In a striking shift from President Donald Trump’s claims of “perfect” dealings with Ukraine, his defense asserted Wednesday at his Senate trial that a trade of U.S. military aid for political favors — even if proven — could not be grounds for his impeachment.
Trump’s defenders relied o n retired professor Alan Dershowitz, a member of their team, who told senators that every politician conflates his own interest with the public interest. “It cannot be impeachable,” he declared.
Democrats are pressing hard to force the Senate to call more witnesses to testify, but Republicans appear intently focused on bringing the impeachment trial to a vote of acquittal, possibly in a matter of days. Even new revelations from former national security adviser John Bolton are being countered by the president’s lawyers, who used Wednesday’s unusual question-and-answer session to warn off prolonging the proceeding, insisting senators have heard enough.
Democrats argued Bolton’s forthcoming book cannot be ignored. It contends he personally heard Trump say he wanted military aid withheld from Ukraine until it agreed to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden — the abuse of power charge that is the first article of impeachment.
The vote on calling witnesses is expected by Friday.
As Chief Justice John Roberts fielded queries, Texas Republican Ted Cruz asked if it mattered whether there was a quid pro quo?
Simply, no, declared Dershowitz, who said many politicians equate their reelection with the public good. “That’s why it’s so dangerous to try to psychoanalyze a president,” he said.
Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democrat leading the House prosecutors, appeared stunned.
“All quid pro quos are not the same,” he retorted. Some might be acceptable, some not. “And you don’t need to be a mind reader to figure out which is which. For one thing, you can ask John Bolton.”
With voting on witnesses later this week, Democrats, amid the backdrop of protesters swarming the Capitol, are making a last-ditch push to sway Republicans to call Bolton and others to appear for testimony and ensure a “fair trial.”
Trump faces charges from the House that he abused his power like no other president, jeopardizing Ukraine and U.S.-Ukraine relations by using the military aid as leverage while the vulnerable ally battled Russia. The second article of impeachment says Trump then obstructed the House probe in a way that threatened the nation’s three-branch system of checks and balances.