Trump Call 'Less Than Perfect,' Defense Says: Impeachment Update

  • In Business
  • 2020-01-28 00:48:33Z
  • By Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump's defense lawyers resume their presentation at 1 p.m. Monday after opening their arguments Saturday by saying House managers failed to prove the president should be removed from office.

Here are the latest developments:

Trump Call 'Less Than Perfect,' Defense Says (7:45 p.m.)

Former independent counsel Robert Ray said Trump's July 25 call with Ukraine's president was "less than perfect," but that doesn't mean it's an impeachable abuse of power.

It would have been better for Trump to have pursued an investigation "through proper channels," said Ray, a member of Trump's legal team.

"While the president certainly enjoys the power to do otherwise, there is consequence to that action as we have witnessed," Ray said. "That is why we are all here."

Defense Attacks Hunter Biden's Burisma Role (5:40 p.m.)

Trump defense team member Pam Bondi told senators the president had ample reason to be concerned about Hunter Biden's work as a paid board member for the Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings.

Bondi quoted multiple media reports questioning the propriety of Biden's position on the board.

She said he was paid more than $83,000 a month for his work even though he had no background in natural gas or in Ukrainian government relations while his father Joe Biden, then the vice president, had a key role in U.S. dealings with the nation.

"All we are saying is that there was a basis to talk about this, to raise this issue, and that is enough," Bondi said.

House Democrats contend that claims of any wrongdoing involving the former vice president's son amount to debunked conspiracy theories, and that Hunter Biden has no knowledge of the central allegations on Trump's actions regarding Ukraine.

Then-Ukrainian prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko said in a May 2019 interview with Bloomberg News that Hunter Biden "did not violate any Ukrainian laws." Trump's former special Ukraine envoy, Kurt Volker, during House testimony last November called it a "conspiracy theory" that Joe Biden's work in Ukraine would have been influenced by his son's board seat.

Another Trump lawyer, Eric Herschmann, said Hunter Biden "didn't know anything about the natural gas industry at all." He played a video of an ABC television interview in which the vice president's son was asked whether he would have been asked to be a member of the Burisma board if his name were not Biden.

"I don't know, probably not," Hunter Biden responded in the interview.

Andrew Bates, a spokesman for Joe Biden's campaign, said in a statement the allegations regarding Burisma have been widely debunked. As vice president, "Joe Biden was instrumental to a bipartisan and international anti-corruption victory," Bates said. -- Mike Dorning, Jordan Fabian

Pence Aide Says No Tie of Funds to Biden (5:01 p.m.)

Vice President Mike Pence's Chief of Staff Marc Short said Trump never told Pence he was tying financial aid for Ukraine to investigations of the Biden family or the Burisma Holdings energy company.

Short, in a statement Monday, described attending meetings with Pence and Trump while the vice president prepared to travel to Poland to meet with Ukrainian officials. Trump expressed frustration that European nations weren't providing enough aid to Ukraine, and he also expressed concern about corruption in that country, Short said.

"At no time did I hear him tie aid to Ukraine to investigations into the Biden family or Burisma," Short said in the statement.

Pence discussed only corruption and the U.S. share of financial aid with Ukrainian officials "because that's what the president asked him to raise," Short said. -- Jordan Fabian

Trump Team Defends Giuliani as Minor Player (3:38 p.m.)

Trump's legal team defended his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani as a minor player in the Ukraine saga, not the villain portrayed by House Democrats.

"If Rudy Giuliani is everything they say he is, don't you think they would have subpoenaed and pursued his testimony?" asked Trump lawyer Jane Raskin.

Raskin said that instead, the managers rely on "hearsay, speculation and assumption" instead of first-hand knowledge of Giuliani's activities.

"He was not on a political errand," Raskin said. "He was gathering evidence regarding Ukrainian election interference to defend his client against the false allegations being investigated by special counsel" Robert Mueller in the Russia probe.

"Do not be distracted," Raskin said.

Within minutes, House Democrats sent reporters a copy of Giuliani's May 10, 2019, letter to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy congratulating him on his election and asking, as Trump's personal lawyer, to meet with him on a "more specific request." -- Jordan Fabian

Trump Team Ignores Bolton, Says Aid Not Tied (3:04 p.m.)

Trump's defense team reiterated its argument that he didn't link financial aid for Ukraine to that country's help with investigations of Joe Biden, even after a bombshell news report that former National Security Advisor John Bolton disclosed such a link in his book manuscript.

