President Donald Trump's defense lawyer Alan Dershowitz says his headline-dominating argument against impeaching the president has been "willfully distorted."
Meanwhile, Trump's Senate trial headed into a final day of questions and answers before a vote on whether or not to call witnesses — a decision that could send the proceedings to weeks of further action or a relatively abrupt acquittal.
In a day-after tweet, Dershowitz complained Thursday about the portrayal of his testimony Wednesday night that a president, if he believes his re-election is in the “national interest,” is essentially immune from impeachment for actions in support of that idea.
That argument left even some of Trump's top allies backing away from the criminal attorney's claim, though Dershowitz was testifying on Trump's behalf at the Senate trial..
“They characterized my argument as if I had said that if a president believes that his re-election was in the national interest, he can do anything,” the retired professor said Thursday. “I said nothing like that, as anyone who actually heard what I said can attest.”
Dershowitz testified to the Senate jurors late Wednesday that the quid pro quo charge at the heart of Trump's impeachment — a trade of U.S. military aid for political favors — even if proven could not be grounds for his impeachment.
"Every public official that I know believes that his election is in the public interest," he said Wednesday night. "And if a president does something, which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment."
That argument was an abrupt turnaround from Trump’s own claim of “perfect” dealings with Ukraine.
One key Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, said only: “Yesterday was very interesting. That’s all I’m going to say."
Meanwhile, 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. 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.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned Trump on Thursday that a sham trial is not acquittal of the impeachment charges against him.
“You can’t be acquitted if you don’t have a trial,” said Pelosi, arguing anew that Trump will be “impeached forever.”
Said Pelosi, ‘I just pray that the senators will have the courage and the ability to handle the truth -- rather than blocking the truth."
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. Trump denies saying such a thing.
The vote on calling witnesses is expected by Friday.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer acknowledged it's "an uphill battle" to bring four GOP senators to vote for witnesses but said. “we're still hopeful.”
At one point Wednesday night, 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 noted that politicians often 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.
Over two days, senators are grilling the House Democrats prosecuting the case and the Republican president's defense team. Dozens of questions were asked and answered Wednesday in five-minute clips, with senators under orders to sit silently without comment, submitting their questions in writing. They finished shortly past 11 p.m. and were expected to keep going Thursday.
Democratic leader Chuck Schumer asked whether the Senate could really render a fair verdict without hearing from Bolton or acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, both potential eyewitnesses to Trump's actions.
“Don’t wait for the book. Don’t wait ’til March 17, when it is in black and white to find out the answer to your question,” Schiff told the Senate.
That publication date is now in doubt. The White House on Wednesday released a letter to Bolton's attorney objecting to “significant amounts of classified information" in the manuscript, including at the top secret level. Bolton and his attorney have insisted the book does not contain any classified information.
The White House action could delay the book's publication if Bolton, who resigned last September — Trump says he was fired — is forced to revise his draft.
GOP senators are straining to balance the new revelations with pressure for quick acquittal. They have been sternly warned by party leaders that calling Bolton as a witness could entangle the trial in lengthy legal battles and delay Trump's expected acquittal.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell huddled privately with senators for a third consecutive day, acknowledging he didn't yet have the votes to brush back Democratic demands for witnesses now that revelations from Bolton have roiled the trial. But Republicans said they were making progress.
In a Senate split 53-47 in favor of Republicans, at least four GOP senators must join all Democrats to reach the 51 votes required to call witnesses, decide whom to call or do nearly anything else in the trial.
Schiff’s response to Dershowitz focused on one particular senator: He asked his audience to imagine what would have happened if then-President Barack Obama asked the Russians to dig up dirt on then-candidate Romney, the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee?
Romney, standing at the back of the chamber, smiled occasionally at mention of his name.
Far from voiding the last election, Schiff said, impeachment is protecting the next one, in 2020, from any future Trump efforts to ask foreign governments to intervene.
Republicans tried to engage the president's defense, at times raising the profile of the still anonymous government whistleblower whose complaint about Trump's July 25 call with Ukraine sparked the impeachment inquiry. Democrats kept focus on the case for Trump's conviction and removal, which would require 67 votes in the Senate and seems unlikely.
At times, there were telling exchanges. In one, the White House team could not fully respond when Collins and Murkowski asked if Trump had ever pursued Biden investigations before the former vice president announced his presidential bid in 2019.
Philbin argued that relying on foreign information in a U.S. campaign isn't necessarily a campaign law violation, drawing objections later from Democrats. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who said he was “flabbergasted.”
In another, Dershowitz acknowledged he has changed his thinking on what the Founders intended with impeachment and keeps “refining” his views.
As the long night drew to a close, so did Schiff's remarks, warning senators they were lowering the bar for Trump, dressing it up with legalese.
“Corruption is still corruption,” he said.
One person watching from the sidelines Wednesday was Lev Parnas, the indicted associate of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Parnas arrived at the Capitol but could not enter the Senate with his court-ordered electronic-tracking device. He has turned over evidence for the investigation, and said he wants to testify.
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