President Donald Trump’s impeachment defense lawyers have concluded their opening arguments to the Senate, opening up a process whereby senators can ask their own questions of both sides while they consider calling their own witnesses.
Much like the first day of their presentation, lead attorney Jay Sekulow and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone needed very little time to dissect the House Democrats’ arguments for removing the president from office. Less than two hours before they began their third day of presentation, they were done—and demanding an immediate end to the proceedings.
Sekulow reminded the Senate that House Democrats were attempting to set a dangerously low level for the bar for future impeachment and possible removal from office:
“To argue that the president is not acting in our national interest and is violating his oath of office, which managers have put forward is wrong based on the facts and the way the Constitution is designed. And when you look at the fullness of the record of their witnesses, their witnesses, the witnesses’ statements, the transcripts, there’s one thing that emerges, there is no violation of law.
“There’s no violation of the Constitution. There is a disagreement on policy decisions, most of those that spoke at your hearings did not like the president’s policy. That’s why we have elections. That’s what policy differentials and differences are discussed. But to have — have a removal of a duly elected president based on a policy disagreement, that is not what the framers intended.
“And 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, that that’s not what happens. Not just for the sake of — of my client, but for the Constitution.”
He was following by Deputy White House Counsel Patrick Philbin, who reminded the Senate that the House impeachment managers’ definition of abuse of power was the opposite of the definition established by the Framers of the Constitution:
“And what we see in the House manager’s charges, and their definition of abuse of power is exactly antithetical to the framers approach, because their very premise for their abuse of power charge is that it is entirely based on subjective motive, not objective standards, not predefined offenses, but the president can do something that is perfectly lawful, perfectly within his authority, but if the real reason, as professor Dershowitz pointed out, that’s the language from their approach, the reason and the presidents mind is something that they figured out and decide is wrong, that becomes impeachable. And that’s exactly — that’s not a standard at all. It ends up being infinitely malleable.”
Cipollone gave the president’s final closing argument to the Senate. In it, he said, very simply, the impeachment sham should “end now”:
“The Senate cannot allow this to happen. It is time for this to end, here and now. So we urge the Senate to reject these articles of impeachment for all of the reasons we have given you. You know them all. I don’t need to repeat them. They have repeatedly said, over and over again, a quote from Benjamin Franklin. ‘It’s a republic, if you can keep it.’ And every time I heard it, I said to myself, it’s a republic, if they let us keep it. And I have every confidence, every confidence in your wisdom.
“You will do the only thing you can do, what you must do, what the Constitution compels you to do, reject these articles of impeachment for our country and for the American people. It will show that you put the Constitution above partisanship, it will show that we can come together on both sides of the aisle and end the era of impeachment for good.
“You know it should end. You know it should end. It will allow you all to spend all of your energy and all of your enormous talent and all of your resources on doing what the American people sent you here to do, to work together, to work with the President, to solve their problems. So this should end now, as quickly as possible.”
Senators will start asking their own questions Wednesday. As that happens, in the background, they’re still debating whether to call witnesses—like John Bolton. Constitutional law expert Alan Dershowitz, a lifelong Democrat, argued against hearing from the former national security adviser during arguments Monday night:
“Even if a president, any president, were to demand a quid pro quo as a condition to sending aid to a foreign country, obviously a highly disputed manner in this case, that would not by itself constitute an abuse of power.
“Consider the following hypothetical case that is in our news today as the Israeli Prime Minister comes to the United States for meetings, let’s assume a Democratic president tells Israel that foreign aid authorized by Congress will not be sent or an Oval Office meeting will not be scheduled unless the Israelis stop building settlements, quid pro quo. I might disapprove of such a quid pro quo demand on policy grounds. But it would not constitute an abuse of power.
“Quid pro quo alone is not a basis for abuse of power. It’s part of the way foreign policy has been operated by presidents since the beginning of time. The claim that foreign policy decisions can be deemed abuses of power based on subjective opinions about mixed or sole motives that the President was interested only in helping himself demonstrate the dangers of employing the vague, subjective and politically malleable phrase abuse of power as a constitutionally permissible criteria for the removal of a president.
“Now, it follows, it follows from this that if a president, any president were to have done what the Times reported about the content of the Bolton manuscript, that would not constitute an impeachable offense.”
Dershowitz also explained why, as a lifelong Democrat, he’s coming to the defense of a president he never even voted for:
“I stand before you today as I stood in 1973 and 1974 for the protection of the constitutional and procedural rights of Richard Nixon, who I personally abhorred, and whose impeachment I personally favored. And as I stood for the rights of Bill Clinton, who I admired and whose impeachment I strongly opposed.
“I stand against the application and misapplication of the constitutional criteria in every case and against any president without regard to whether I support his or her parties or policies. I would be making the very same constitutional argument, had Hillary Clinton, for whom I voted, been elected and had a Republican House voted to impeach her on these unconstitutional grounds.
“I am here today because I love my country, and our Constitution. Everyone in this room shares that love.”
The debate over witnesses will likely open the door to subpoenaing former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, who was paid millions to serve on the board of directors of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma. The company and its oligarch owner are notoriously corrupt, which has led to allegations the Bidens were embroiled in that same corruption.
During Monday’s presentation to the Senate, former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi made the case for calling Hunter Biden as a witness:
“The typical board member of these Fortune 100 companies, we know they’re titans of the industry, they’re highly qualified, and as such, they’re well-compensated. Even so, Hunter Biden was paid significantly more. This is how well he was compensated. Hunter Biden was paid over $83,000 a month, while the average American family of four during that time, each year, made less than $54,000. That’s according to U.S. Census Bureau during that time.
“And this is what’s been reported about his work on the board. ‘The Washington Post’ said, ‘What specific duties Hunter Biden carried out for Burisma are not fully known.’ ‘The New Yorker reported, ‘Once or twice a year he attended Burisma board meetings and energy forums that took place in Europe.’
“When speaking with ABC News about his qualifications to be on Burisma’s board, Hunter Biden didn’t point to any of the usual qualifications of a board member. Hunter Biden had no experience in natural gas, no experience in the energy sector, no experience with Ukrainian regulatory affairs. As far as we know, he doesn’t speak Ukrainian.
“So naturally, the media has asked questions about his board membership. Why was Hunter Biden on this board?”
Bondi also played a short clip from Hunter Biden’s interview with ABC News in which he admitted he probably wouldn’t have been hired by Burisma if didn’t have his particular last name.
During a break from Tuesday’s presentation, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) predicted there were currently 51 votes to call not just the Bidens, but several other witnesses, to testify:
“There will be 51 Republican votes to call Hunter Biden, Joe Biden, the whistleblower, and the DNC staffer at a very minimum … it would have been wrong for President Trump not to raise this issue. You have to be willfully blind and say that Democratic misconduct doesn’t matter to you, not to believe that the President had a good reason to ask the Ukraine to look into the Biden affair. You had media reports right before the July 25th meeting.
“As much as I like Joe Biden, he needs to answer questions of why he allowed his son to continue to receive millions of dollars from Burisma when he should have known it was a conflict of interest. If a Republican had been in that same situation, you’d be all over all of us wanting to know why we’re not calling these people as witnesses.
“So as much as I like Joe Biden, he has to answer for his time as the leader of anti-corruption efforts in the Ukraine.”
Graham added that he would be open to reviewing the manuscript of Bolton’s new book, which he said is being held in a “classified setting.” He said it would be appropriate to have the document reviewed within that classified setting before making a decision on whether or not to call the former national security adviser as a witness.
(Photo Credit: U.S. Senate)