"Not a single witness testified that the president himself said that there was any connection between any investigation and security assistance, a presidential meeting or anything else," Trump attorney Jay Sekulow said on the Senate floor.

Trump's lawyers have repeatedly depended on the lack of firsthand testimony that the president tied the aid money to investigations into his political rivals. But that argument could be challenged if Bolton speaks at the trial.

Bolton has said he would testify if subpoenaed, while Trump has signaled he'll attempt to block such testimony by citing executive privilege.

The New York Times reported Sunday that Bolton wrote in the manuscript of a forthcoming book that Trump told him in August that he didn't want to release the funds until Ukraine turned over material related to Biden, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.

The report increased pressure on Republican senators who are undecided on whether to support calling witnesses in the trial. The Senate needs 51 votes to subpoena witnesses and documents.

Trump tweeted early Monday he "NEVER" told that to Bolton. Sekulow said the defense team wouldn't address "speculation" and "allegations that are not based on evidentiary standards at all." -- Jordan Fabian

Starr Decries 'Habit' of Hounding Presidents (1:34 p.m.)

In an ironic twist, Trump's defense turned to Bill Clinton's prosecutor Kenneth Starr to complain that impeachments are becoming too common.

"We are living in what I think can aptly be described as the age of impeachment," said Starr, who investigated Clinton for years as independent counsel.

Starr said that after the Clinton impeachment both parties decided "enough was enough" and allowed the independent counsel statute to expire.

But, he said, "the impeachment habit proved to be hard to kick."

Starr contended that impeachment should charge criminal violations, and not just any crimes but high crimes, given the ability of the people to select a new president in the next election.

"Let the people decide," he urged the Senate.

Mulvaney Denies Leaked Bolton Account (12:56 p.m.)

The lawyer for acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said he denies knowing anything about Trump making demands of Ukraine in exchange for U.S. financial aid.

Mulvaney's lawyer, Bob Driscoll, said in a statement the reports about former National Security Advisor John Bolton's upcoming book have "more to do with publicity than the truth."

"John Bolton never informed Mick Mulvaney of any concerns surrounding Bolton's purported August conversation with the president," Driscoll said. "Nor did Mr. Mulvaney ever have a conversation with the president or anyone else indicating that Ukrainian military aid was withheld in exchange for a Ukrainian investigation of Burris, the Bidens, or the 2016 election."

The lawyer also said Mulvaney has "no recollection" of a conversation with Trump and the president's lawyer Rudy Giuliani about the then-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

Trump Lawyers Won't Finish Defense Monday (12:40 p.m.)

Trump's legal team won't complete its case on Monday but will continue its presentation Tuesday, according to an administration official.

The president's defense lawyers gave two hours of arguments on Saturday and are permitted to make as many as 22 additional hours of arguments Monday and Tuesday, under the trial rules.

Graham Wants to See Bolton Manuscript (11:57 a.m.)

GOP Senator Lindsey Graham said he wants to see the manuscript of former National Security Advisor John Bolton's book, according to a tweet by a Washington Post reporter.

"I want to see the manuscript," said Graham, a staunch Trump supporter.

Schumer Says Mulvaney More Important Witness (11:30 a.m.)

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney would be an even more important trial witness than former National Security Advisor John Bolton, said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

"He was chief cook and bottle washer" and witnessed more events than Bolton, Schumer told reporters Monday.

"We want the eyewitnesses to what the president did to testify," Schumer said. -- Laura Litvan

Two GOP Senators Lean Toward Calling Bolton (10:59 a.m.)

Republican Senator Susan Collins said the reports about former National Security Advisor John Bolton's book "strengthen the case for witnesses and have prompted a number of conversations among my colleagues."

Collins of Maine said on Twitter, "I've always said that I was likely to vote to call witnesses, just as I did in the 1999 Clinton trial."

Separately, Senator Mitt Romney said it's "increasingly likely" that more Republicans will say the Senate should hear testimony from Bolton.

"It's increasingly apparent that it would be important to hear from John Bolton," Romney said on MSNBC, though he said he wouldn't make a final decision until both sides finish presenting their cases.

"I think at this stage it's pretty fair to say that John Bolton has relevant testimony," Romney said, a day after a New York Times report that Bolton has first-hand knowledge of Trump's personal involvement in a scheme to extract dirt on a political rival by withholding aid from Ukraine.

