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Trump’s team rests, calls for quick end to trial

President Trump’s lawyers on Tuesday concluded their opening arguments in the impeachment trial, making a final pitch for a swift acquittal of the president as senators gear up for a tense debate over whether to hear from additional witnesses.

The defense’s final day of arguments mirrored its first in many ways. The president’s lawyers took only about two hours and presented a broad repudiation of House Democrats. They painted Trump as a victim of a partisan attempt to undo the 2016 election and insisted that even if the president had acted inappropriately, it did not warrant his removal from office.

“Overturning the last election and massively interfering with the upcoming one would cause serious and lasting damage to the people of the United States and our great country,” White House counsel Pat Cipollone said in his closing remarks. “The Senate cannot allow this to happen. It is time for this to end, here and now.”

Trump’s attorneys also addressed new revelations about former national security adviser John Bolton’s knowledge of the Ukraine affair that have complicated the defense and threatened to upend the White House’s hopes for a speedy trial without witnesses. 

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“It is not a game of leaks or unsourced manuscripts,” Trump’s personal attorney Jay Sekulow said on the Senate floor, referencing allegations in Bolton’s manuscript as reported by The New York Times, arguing that such details should be “inadmissible.”

Bolton reportedly wrote in his upcoming memoir of an August meeting in which Trump said he would not release security aid for Ukraine unless the country assisted with investigations into his political rivals. The manuscript directly contradicts the defense team’s insistence that Trump did not explicitly tie the aid to investigations.

Sekulow sought to undermine Bolton’s credibility as a potential witness, citing Trump’s denials of the Bolton claim and a Department of Justice statement disputing certain reported claims in Bolton’s manuscript.

In what was likely an effort to assuage some Republicans troubled by the Bolton allegations, Sekulow leaned on an argument first levied late Monday by Harvard Law School Professor Emeritus Alan Dershowitz: Even if Trump had acted as his former national security adviser claimed, it would not rise to the level of an impeachable offense.

“That is clear from the history. That is clear from the language of the Constitution,” Dershowitz, an opinion contributor to The Hill, said Monday. “You cannot turn conduct that is not impeachable into impeachable conduct simply by using words like ‘quid pro quo’ and ‘personal benefit.’”

Trump’s lawyers have sought to poke holes in House Democrats’ case by pointing out the lack of firsthand details about the president’s conduct over the past three days, saying the House impeachment managers failed to collect evidence to prove central allegations and that they deliberately presented an incomplete picture of Trump’s conduct toward Ukraine.  

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Democrats, however, say the attorneys strengthened their argument for calling Bolton or other witnesses to testify — especially in the wake of the report about Bolton’s account. 

“The president’s lawyer continues to make the case for John Bolton being called as a witness in the Senate trial,” said a Democratic official working on the impeachment trial as Sekulow addressed the Bolton issue on the Senate floor. 

Sekulow repeatedly sounded the alarm over the articles of impeachment on Tuesday, accusing House Democrats of attempting to remove Trump from office over foreign policy differences and saying that doing so would do lasting damage to the functioning of government, repeatedly warning, “Danger, danger, danger.” 

“The bar for impeachment cannot be set this low,” Sekulow said. “These articles must be rejected. The Constitution requires it. Justice demands it.”

House managers utilized nearly all of the 24 hours allotted to them to make a detailed case that Trump leveraged the presidency to get a foreign government to investigate his political rivals and that he obstructed Congress by repeatedly refusing to comply with subpoenas as part of the impeachment inquiry. They warned that failure to remove Trump from office would give him the opportunity to abuse his office heading into the 2020 election.

By comparison, Trump’s attorneys used roughly 11 of the 24 hours allotted to them over three days to present their case for Trump’s acquittal on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, delivering a bulk of that argument on Monday by bringing in Dershowitz, former independent counsel Kenneth Starr and other lawyers to argue against Trump’s impeachment. 

Tuesday’s closing presentation was geared toward making a final argument against extending the trial with witnesses and additional evidence. It was a departure from Monday’s eight-hour session in which all eight members of the president’s team spoke and delivered scathing attacks on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, pointed defenses of Rudy Giuliani, and somber warnings about the increasing use of impeachment.

“This should end now — as quickly as possible,” Cipollone said in concluding remarks. 

Trump’s team will now turn to the next task at hand — answering questions from senators over a 16-hour period before a vote on whether to hear new testimony and evidence in the trial.

Republican senators are meeting Tuesday afternoon to seek consensus on a strategy ahead of the debate over witnesses, which will likely take place Friday. Most of the conference has signaled it prefers to avoid hearing from witnesses and move straight to voting to acquit Trump.

Three Republicans — Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Mitt Romney (Utah) — have consistently indicated they are open to hearing from witnesses. Four Republicans would need to vote with all Democrats and independents to secure a majority vote to subpoena for new evidence and testimony.

But even if that happens, it will likely set off a fresh round of debate on who will be subpoenaed.

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“I’ll make a prediction,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters Tuesday when asked about the prospect of hearing from witnesses. “There will be 51 Republican votes to call Hunter Biden, Joe Biden, the whistleblower and the DNC staffer at a minimum.”

A source working on the president’s legal team said Tuesday afternoon that they were prepared for “any eventuality” when asked about the prospect of Bolton being called as a witness, but would not address their strategy should that happen. 

“I’m not going to get too much into our strategy for hypotheticals that may or may not develop. We’re not concerned in the sense that we’ve seen the president’s statement, we know that the president hasn’t done anything wrong,” the source said. “We’re prepared for any eventuality that arises.” 

Updated: 5:38 p.m.

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