‘It is not a game of leaks and unsourced manuscripts…’
(Liberty Headlines) Republican leaders do not yet have the votes to block Democrats’ insistence for more witnesses at President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell conceded to fellow GOP senators late Tuesday.
It could be a major hurdle for Trump’s recently expressed hopes to end the trial with a quick acquittal—although the president also has endorsed a lengthy trial that would help exonerate him by putting on the stand witnesses such as Joe and Hunter Biden, House impeachment manager Adam Schiff and the so-called whistleblower.
Democrats, meanwhile, are demanding several witnesses, especially John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser.
According to anonymous sources in a recent New York Times report, Bolton claims in a forthcoming book that Trump told him he wanted to withhold military aid from Ukraine until it helped with investigations into the Bidens.
Although that investigation never was re-opened, it forms the crux of the current impeachment debate, with questions raised by both sides in the opening arguments of the trial as to whether Trump was justified in asking newly elected Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate during a July 25 phone call.
Notwithstanding, Trump’s defense attorneys—including heavy-hitters Kenneth Starr and Alan Dershowitz—argued that the accusations made by House Democrats did not rise to meet the historical standard of impeachment since they failed to establish the actual commission of a crime.
The defense attorneys, led by co-counsels Pat Cipollone and Jay Sekulow, concluded on Tuesday, meaning that the Senate will now move into a phase of questioning that is expected to last two additional days before any potential witness vote would be taken.
A decision to call more witnesses would require 51 votes to pass. With a 53-47 majority, Republicans can only afford to lose three. Both Sens. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, have indicated that they expect to vote for witnesses.
If senators agree they want more witnesses they would then have to vote again on which ones to call.
While dismissing the claims about Bolton’s manuscript, Trump and the Republicans have strongly resisted summoning Bolton to testify in person about what he saw and heard as Trump’s top national security adviser.
They contend that his testimony likely would fall under the long-held auspices of executive privilege, which all past presidents have invoked to avoid sensitive discussions from damaging national interests.
Republicans also have contended that the House Democrats’ failure to do a thorough job in their own investigative work to present the impeachment case did little to justify allowing the already dubious case to drag on for days—if not weeks—further.
Many have noted that the dull proceedings have failed to garner public interest as they did in the salacious sex scandals involving former President Bill Clinton.
According to data compiled by C-SPAN, the House managers used just under 22 of their 24 hours over three days, while the White House team used almost 12 hours, or half their time.
Senate Republicans spent two days behind closed doors discussing ideas to satisfy those who want to hear more testimony without prolonging the proceedings.
However, those negotiations lost steam, and Democrats—whose primary goal is to undermine and damage both Trump and their Senate colleagues in the 2020 election—have shown no interest in brokering a compromise after fully investing in their bold impeachment gambit.
“We’re not bargaining with them. We want four witnesses, and four sets of documents, then the truth will come out,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY.
Schumer, the Senate’s top Democrat, called a proposal for senators to be shown the manuscript in private, keeping Bolton out of public testimony, “absurd.”
Some Republicans, including Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, want reciprocity—bring in Bolton or another Democratic witness in exchange for one from the GOP side—most likely Hunter Biden, who received millions of dollars in “consulting” fees on the board of a corrupt Ukrainian gas company when his father was vice president.
A day after the defense team largely brushed past Bolton, Sekulow addressed the controversy head-on by dismissing his manuscript—said to contradict a key defense argument about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine—as “inadmissible.”
“It is not a game of leaks and unsourced manuscripts,” Sekulow said.
The argument built on a separate one Monday night from Dershowitz, who said that nothing in the manuscript—even if true—rises to the level of an impeachable offense.
Sekulow also sought to undermine the credibility of Bolton’s book by noting that Attorney General William Barr has disputed comments attributed to him by Bolton.
The legal team also delved into areas that Democrats see as outside the scope of impeachment, chastising former FBI Director James Comey and seizing on surveillance errors the FBI has acknowledged making in its Russian election interference probe.
Trump’s attorneys argued that the Founding Fathers took care to make sure that impeachment was narrowly defined, with offenses clearly enumerated.
“The bar for impeachment cannot be set this low,” Sekulow said. “Danger. Danger. Danger. These articles must be rejected. The Constitution requires it. Justice demands it.”
Before consideration of witnesses, the case now moves toward written questions, with senators on both sides getting 16 hours to pose queries. By late in the week, they are expected to hold a vote on whether or not to hear from any witnesses.
“I don’t know that the manuscript would make any difference in the outcome of the trial,” said Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of GOP leadership. And some Republicans said they simply don’t trust Bolton’s word.
Rand Paul of Kentucky called Bolton “disgruntled”’ and seeking to make money off his time at the White house.
Trump and his lawyers have argued repeatedly that Democrats are using impeachment to try to undo the results of the last presidential election and drive Trump from office.
On Tuesday, as he was resting his case, Cipollone played video clips from House Democrats during the presidential impeachment of Bill Clinton—including several who are now managers of the Trump impeachment trial—portraying them as hypocritical for sounding the alarm then about the partisan dangers of impeachment.
“What they are asking you do is to throw out a successful president on the eve of an election, with no basis, and in violation of the Constitution,” Cipollone said. “Why not trust the American people with this decision? Why tear up their ballots?”
No matter the vote on witness, acquittal still seems likely given that Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate and conviction would require a two-thirds majority.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press