Bolton impeachment testimony more likely; Next up, 16 hours of pointed questions
Trump’s defense concluded with John Bolton’s bombshell revelations in his unpublished memoir, scrambling what had been Trump’s successful — so far — stonewalling strategy.
WASHINGTON — As Senate Republicans wrestle with the sizzling question of whether to allow John Bolton to testify — with the likelihood becoming more likely — President Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment defense wrapped up Tuesday with both sides planning to use up to 16 hours of questions to jab the other side and present rebuttals.
Trump’s defense concluded with Bolton’s bombshell revelations in his unpublished memoir scrambling what had been Trump’s successful — so far — stonewalling strategy preventing Democrats from obtaining information from documents and key witnesses, including ex-National Security Advisor John Bolton and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.
QUESTIONS: Senators, muzzled during the impeachment trial over the past few days, have been submitting written questions to their leadership, who will pass them to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding. Roberts will read the question — it must be signed by the asking senator — which a senator has directed to one side or the other. The question period will last for up to eight hours on Wednesday and Thursday. There is no official time limit on replies.
Questions will alternate between Republicans and Democrats.
Showdown votes on witnesses will be Friday.
The late Chief Justice William Rehnquist decided to consolidate questions during President Bill Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial.
QUESTION STRATEGIES: Unlike a criminal trial, rebuttals are not allowed during a Senate impeachment trial. Using strategic questions is the workaround. Senators will direct questions to the House managers or the president’s lawyers, to undercut or amplify a particular point. Senators from both sides said they will wield their questions with those purposes.
For example, a Republican senator could ask something about why the name of the whistleblower is not public. Trump’s impeachment was triggered by the whistleblower report about Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe Biden, dangling military assistance as leverage.
The Sun-Times has learned that the draft language of one of Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., questions is, “Please address the risk of Russian aggression increasing against Ukraine if the Senate acquits a President who was willing to jeopardize the security of our ally, Ukraine, to further his own political interests; and who continues to withhold a formal White House meeting with (Ukraine) President Zelensky.”
BOLTON’S BOOK: As of Tuesday night, it became more likely there will be four Senate Republicans who will vote to hear Bolton’s testimony.
The New York Times reported that Bolton’s book said Trump was pressuring Ukraine for his political benefit — a firsthand account. During final defense arguments, Jay Sekulow, Trump’s personal attorney, brushed aside the New York Times story. Impeachment, he said, “is not a game of leaks and unsourced manuscripts.”
I was surprised Sekulow framed it that way because all it did was make the Democrats’ argument for them. The obvious answer is don’t rely on the story; get Bolton’s sworn testimony.
THE DERSHOWITZ FALLBACK: But wait! It doesn’t matter what Bolton writes — or will testify to. That was the pre-emptive argument made Monday night by one of Trump’s lawyers, retired Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, oft cited by Republicans on Tuesday.
“Nothing in the Bolton revelations, even if true,” Dershowitz told the Senate, “would rise to the level of an abuse of power or an impeachable offense. That is clear from the history and that is clear from the language of the Constitution.
“You cannot turn conduct that is not impeachable into impeachable conduct simply by using words like quid pro quo or personal benefits.”
A POLITICAL PERSECUTION: Sekulow echoed a longstanding Trump defense: the impeachment is intended to “remove a duly elected president of the United States and you are being asked to do it in an election year.”
Republicans have leaned heavily on the argument that the looming November election should be a factor. What would they say about the charges, however, if Trump was in his second term? Do first term presidents deserve special consideration? When Clinton was impeached, he already was in his second term. President Andrew Johnson survived his 1868 impeachment but was so unpopular he did not run for re-election.
Republicans seem to have “election year” rules that they embrace. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2016 refused to hold a vote on President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, the Lincolnwood-raised Merrick Garland, because it was an election year.
KLOBUCHAR’S REACT: Sekulow decided to play to the four Senate Democrats running for president. With the first-in-the-nation Iowa vote on Monday night, they have been strapped down in their Senate chairs for the trial.
When Sekulow said, “there are some of you in this chamber right now that would rather be someplace else and that’s why we will be brief ... . Why would you rather be someplace else? Because you are running for president.” Perhaps he figured Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Michael Bennet would be interested in what he had to say in case they end up in the White House.
I looked at Warren and Sanders for reaction and they were poker-faced. Klobuchar looked incredulous as she was shaking her head no.