US President Donald Trump’s defense attorneys on Tuesday wrapped up their three days of opening arguments in the impeachment trial, saying the head of state should be swiftly acquitted on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
“It is time for this to end, here and now,” White House counsel Pat Cipollone said in his closing remarks in the Senate.
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Cipollone has repeatedly criticized what he says is a dangerous “shell game” launched by Democrats to remove Trump from office.
Earlier Tuesday, one of Trump’s personal lawyers, Jay Sekulow, argued that the case against the president was weak and that he had been impeached over mere policy differences, adding that if Trump were removed from office it would set a dangerous precedent.
“Future presidents – Democrats and Republicans – will be paralyzed the moment they are elected. Before they can even take the oath of office,” he said. “The bar for impeachment cannot be set this low.”
The defense attorneys’ brief final arguments contrasted with lengthy sessions last week in which House of Representatives impeachment managers (prosecutors) led by California Democrat Adam Schiff insisted there was overwhelming evidence of Trump’s guilt.
Now that both sides have concluded their opening arguments, the senators, who are serving as jurors in the trial, now will have two days – Wednesday and Thursday – to present their questions in writing to either the prosecution or defense via Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who is overseeing the trial.
A crucial day then looms on Friday, when the Senate will debate and then vote on whether to allow additional evidence and witnesses. Democrats say it is essential that new materials be introduced, while Trump’s attorneys and his Republican allies in the Senate oppose the idea.
The vote of a simple majority will decide that matter. Since Republicans have a 53-47 majority, that means that Democrats need the support of four GOP senators to prevent the trial from ending quickly with a vote on the two articles of impeachment.
The focus now is on four Republican senators who may support additional evidence and witnesses: Mitt Romney (Utah), Susan Collins (Maine), Lamar Alexander (Tennessee) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).
Earlier in the Senate proceedings, different amendments to trial rules proposed by the Democrats were defeated on party-line votes. Romney, however has said that he will vote for more witnesses and that it is “increasingly likely” that other Republicans will join him.
One key witness who did not testify during the House’s impeachment probe but has said he will appear before the Senate is Trump’s former national security adviser, John Bolton.
That testimony could be harmful to Trump because according to excerpts from Bolton’s upcoming book – published Sunday by the New York Times – he said the president told him he wanted to withhold congressionally approved military aid for Ukraine as a means of pressuring that country to announce corruption investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.
On Tuesday, Sekulow said an unpublished portion of Bolton’s new book could not be considered in the impeachment trial.
“You cannot impeach a president on an unsourced allegation,” he told senators. “I don’t know what you’d call that. I’d call it inadmissible, but that’s what it is.”
The excerpt from Bolton’s book directly concerns the “abuse of power” charge against Trump, who allegedly used the power of his office to solicit “the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, in the 2020 United States presidential election.”
That accusation stems from an allegation that during a phone call last July Trump sought personal political gain by improperly pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to publicly announce an investigation into the alleged interference years ago of Biden, a leading contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, in a probe of his son Hunter’s business dealings in Ukraine.
The lower house found that Trump also improperly pushed Ukraine to publicly announce an investigation into a “discredited theory promoted by Russia alleging that Ukraine – rather than Russia – interfered in the 2016 United States presidential election.”
The House alleges that Trump exerted pressure by freezing nearly $400 million of US military and security aid that Ukraine needed to combat Russian aggression and did so about a week before he talked to Zelensky.
House Democrats also say Trump delayed a head of state meeting between the two leaders at the White House as a pressure tactic.
Trump, who says the aid – eventually released on Sept. 11 – was withheld due to his frustration with what he considered to be an insufficient amount of monetary assistance provided to Ukraine by other countries, says the rough transcript of the phone call that the White House released on Sept. 25 shows he did nothing wrong.
The second article of impeachment accuses the president of “obstruction of Congress” for directing executive branch agencies, offices and officials not to comply with subpoenas seeking documents and testimony deemed vital to the House’s inquiry.
Trump and his supporters say the constitution gives presidents broad constitutional grounds for resisting such demands from the legislative branch for privileged executive material unless a court compels them to produce it.
Trump is only the third US president to be impeached.
Both Andrew Johnson – in 1868 – and Bill Clinton in 1998 were acquitted in the Senate, while Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 before the lower house could vote on his impeachment.
Under the US Constitution, the approval of articles of impeachment in the House is to be followed by a trial in the Senate, where it takes a two-thirds majority to remove the president from office.
Due to Republicans’ control of that upper chamber, it is considered highly unlikely that Trump will be convicted. EFE
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