Politics 4 takeaways from the Trump team’s day on defense

03:45  28 january  2020
03:45  28 january  2020 Source:   washingtonpost.com

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President Trump’s defense team delivered their second day of arguments under a cloud: Trump’s former national security adviser claims Trump explicitly linked pausing Ukraine’s military aid to announcing investigations into the Biden family.

That’s according to a draft manuscript of former national security adviser John Bolton’s book, reported on Sunday evening by the New York Times. As the trial began Monday, there are rumblings that more Republicans could vote in favor of having witnesses later this week.

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As this week' s impeachment trial proceedings come to a close, senators are weighing in on the opening arguments made by President Trump ' s defense team .

Trump ' s former national security adviser, wrote about his time in the White House.The firsthand account of the link between the aid and investigations, which is based on meetings and conversations Mr. Bolton had with Mr. Trump , undercuts a key component of the president' s impeachment defense

So how did the defense answer? Here are four takeaways from Monday’s Senate trial so far.

1. Trump’s defense dodges the Bolton revelation

President Trump’s lawyers more or less asked senators to ignore the news. “We deal with publicly available information," Trump defense attorney Jay Sekulow said as the trial got started, without mentioning Bolton. “We do not deal with speculation, allegations that are not based on evidentiary standards at all."

That’s a big ask; Bolton’s testimony would represent a major piece of evidence in the case against Trump.

Democrats detailed how Trump paused Ukraine’s aid, perhaps even breaking the law by doing it, according to a nonpartisan government report. They’ve detailed how Trump wanted Ukraine to announce investigations into the Biden family. But they haven’t gotten a witness to link the two by speaking directly to Trump’s intent on pausing the aid.

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Democrats used their last day laying out the reasons they think the Senate should convict Trump on obstruction of On Trump ’ s defenders bringing up Biden: "What they hope to achieve in a Senate trial is what they couldn’t Trump ’ s defense begins their opening arguments Saturday at 10 a.m. Eastern.

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Bolton may be that link. And he has said he’s willing to testify if subpoenaed by the Senate. Trump’s Republican senate allies, seemingly blindsided by the reports, deployed a couple of tactics to defend their no-witness stance.

Some potentially vulnerable ones, like Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), appeared to ask the White House in coded language for guidance on how to defend Trump. “I want to hear from White House Counsel. I’m sure they will address this now and we’ll go from there,” she said before the trial started Monday.

2. The Trump team goes there on Biden

And by there, we mean mentioning his 2020 political opponent at all. The allegations facing Trump are that he was using official policy with Ukraine to kneecap former vice president Joe Biden in the 2020 election. Trump’s defense had no choice but to mention them because Trump himself brought up Biden on the July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, when he asked for investigations into Biden:

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The other thing, there’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.
Trump in a July 25th call to President Zelensky of Ukraine, according to a rough transcript

Trump’s defense argument goes like this: Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, had a lucrative job with a Ukrainian natural gas company, Burisma. That was around the same time his dad was urging Ukraine to fire its special prosecutor, in 2015. If the elder Biden trying to protect the younger Biden’s business dealings, that’s potential corruption, and Trump was right to want to get to the bottom of that.

Slideshow by photo services

“And all we are saying is that there was a basis to talk about this, to raise this issue. And that is enough,” said Trump defense attorney Pam Bondi.

Those claims against the Bidens fall flat in several ways, which The Fix’s Aaron Blake goes into more detail here. Some key facts:

  • The European Union and much of the Western world also wanted the special prosecutor in Ukraine gone. This wasn’t a controversial push on Biden’s part.
  • Ukrainian officials have said the Burisma investigation was not active at the time Biden tried to get the prosecutor filed.
  • The Ukrainian former official who fed this information to Trump’s team also recanted his allegation that Biden did anything wrong.

3. Ken Starr’s ironic warning on impeachment

Kenneth W. Starr was one of the defining figures in President Bill Clinton’s impeachment two decades ago. He was the independent counsel investigating Clinton, eventually uncovering his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky. Clinton’s subsequent impeachment and acquittal by the Republican-controlled Senate was one of the most divisive, partisan moments of that decade.

On Monday, Starr got before the Senate and argued that not only should the Senate keep Trump in office, but that they should be very wary of impeachment of a president at all — it’s too political.

“Impeachment and removal not only overturns a national election and perhaps profoundly affects an upcoming election … it entails a risk,” he said. Unless there were two-thirds majority of the Senate, constituting an overwhelming amount of support among the American public, he said, Congress shouldn’t impeach a president.

That seems like an about face for the conservative former judge, who 21 years ago when it was a Democratic president getting impeached.

4. Trump’s team tries to sideline Rudy Giuliani

Catherine Lucey wearing a suit and tie holding a wine glass: Rudolph W. Giuliani speaks to the press as he arrives for a New Year's celebration at Trumps Mar-a-Lago Club in December 2019. (JIM WATSON / AFP)© Jim Watson/Afp Via Getty Images Rudolph W. Giuliani speaks to the press as he arrives for a New Year's celebration at Trumps Mar-a-Lago Club in December 2019. (JIM WATSON / AFP)

Trump’s defense folded in a character who has been a source of trouble for the president in this scandal: his personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani.

“Mr. Giuliani is just a minor player, that shiny object designed to distract you,” Trump lawyer Jane Raskin said. Her argument was that Giuliani came across what he thought was potentially damaging information about former vice president Joe Biden in Ukraine in 2018, when he was looking for information to protect Trump in the Mueller investigation into Russian collusion.

The gist: Giuliani was acting in his capacity as a personal attorney to defend Trump, so what’s wrong with that?

What Raskin skipped over was testimony under oath in the House’s impeachment inquiry that directly contradicts her. Diplomats like testified that Trump specifically told them to work with Giuliani on Ukraine.

“We worked with Mr. Giuliani because the president directed us to do so,” European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland told the House.

Trump’s own words in that call with Zelensky undermine the idea there was nothing to see with Giuliani. Zelensky tells Trump that one of his assistants “spoke with Mr. Giuliani just recently, and we are hoping very much that Mr. Giuliani will be able to travel to Ukraine, and we will meet once he comes to Ukraine.

Trump replies: “Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man. He was the mayor of New York City, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you.”

It’s true Giuliani is not a government official, as Raskin argued. He’s Trump’s personal lawyer. But that’s precisely why his involvement in Ukraine was so troubling: He was the point person, running a shadow Ukraine policy that shut out the United States’s own diplomats.

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