WASHINGTON — The lawyers representing President Donald Trump in the Senate impeachment trial closed out opening arguments the way they started: short and sweet.
For less than two hours, the legal team summarized its case against the abuse of power and obstruction of Congress articles of impeachment. They said the articles fail constitutionally, and that Trump did not delay aid to Ukraine in an attempt to pressure the country into investigating Trump’s rivals; rather, he was concerned with corruption in that country and burden sharing among other countries.
The defense team’s arguments closed out this portion of the Senate trial. Senators will have 16 hours for written questions that will be read by the chief justice, slated to begin Wednesday.
Here’s what happened Tuesday:
‘Danger, danger, danger. That’s politics.’
Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow asked senators to put themselves in the shoes of the president, who he said has been “under investigation” since before he was in office, and warned that removing Trump office under what he said was a low standard for impeachment would set a dangerous precedent for future presidents. He put the focus on the politics of the impeachment, and said he would not rehash the evidence put forth by the defense team on Monday.
“Put yourself in the shoes of not just this president, of any president that would have been under this type of attack,” Sekulow said.
“You are being asked to remove a duly elected present of the United States,” Sekulow said. “You are being asked to do it in an election year.”
Sekulow and the president’s deputy counsel Patrick Philbin said that the articles of impeachment fail constitutionally, pushing against the case Democratic impeachment managers laid out to defend the legal application of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress during their three days of presentation.
Catch up on Democrats’ arguments:House managers take impeachment back to 1999 and other moments from the trial arguments
Trump lawyer makes opposite case:Alan Dershowitz tells Senate that impeachment is unconstitutional
Philbin said that the accusations from Democrats are really a policy dispute, and that Trump has the power in the office of president to establish and carry out foreign policy, including by concerning himself with corruption in foreign countries.
Trump’s White House counsel Pat Cipollone also argued that the accusations in the two articles of impeachment were too vague to justify removing a president from office.
“They fall far short of any constitutional standard and they are dangerous,” Cipollone said.
To make his point, Cipollone played a series of videos from Democrats decrying the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton in 1998. Clinton was tried, but not removed from office. Two of the lawmakers – Reps. Jerry Nadler of New York and Zoe Lofgren of California – are managers prosecuting Trump’s case. Three others – Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Chuck Schumer of New York and Bob Menendez of New Jersey – were Democratic House members at that time and are now senators sitting in judgment of Trump.
Sekulow pointed out that some Democratic senators acting as jurors in the impeachment trial are currently running for president, and called out House Democratic leaders for holding onto the impeachment articles after stressing urgency during the impeachment inquiry.
“It was so significant, the country was in such jeopardy, the jeopardy was so serious that it had to be done immediately,” Sekulow said. “But, hold on to the articles of impeachment for a month to see if the House could force the Senate to adopt rules that they wanted.”
“It was such a dire emergency, it was so critical for our nation’s national interest that we could hold them for 33 days,” Sekulow continued. “Danger, danger, danger. That’s politics.”
He repeated: ‘Danger, danger, danger. These articles must be rejected. The Constitution requires it. Justice demands it.”
Lawyers: Even if a quid pro quo existed, it would not be impeachable
The president’s lawyers acknowledged the revelation first reported Sunday that John Bolton, former national security adviser, wrote in his forthcoming book that Trump told him military aid was linked to investigations. Trump has denied the allegation.
The legal defense team’s argument: Even if Bolton’s account is correct, there is no impeachable offense.
“Responding to an unpublished manuscript that maybe some reporters have an idea of maybe what it says,” Sekulow said. “I don’t know what you’d call that. I’d call it inadmissible. That’s what it is.”
Sekulow repeated the point made by Alan Dershowitz, a celebrity lawyer on Trump’s team, from Monday evening. He said that there was no quid pro quo, but even if there were, it wouldn’t matter constitutionally.
“Even if it was a quid pro quo, which we have clearly established there was none,” Sekulow argued. “Even if everything in there was true, it constitutionally doesn’t rise to that level.”
Sekulow said that Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine leader Volodymyr Zelensky makes it clear that there was no quid pro quo. He argued Trump’s words on the call were appropriate concerns for the president to have, about corruption in the nation and burden sharing among other countries.
“The bar for impeachment cannot be set this low,” he said, arguing that the abuse of power impeachment article fails because the president’s concerns were legitimate.
“If you lower the bar that way, danger, danger, danger. Because the next president or the one after that, he or she will be held to that same standard. I hope not. I pray not,” Sekulow said.
Arguments wrapped with time to spare
After lawyers criticized the Democratic House impeachment managers for taking up the 24 hours of allotted time and repeating some of their arguments, the Trump defense team was adamant against using up all its time. The lawyers presented for less than two hours on Tuesday.
Trump had also complained about the strategy Democrats were taking: “They want to use up ALL of their time, even though it is the wrong thing to do,” he tweeted.
On Saturday, their first day of arguments, the Trump lawyers used just about 120 minutes for their presentations. “We will finish efficiently and quickly,” Cipollone said at the start Saturday.
“Our goal is to be finished by dinner time and well before,” Cipollone said before the lawyers presented Tuesday.
By the close of the arguments Tuesday, the president’s lawyers had more than 13 hours of allotted time left unused, though Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts noted ahead of Tuesday’s session that “it will not be possible to use the remainder of that time before the end of the day.”
The current state of the battle over witnesses as Bolton book looms
Even as Trump’s lawyers prepared to close out their arguments, Republican senators were grappling with how to handle the revelation first reported Sunday that John Bolton, former national security adviser, wrote in his forthcoming book that Trump told him military aid was linked to investigations.
Democrats have been pushing to subpoena Bolton and other key witnesses such as acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, but Republicans argued that the House missed its chance to hear their testimony.
Sen. Lindsey Graham said if Democrats are going to try to bring Bolton as a witness at the Senate impeachment trial then Democrats should be prepared to see former Vice President Joe Biden, his son Hunter and other key Democrats hauled in as well.
“If we’re going to open this up to additional inquiry, we’re going to go down the road,” the Republican senator from South Carolina told reporters.
He said he did not need to hear more testimony, but added, “I’ll make a prediction. There’ll be 51 Republican votes to call Hunter Biden, Joe Biden, the whistleblower and the DNC staffer at a very minimum.”
And a proposal floated Tuesday by GOP senators to allow access to Bolton’s manuscript is being shot down by leading Democrats who say they want the former national security adviser as a witness in the trial.
Democrats need at least four GOP senators to vote with them to subpoena Bolton as a witness, a showdown expected in the Senate later this week.
Contributing: Nicholas Wu, Maureen Groppe, Ledyard King, David Jackson, Christal Hayes, Bart Jansen