Trump’s lawyers dismiss call for testimony by witnesses

President Donald Trump gestures during a campaign rally Tuesday in Wildwood, New Jersey. MEL EVANS / AP

US President Donald Trump''''''''''''''''s legal team concluded oral arguments on Tuesday in his impeachment trial in the Senate, arguing that Democrats are seeking to remove him from office over policy differences and dismissing the need for further testimony from witnesses.


Trump lawyers Pat Cipollone, Jay Sekulow and Pat Philbin spoke in a session that ended by midafternoon, well before the allotted time for their opening arguments had expired.

Cipollone wrapped up his presentation by saying, "End the era of impeachment for good. You know it should end."

He warned that lowering the bar for impeachment and removal from office would set a historic precedent that would leave future presidents vulnerable to a Congress led by a different party.

He argued that the accusations in the two articles of impeachment from the Democrat-controlled House – abuse of power and obstruction of Congress – 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, he played a series of videos from Democrats decrying the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton in 1998.

Sekulow also said, "The bar for impeachment cannot be set this low. Danger, danger, danger. These articles must be rejected. The Constitution requires it. Justice demands it."

The trial resumes Wednesday afternoon with a question period for senators. Questions will alternate between the majority and minority for up to eight hours on Wednesday and again for up to eight hours on Thursday.

They are submitted to Chief Justice John Roberts, who reads them. Roberts asked the managers and Trump counsel on Tuesday to abide by a time limit of five minutes or less to answer each question.

After that there will be as much as another four hours of debate on whether to subpoena witnesses or documents.

The Senate would then proceed to vote on whether to hear from John Bolton, Trump''''''''''''''''s former national security adviser, subpoena notes he took during his tenure, and gather other information or hear from other witnesses.

The New York Times reported Saturday that Bolton claims in an unpublished manuscript that Trump said he wanted to freeze military aid for Ukraine until officials there announced an investigation of former vice-president Joe Biden and his son Hunter. The book is expected to be published in March.

The center of the case for Trump''''''''''''''''s impeachment is the allegation that he withheld military aid and a White House meeting to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.

Trump''''''''''''''''s attorneys have argued that he was justified in seeking investigations because of a history of corruption involving the company.

Hunter Biden served on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company, while his father was vice-president overseeing US efforts to combat corruption in Ukraine. No evidence has emerged of wrongdoing by either Biden. Hunter Biden has said that serving on the company''''''''''''''''s board showed poor judgment given his father''''''''''''''''s anticorruption efforts.

Sekulow addressed the Bolton story, saying, "You cannot impeach a president on an unsourced allegation." He argued that the revelations from Bolton''''''''''''''''s leaked manuscript wouldn''''''''''''''''t be admissible during a typical trial.

He read several statements denying Bolton''''''''''''''''s allegation from Trump, the Department of Justice and the chief of staff to Vice-President Mike Pence.

Senate Republicans have come under pressure to call for Bolton''''''''''''''''s testimony since the publication of the story.

Two moderate Republicans, Senators Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine, said Monday that news of Bolton''''''''''''''''s draft book strengthened the need to agree to additional witnesses and testimony.   

Romney said "it''''''''''''''''s increasingly likely that other Republicans will join those of us who think we should hear from John Bolton".

After the conclusion of the Wednesday session, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York criticized the Trump defense team''''''''''''''''s efforts to undercut reports about Bolton''''''''''''''''s book. "If you don''''''''''''''''t believe the newspaper report, call the witnesses," he said. "Their whole argument is diversion," he said.

He continued to press for Republican votes to reach the 51 votes needed to call new witnesses and documents.

"I hope we have just four Republicans; all we need is four who rise to the occasion and say we need to find out the truth. And I would remind my Republican friends, these witnesses we''''''''''''''''ve asked for are not Democrats. They''''''''''''''''re not anti-Trump people, they''''''''''''''''re his own appointees."

On Tuesday, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a top ally of the president, backed a proposal by Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma to make the Bolton manuscript available to the Senate in a classified setting. Graham said in a tweet that the move would allow "each senator the opportunity to review the manuscript and make their own determination".

Schumer rejected the reading of the manuscript behind closed doors. "What an absurd proposal," he said. "It is a book. There is no need for it to be read in the SCIF (referring to a secure facility) unless you want to hide something."

He said the manuscript also underscores the importance of testimony of other officials with knowledge of the Ukraine events, including acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. He also dismissed Republican suggestions that Hunter Biden should testify, saying he "has nothing to do with the facts of this trial".