions about his board membership.
Bondi also showed a clip of Obama press secretary Jay Carney getting a question about Hunter Biden’s role on the Burisma board, and a later clip of the younger Biden being asked in a TV interview whether he would have gotten the job on the board if his last name weren’t Biden. “I don’t know, probably not,” he responds.
Bondi referred to the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment hearings, which Rep. Adam Schiff, one of the House impeachment managers, chaired.
“Every witness who was asked about Hunter Biden’s involvement with Burisma agreed there was a potential appearance of a conflict of interest,” she said.
She read the portion of the official transcript of the Trump-Zelenskyy call that pertained to the Bidens. She then referred to House prosecutors’ claim that any suspicions about the Bidens and Burisma had been “debunked.”
“The House managers talked about 400 times, but they never gave you the full picture,” Bondi said, adding:
Here are those who did: The United Kingdom Serious Fraud Unit, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent … “ABC Good Morning America,” The Washington Post, The New York Times, Ukrainian law enforcement, and the Obama State Department itself. They all thought there was cause to raise the issue about the Bidens and Burisma. …
You’ve heard from the House managers. They do not believe that there was any concern to raise here, that all of this was baseless. All we are saying is that there was a basis to talk about this, to raise this issue, and that was enough.
Eric Herschmann, one of Trump’s private lawyers on the team, also questioned whether impeachment was a means to distract from the Biden conflict.
The House managers say that President Zelenskyy did not want to get mixed up in U.S. politics, but it precisely the Democrats who politicized the issue. Last August, they began circling the wagons trying to protect Vice President Biden and they are still doing it in these proceedings. They contend that any investigation into the millions of dollars in payments by a corrupt Ukraine company, owned by a corrupt Ukraine oligarch, to the son of the second highest officeholder in our land, who was supposed to be in charge of fighting corruption in Ukraine, they are calling that kind of inquiry a sham, debunked. But there has never been an investigation. So how can it be a sham? Simply because the House managers say so?
4. Schiff’s ‘Mob, Gangster-Like Fake Rendition’
In September, at the first public hearing on the Ukraine matter, Schiff, D-Calif., who is leading the House impeachment managers, mischaracterized the Trump-Zelenskyy phone call and when criticized for it, called it a parody.
During his presentation to the Senate, Herschmann was not going to let the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee off easily.
“Remember the fake transcript that manager Schiff read when he was before the Intelligence Committee?” Herschmann asked seantors. “His mob, gangster-like fake rendition of the call?”
“Well, I’ve prosecuted organized crime for years,” Herschmann said. “The type of description of what goes on, what House manager Schiff tried to create for the American people, is completely detached from reality.”
It is as if we are to believe that mobsters would invite people they do not know into an organized crime meeting to sit around and take notes to establish the corrupt intent. Manager Schiff, our jobs as prosecutors—I know you were one—would have been a lot easier if that were how it worked.
Think about what he is saying. Think about the managers’ position. That our president decided with corrupt intent to shake down—in their words—another foreign leader. And he decided to do it in front of everyone in a documented conversation in the presence of people he didn’t even know just so he could get this personal benefit that was not in our country’s best interest.
The logic is flawed. It is completely illogical, because that is not what happened.
That is why manager Schiff ran away from the actual transcript. That is why he created his own fake conversation.
5. Ken Starr’s Warning and History Lesson
Ken Starr, whose investigation as independent counsel led to the 1998 impeachment of President Bill Clinton, gave a mixture of a law professor’s lecture and a warning of what the power of impeachment has wrought.
“Like war, impeachment is hell, or at least presidential impeachment is hell,” Starr told senators, sitting as jurors in the trial.
Starr noted that this was not the first House resolution of impeachment against Trump, only the first to pass.
Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., began in 2017 to promote the “Impeach 45” movement.
Most of the seven House impeachment managers, or prosecutors, supported either impeaching Trump or beginning an impeachment inquiry against him long before the call with Ukraine’s leader that prompted the current case.
“We are living in what can aptly be described as the age of impeachment,” Starr said, adding:
In the House, resolution after resolution, month after month, has called for the president’s impeachment. How did we get here? With presidential impeachment invoked frequently in its inherently destabilizing as well as acrimonious way.
Presidential impeachment has become a weapon to be wielded against one’s political opponent.
Starr said impeachment should be a “very important protection against serious wrongdoing.”
Despite having brought the case against Clinton that led to his acquittal, Starr said: “Presidents are to serve out their terms unless there is a national consensus for their removal.”
In 1998, Starr was operating under the now-expired independent counsel law that required the prosecutor to submit a report to Congress.
During his impeachment trial, Clinton was in his second term as president with another two years remaining, and would not face voters again for that office. By contrast, voters can hold Trump accountable when he seeks reelection in November 2020.
“There is a huge prudential factor that this trial is occurring in an election year, when we the people in a matter of months will go to the polls,” Starr said.
Both of the articles of impeachment against Trump, he said, are “dripping with process violations” in the House’s case.
Starr said the type of case the House has brought against Trump would be thrown out of court.
“The Constitution speaks in terms of establishing justice. Courts would not allow this,” Starr said. “Because why? They knew and they know that the purpose of our founding instrument is to protect our founding liberties, to safeguard us as individuals against the powers of government.”
Starr argued that the second article of impeachment, alleging obstruction of Congress, is evidence of a “runaway House.”
“If there is a dispute between the people’s House and the president of the United States over the availability of documents or witnesses, and there is in each and every administration—then go to court,” Starr said. “It really is as simple as that.”
6. Trump Program Notes and Other Reaction
Before his legal team resumed its case Monday morning, Trump sent several tweets. But he mostly retweeted during the arguments.
At one point, Trump inquired why Schiff, who is leading the impeachment managers, hasn’t made public the full transcript of testimony by Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community’s inspector general, to the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors.
Atkinson took the anonymous whistleblower’s complaint that arose out of Trump’s July 25 phone call to Ukraine’s president.
Later, the president gave a programming note to his Twitter followers:
Ken McIntyre contributed to this report, which has been modified to correct the amount of Burisma-related assets seized by the United Kingdom.
Other coverage of the impeachment trial for The Daily Signal by White House correspondent Fred Lucas includes: