WASHINGTON — The team of lawyers representing President Donald Trump in his Senate impeachment trial dove into their arguments in defense of the president on Monday, which they had previewed over the weekend.
Trump’s lawyers condemned impeachment as partisan, and deployed some anticipated arguments to push against Democrats’ allegations that Trump pressured Ukraine to open investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and 2016 election interference.
They went after the House impeachment process, pushed back against additional witnesses and honed in on Hunter Biden’s role in Ukraine.
Their day in the Senate came after reports surfaced that Trump’s former national security adviser, John Bolton, had firsthand knowledge of a linking of investigations to nearly $400 million in military aid that was temporarily withheld by the administration.
Read USA TODAY’s coverage: Trump’s defense team continues opening arguments in Senate impeachment trial
Here’s what you missed on Monday:
‘Read the transcript’: Trump team lays out defense
Jay Sekulow, a private attorney on Trump’s defense team, laid out the core components of the Trump defense team’s arguments, which he said were in six parts. They are:
- The partial transcript of the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky shows there was no link between aid money and investigations
- Ukrainian officials have said there was no quid pro quo
- Ukrainian officials were not aware of the pause on aid until late August
- House impeachment witnesses testified they did not hear of any linkage between aid and investigations from Trump himself
- The aid money flowed and a meeting took place without Ukraine announcing any investigations
- The Trump administration’s support for Ukraine is stronger than predecessors’
Sekulow argued that looking at the partial transcript released by the White House of the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky would make clear there was no quid pro quo involving military aid. “I don’t think this was about just a phone call,” Sekulow said.
Sekulow said the decision to impeach Trump was a policy difference and slammed Democrats for what he said was a “celebratory” attitude toward impeachment. He played for senators a video clip of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., handing out pens that were used to sign the impeachment articles.
“An explicit quid pro quo for alleged improper camp interference would’ve had President Trump saying to his counterpoint in Ukraine, ‘Here’s the deal,’ and followed up by explicitly linking a demand for an investigation of the Bidens to the provision or release of foreign aid,” attorney Robert Ray said.
That didn’t happen, he went on to say.
“In the president’s words, ‘Read the transcript,'” attorney Robert Ray said.
READ THE TRANSCRIPTS!
Kenneth Starr, another private lawyer representing Trump during impeachment, spent his time trying to convince senators that impeachment should be treated as a “last resort,” not a political weapon.
“Like war, impeachment is hell, or at least presidential impeachment is hell,” Starr said. “Those of us who lived through the Clinton impeachment, including members of this body, full well understand that a president impeachment is tantamount to domestic war, although thankfully protected by our beloved First Amendment, a war of words, a war of ideas.”
Trump concerned with corruption in Ukraine
As expected, the Trump legal team asserted that the president’s actions in Ukraine—looking into the Bidens as well as putting a hold on aid—were justified because he was concerned about corruption in that country. They said Democrats had ignored the president’s well-known concern about corruption in Ukraine and skepticism about foreign aid.
“Asking a foreign leader to get to the bottom of issues of corruption is not a violation of an oath,” Sekulow said.
He argued that the accusations from Democrats were based on a policy disagreement and a difference in strategy between the Trump administration and Congress about how to approach Ukraine.
Sekulow cited impeachment inquiry witnesses who said that corruption in Ukraine was a long-standing issue.
Mike Purpura, a deputy White House counsel who is defending President Donald Trump in the trial, also quoted several former U.S. officials describing those concerns, including Russian expert and former National Security Council official Fiona Hill and former envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker. Purpura also pointed to testimony supporting the claim that Trump had long expressed concerns about corruption.
“The American people know that the president is skeptical of foreign aid and that one of his top campaign promises and priorities in office has been to avoid wasteful spending of American taxpayer dollars abroad,” Purpura said.
Sekulow argued that Democrats had tried unsuccessfully to thwart Trump throughout his first three years in office. If Trump can be removed for his actions, Sekulow warned, any future president will face impeachment pressure for deep policy disputes.
“I think this is what this is really about: deep policy concerns,” Sekulow said. “That should not be the basis of impeachment.”
The Bidens on trial?: ‘We must address it’
Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and Herschmann, members of Trump’s team, dedicated their speaking time to going through the roles Joe and Hunter Biden played in Ukraine, in an attempt to show that Trump was working to fight corruption when he asked Ukraine’s leader to investigate the Bidens.
“We would prefer not to be discussing this,” Bondi said. “But the House managers have placed this squarely at issue, so we must address it.”
The impeachment articles accuse Trump of abuse of power for requesting the investigation for political purposes, but the defense team turned the corruption allegations onto the Bidens.
Explainer: Biden, allies pushed out Ukrainian prosecutor because he didn’t pursue corruption cases
Bondi highlighted news reports that called into question Hunter Biden’s qualifications for the board seat he held on a Ukrainian natural gas company, Burisma, and Herschmann wondered why he was being paid high figures without qualifications.
Republicans have said Joe Biden pushed Ukraine to fire its former top prosecutor Viktor Shokin, who had previously attempted to probe Burisma, in order to benefit his son.
“Why was Hunter Biden on this board?” Bondi asked senators. She claimed he was hired because of his connections to his father.
Using testimony from impeachment witnesses, Bondi went through the history of well-known corruption within Burisma Holdings and its owner. George Kent, a State Department official, said in an impeachment hearing that he raised a concern about the appearance of the conflict of interest of Hunter Biden sitting on the Burisma board while Joe Biden carried out U.S. foreign policy in the country.
House managers had said that allegations about Burisma had been debunked. Biden’s effort to have Shokin fired for corruption was part of the U.S. national policy and was supported by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. Bondi called that argument “a distraction.”
But Bondi told senators that House managers “never gave you the full picture.”
“All we’re saying is that there was a basis to talk about this, to raise this issue, and that is enough,” she said.
A spokesperson for Joe Biden’s campaign, Andrew Bates, said in a statement that Biden was “instrumental to a bipartisan and international anti-corruption victory. It’s no surprise that such a thing is anathema to President Trump.”
Bates said that fact-checkers have debunked the “conspiracy theory that Bondi repeated.”
The argument over witnesses heats up with Bolton book
The latest catalyst for the debate over witness testimony came late Sunday when media reports previewed portions from an upcoming book by Trump’s former national security adviser, John Bolton, that directly contradict Trump’s defense.
The manuscript reportedly contains the claim that Trump told Bolton military aid was linked to the investigations he wanted.
Democrats, who have all along stressed the importance of hearing from witnesses the White House had blocked from testifying in the House inquiry, including Bolton and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. But Republicans say that they missed their chance to hear from those witnesses in the House impeachment investigation.
Democratic impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said that when a witness like Bolton says he is ready to testify and gives an idea of what they’ll say, “it’s really hard to say we’re not going to hear that.”
Republicans struggled to respond to reporter questions about the Bolton revelation, leaving them on the defensive and turning impromptu press conferences that have frequented the halls of the Capitol without much friction into a combative affair.
But Republican senators discussed a possible one-for-one witness deal on Monday during a private lunch, which could allow Bolton to testify. Several Republicans sounded “more receptive” to the idea, raising the chances that witnesses may be called later in the trial, according to a Republican aide.
Maine Independent Sen. Angus King told NPR on Monday he expects up to 10 of his GOP Senate colleagues to vote in favor of witnesses following the reporting.
Contributing: Nicholas Wu, Bart Jansen, Christal Hayes, Savannah Behrmann, Ledyard King, Maureen Groppe, William Cummings
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