Trump legal team begins second day of arguments under Bolton furor
President Trump’s legal team is beginning its second day of arguments against his impeachment under a cloud of controversy on Monday following new revelations about former national security adviser John Bolton’s alleged knowledge of the Ukraine affair.
Monday’s proceedings are expected to feature an appearance from Harvard Law professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz, who plans to argue that House Democrats’ case — even if proven — should be dismissed by the Senate because the articles of impeachment do not allege criminal wrongdoing by Trump.
A number of legal experts have disputed Dershowitz’s argument that a crime is required in order to impeach and remove a president from office.
Dershowitz told The Hill in a brief phone interview that he would likely be speaking toward the end of the day on Monday and that Ken Starr, the former independent counsel who investigated President Clinton, is also expected to have a speaking role on Monday.
An official familiar with the strategy said the defense team planned to use no more than eight hours on Monday and would not rest its case, continuing arguments into Tuesday.
The president’s legal team brandished their first opening arguments during an abbreviated appearance on the Senate floor Saturday, accusing House Democrats of asking senators to “tear up all of the ballots across this country” by impeaching Trump in an election year.
They also offered methodical arguments against some of the allegations at the center of the House impeachment managers’ case, framing it as reliant on secondhand and incomplete information while maintaining the president did nothing wrong.
The lawyers specifically disputed the claim that Trump tied aid to Ukraine to the investigations by picking apart witness testimony and asserting that the White House was in the right to ignore subpoenas because the House proceedings were unfair to the president.
But the tone of the proceedings has shifted significantly since the Senate last convened on Saturday.
The New York Times reported Sunday night that Bolton wrote in the manuscript of his upcoming memoir that Trump said in an August meeting that he did not want to release nearly $400 million in security aid for Ukraine until the country agreed to help with investigations into his political rivals.
Trump has denied that he made the comments to Bolton, and the White House and some of the president’s allies have raised questions about the timing of the leak regarding Bolton’s book and his motivations.
“I think the timing of this is very, very suspect,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said on Fox News. “Suddenly this manuscript has magically appeared in the hands of The New York Times, making very, very big claims.”
“It seems awfully manipulated, the whole sequence,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told reporters.
The Times’s report undercuts a central defense of the White House — that Trump never explicitly made security aid contingent on investigations — and has only increased pressure on Republican senators to agree to hear new testimony from Bolton and other witnesses. Multiple reports indicated GOP senators were caught off guard by the report.
As a result, the president’s defense team may try to tailor its arguments on Monday to convince senators that the case against Trump is so flimsy it does not require hearing additional evidence.
“I think that the Bolton book and revelations about Trump and Ukraine substantially increases the difficulty for the defense today,” said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, who predicted there will be more pressure for Republican senators to support hearing from Bolton and possibly others like White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told reporters Monday morning that he believes it is more likely that other Republican senators will support subpoenaing Bolton as a witness following the explosive report.
“It’s pretty fair to say John Bolton has relevant testimony,” Romney said. “I think it’s increasingly likely that other Republicans will join those of us who think we should hear from John Bolton.”
But other Republicans dismissed the new revelations as inconsequential, casting doubt on Bolton’s reliability and suggesting the trial was still on track to end with a quick acquittal vote for the president.
“To me, the facts of the case remain the same,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), a member of GOP leadership, told reporters. “There is nothing new here to what the House managers have been saying.”
Trump and his legal team have highlighted public statements from Ukrainian officials stating the president did not pressure the country, something they’re likely to continue to do in contesting Bolton’s account as reported by the Times.
On Saturday, they focused on testimony from U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland that Trump told him he wanted “no quid pro quo” with Ukraine, while characterizing other testimony suggesting Trump tied the military assistance to investigations as either hearsay or speculation.
Trump’s lawyers have also pointed to the fact that the aid eventually flowed to Ukraine and that Trump met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York — without Kyiv announcing the probes — in September.
“The latest New York Times report may provide fodder for a political narrative, but it doesn’t change the facts. And in reality, the facts haven’t changed since day one of this circus,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), one of the House members advising Trump’s defense team, said in a statement Monday morning, warning against believing “misinformed leaks.”
“The President will be exonerated. I look forward to seeing his legal team continue to make the case today,” Meadows said.
Democrats, meanwhile, have seized on the revelations as necessitating Bolton’s testimony and dealing a blow to Trump’s defense in the impeachment trial.
A House Democratic aide working on the impeachment trial said Monday morning that the news of Bolton’s account “puts the lie” to Trump’s argument — advanced by his lawyers on Saturday — that the president was simply leery of Ukrainian corruption in general and was not targeting political rivals in particular. Bolton’s revelations also lend credence to the Democrats’ allegations that Trump obstructed Congress, the aide added, while highlighting the importance of calling first-hand witnesses during the Senate trial.
“We see the kind of explosive evidence that the president has been hiding,” the aide said.
Trump last week argued that Bolton’s testimony would create “a national security problem,” and the White House is reportedly weighing the option of seeking a court order to block his testimony if the Senate votes to have him appear.
Democrats are already challenging that strategy, noting that the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that claims of executive privilege by President Nixon did not empower the White House to withhold subpoenaed information from congressional investigators.
Mike Lillis contributed to this report, which was updated at 1:03 p.m.