"I think it's increasingly likely that other Republicans will join those of us who think we should hear from John Bolton," the Utah senator said. -- Steven T. Dennis, Laura Litvan

NSC Says No Outsiders Saw Bolton Manuscript (10:03 a.m.)

No White House personnel outside of the National Security Council have viewed the manuscript of John Bolton's book, NSC spokesman John Ullyot said in a statement Monday.

"Ambassador Bolton's manuscript was submitted to the NSC for pre-publication review and has been under initial review by the NSC. No White House personnel outside NSC have reviewed the manuscript," Ullyot said. -- Justin Sink

Schiff Says Bolton's Notes Are Vital to Case (9:10 a.m.)

Lead House impeachment manager Adam Schiff told CNN he will press not only for testimony from John Bolton in the Senate impeachment trial but also for "contemporaneous" notes Bolton took during his time as Trump's national security adviser.

"We ought to not only have John Bolton testify but we ought to see what he wrote down in his notes at the time," Schiff said.

House managers will ask for Bolton's notes to be produced as evidence. "These are contemporaneous," Schiff said. "These notes took place while the events were happening, while they were fresh in his mind. Those, in many respects, are more important than the manuscript."

Representative Jim Jordan, a key Republican ally of Trump, told Fox News Monday that a New York Times report on Bolton's knowledge of the matter "doesn't alter the fundamental facts."

White House Dismisses Bolton Book Revelation (8:15 a.m.)

The White House is pushing back on a bombshell New York Times report that Bolton has first-hand knowledge of Trump's personal involvement in a scheme to extract dirt on a political rival by withholding aid from Ukraine.

"That's just not true," White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in an interview with Fox News on Monday. "The timing of all of this is very, very suspect."

"The president did nothing wrong and we stand by exactly what we've been saying all along and exactly what the transcript has been showing all along," Grisham said.

Meanwhile, Senator Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri, said on Fox that if the Senate calls Bolton to testify, it should also hear from all witnesses that are "material and relevant," including former Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden, the Ukraine whistle-blower and Schiff.

"If we're going to call witness, than we need to call all the witnesses that are material and relevant," Hawley said. "This isn't just about John Bolton."

Trump Senate Trial Heads Into Pivotal Week (6 a.m.)

The president's lawyers on Monday plan to expand on the preview they offered during a two-hour argument on Saturday. They can make up to 22 hours of additional arguments over two days, though they've said they may not take all of that time.

After Trump's lawyers finish presenting their case, senators will have up to 16 hours to ask questions of either side through written queries submitted to Chief Justice John Roberts.

Then the prosecution and defense will argue for four hours over whether to subpoena witnesses or documents, as Democrats have demanded and most Republicans oppose. A Senate vote to call for witnesses and documents would lengthen the trial, while a rejection of the proposal could lead swiftly to votes on a final verdict.

A report Sunday by the New York Times about former National Security Adviser John Bolton's potential testimony puts new pressure on Republican moderate senators to accept Democratic demands to subpoena new witnesses.

Catch Up on Impeachment Coverage

Bombshell Bolton Report Pressures GOP on Impeachment Witnesses

Trump Caught on Tape Saying 'Get Rid Of' U.S. Envoy in 2018 (1)

Key Events

Here is House Democrats' web page containing documents related to the impeachment trial. House Democrats' impeachment brief is here. Trump's initial reply is here, and his lawyers' trial brief is here.The House impeachment resolution is H.Res. 755. The Intelligence Committee Democrats' impeachment report is here.Gordon Sondland's transcript is here and here; Kurt Volker's transcript is here and here. Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch's transcript is here and here; the transcript of Michael McKinley, former senior adviser to the secretary of State, is here. The transcript of David Holmes, a Foreign Service officer at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, is here.The transcript of William Taylor, the top U.S. envoy to Ukraine, is here and here. State Department official George Kent's testimony is here and here. Testimony by Alexander Vindman can be found here, and the Fiona Hill transcript is here. Laura Cooper's transcript is here; Christopher Anderson's is here and Catherine Croft's is here. Jennifer Williams' transcript is here and Timothy Morrison's is here. The Philip Reeker transcript is here. Mark Sandy's is here.

--With assistance from Justin Sink, Daniel Flatley, Billy House, Josh Wingrove, Mike Dorning, Jordan Fabian and Jennifer Epstein.

To contact the reporters on this story: Steven T. Dennis in Washington at;Laura Litvan in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Joe Sobczyk at, Laurie Asséo

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