Trump Lawyers Largely Ignore Bolton Revelations in Senate Trial

Steven T. Dennis, Laura Litvan, Mike Dorning and Jordan Fabian

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump’s lawyers largely avoided the explosive allegation in former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s book that the president tied aid to Ukraine to an investigation of a political rival as they sought to undermine the House impeachment case.

Over the course of eight hours on Monday, Trump’s attorneys continued to rely heavily on the lack of firsthand evidence in the House argument that Trump held up release of military aid for Ukraine to pressure its government for help to tarnish former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential challenger to the president in November. They urged senators to block Democratic efforts to seek new witness testimony at the Senate trial.

Trump’s lawyers will wrap up their defense of the president on Tuesday starting at 1 p.m. EST.

In the manuscript of his book, Bolton wrote that in August the president told him he didn’t want to send $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until the government there turned over material related to Biden, according to the New York Times, citing unnamed people who had seen the draft.

“We deal with transcript evidence, we deal with publicly available information. We do not deal with speculation, allegations that are not based on evidentiary standards at all,” Trump attorney Jay Sekulow said.

One Trump lawyer, constitutional law professor Alan Dershowitz, said the reports about the book didn’t rise to the level of impeachment.

“Nothing in the Bolton revelations, even if true, would rise to the level of an abuse of power or an impeachable offense,” Dershowitz said near the end of the day’s presentations.

Two key GOP senators, Susan Collins and Mitt Romney, said the leak about Bolton’s unpublished manuscript has prompted new discussions among Republicans about subpoenaing witnesses. Trump ally Lindsey Graham told a Washington Post reporter he wants the White House to give senators a copy of Bolton’s book manuscript to determine whether Bolton should be called.

Trump’s lawyers, meanwhile, argued that the president was justified in wanting to probe possible corruption in the appointment of Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, to the board of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy company that had been embroiled in controversy.

“All we are saying is that there was a basis to talk about this, to raise this issue, and that is enough,” Trump lawyer Pam Bondi said.

Here’s the Story on Impeachment, Trump and Ukraine: QuickTake

Bondi, a former Florida attorney general, focused on Burisma corruption allegations and concerns raised in media reports at the time about potential conflicts posed by the vice president’s son position on the board. She played video excerpts and pull-out quotes from coverage by major news organizations, including ABC and the Washington Post.

Top Democrats were clearly perturbed. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and his deputy, Dick Durbin, stared straight ahead and didn’t look at the video monitors as she displayed the excerpts. Dianne Feinstein, another senior Democrat, sat with her arms folded tightly in front of her. John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican, gave Bondi a fist bump and thumbs up after the defense wrapped for a dinner break.

House Democrats contend that claims of any wrongdoing involving the former vice president’s son amount to debunked conspiracy theories. Then-Ukrainian prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko said in a May 2019 interview with Bloomberg News that Hunter Biden “did not violate any Ukrainian laws.” Trump’s former special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, in his testimony to the House inquiry also rejected the idea that Joe Biden’s work in Ukraine was influenced by his son’s position.

Potential Delays

Disclosure of Bolton’s statements in his book revived talk among some of Trump’s defenders, including Graham and Josh Hawley, of calling witnesses who Trump wants to testify. Hawley has prepared a series of motions to subpoena testimony and documents from Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence chairman who led the impeachment inquiry; the still-anonymous intelligence community whistle-blower; and Biden and his son, who was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.

A long lineup of witnesses likely would extend the trial by weeks or months, and it’s not clear there are 51 Republican votes to bring in either Biden.

Democrats Monday morning said the revelations bolster their case for witnesses and reiterated their demand for a subpoena for acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney as well.

Bolton wrote that Mulvaney was among several top cabinet officials who had knowledge of Trump’s demands. A lawyer for the acting chief of staff said he denies Bolton’s assertion.

Romney said Monday he has been talking to other senators and believes it is now “increasingly likely” that there will be enough Republicans to call Bolton to testify.

‘Weeks and Months’

GOP leaders pushed back on that assertion.

“Unless there’s a witness who’s going to change the outcome, I can’t imagine why we’d want to stretch this out for weeks and months,” Missouri Republican Senator Roy Blunt, a member of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s leadership team, said. “And if we call any witnesses who are subject to privilege, it would take weeks and months.”

The debate over witnesses caused rifts within the Senate’s Republican majority. Georgia’s Kelly Loeffler, who was recently appointed to fill an open seat, said on Twitter that Romney “wants to appease the left by calling witnesses who will slander the @realDonaldTrump during their 15 minutes of fame.”

Echoing GOP leaders, Trump attorney Patrick Philbin made the argument that the Senate should not add to the evidence collected by the House, lest that become the new norm for presidents.

‘Age of Impeachment’

In an ironic twist, Trump’s defense turned to President Bill Clinton’s prosecutor, Kenneth Starr, to complain that impeachments are becoming too common.

“We are living in what I think can aptly be described as the age of impeachment,” said Starr, who investigated Clinton for years as independent counsel.

Starr said that after the Clinton impeachment both parties decided “enough was enough” and allowed the independent counsel statute to expire.

But, he said, “the impeachment habit proved to be hard to kick.”

Trump’s defenders have up to 12 hours under the rules to complete their case on Tuesday, followed by 16 hours of senators’ questions likely to last another two days.

That sets up Friday as the likely key day for voting on whether to consider motions calling witnesses or subpoenaing documents. If successful, senators could offer and debate motions on witnesses. If Republican leaders succeed in blocking new evidence, the Senate would move quickly to a final vote where senators would vote “guilty” or “not guilty” on the two charges against Trump -- abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

--With assistance from Daniel Flatley and Billy House.

To contact the reporters on this story: Steven T. Dennis in Washington at sdennis17@bloomberg.net;Laura Litvan in Washington at llitvan@bloomberg.net;Mike Dorning in Washington at mdorning@bloomberg.net;Jordan Fabian in Washington at jfabian6@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kevin Whitelaw at kwhitelaw@bloomberg.net, Bill Faries, John Harney

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