President Donald Trump's lawyers on Tuesday wrapped up their final day of arguments in his impeachment trial, calling the charges against him unfounded and politically motivated.
After previewing their case in a short session on Saturday, Trump’s legal team doubled down on Monday, insisting there was nothing improper about his dealings with Ukraine's government and casting blame on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.
The president's defense largely avoided direct mention of a bombshell report involving John Bolton.
Highlights from the impeachment trial
- White House counsel Cipollone and lawyer Jay Sekulow wrap up the defense's arguments, which Democrats blasted as 'extremely weak.'
- McConnell outlines rules for next phase of the trial: questions and answers.
- GOP mulls calling witnesses, which a new poll says three-quarters of voters support doing.
- The president praises Pompeo's 'good job' on NPR reporter, while GOP senator acknowledges 'we knew what we were getting' with Trump.
- Ex-White House chief of staff Kelly says, "I believe John Bolton," while Lindsey Graham says he supports providing access to Bolton's manuscript.
Dershowitz responds to Warren criticism
Sekulow compares impeaching Trump over request for Biden probe to limiting free speech
Sekulow compared impeaching Trump over asking Ukraine to investigate the Bidens to the limiting of free speech on college campuses.
"Do we have like a Biden-free zone? Was that what this was?" Sekulow said. "That it was — it's a — you mention someone or you're concerned about a company and it's now off-limits? You can impeach a president of the United States for asking the question?"
Trump asked Ukraine to probe the Bidens and Democrats as he withheld Ukrainian aid and an official White House visit with Zelenskiy.
Meanwhile, Sekulow said the impeachment amounted to a "policy difference" and "disagreement" with Trump withholding the aid.
The Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan government watchdog, assessed that Trump violated the Impoundment Control Act through his administration's monthslong withholding of the aid.
Romney's vice, and other things senators are doing during closing arguments
As Tuesday’s session got underway, a number of senators were tardy getting to their seats. Sens. Jerry Moran of Kansas, Tim Scott of South Carolina and a handful of other Republicans trickled in late.
Among those appearing especially engaged in their note-taking duties on the final day of defense arguments: Collins, Murkowski, Cassidy and Toomey.
Lamar Alexander was reading and editing something — it wasn't one of the impeachment handouts or other documents the lawyers occasionally pass around. Lindsey Graham was largely absent.
On the Democratic side, most senators appeared engaged, although Sanders seemed somewhat less so as the defense's arguments continued.
Sekulow hammers on the significance of removing a sitting president
Trump's lawyer Jay Sekulow, delivering the second of three presentations Tuesday by the president’s legal team, seemed to appeal to Republican senators with a political argument, not a legal one.
Sekulow, raising his voice and pointing his finger, hammered on the fact that senators were being asked to convict and remove a president — and in an election year.
"I want to focus today, on my section, on what you're being asked to do. You are being asked to remove a duly-elected president of the United States and you're being asked to do it in an election year,” Sekulow said. “In an election year,” he repeated.
Sekulow even mentioned the Democratic senators running for president “in this chamber right now that would rather be someplace else.”
“Why would you rather be someplace else? Because you're running for president, the nomination of your party. I get it,” he said.
ANALYSIS: Philbin acknowledges limits on Trump’s power
One of the key arguments of the president’s defense has been that it’s the president, not his aides, who set foreign policy. Patrick Philbin made that case on the Senate floor to contend it’s impossible for the president to execute foreign policy that is counter to that of the United States simply because he overrules what Cabinet secretaries and national security officials say is in America’s interests.
That is “fundamentally anti-constitutional,” Philbin said. And he’s right about that. The president is elected, and his assistants, no matter how high their rank are not.
But Philbin had just acknowledged a truth about policy-making that is equally important and which speaks directly to the view of administration officials that releasing funds to Ukraine was in American interests.
Philbin noted that the laws passed by Congress limit the president’s power and he sets policies “within those constraints.” One of the laws passed by Congress was a spending measure directing the president to provide aid to Ukraine on a specific timetable. Administration officials urged him to act consistent with that law, which he signed, rather than outside its constraints. The Government Accountability Office has found that the administration violated the law in withholding the funds.
'You did a good job on her': Trump praises Pompeo for confrontation with NPR reporter
President Donald Trump took a moment from presenting his plan for peace in the Middle East on Tuesday to praise his secretary of state — for blasting an NPR reporter.
"That reporter couldn't have done too good a job on you yesterday. I think you did a good job on her, actually," Trump told a chuckling Mike Pompeo during his speech at the White House alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Trump was referring to an interview Pompeo did with NPR's Mary Louise Kelly last week, which the he cut off after she pressed him on why he has never publicly defended former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.
After Pompeo abruptly ended the interview, an aide called Kelly back to Pompeo's private living room where the correspondent said he "shouted" and "used the F word."
Defense's closing arguments to wrap up before 'dinner time'
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said they expect Tuesday’s session to be “several hours” with probably one quick break in the middle.
Deputy White House counsel Pat Philbin started opening arguments and Jay Sekulow will be next, followed by a break, and then White House counsel Pat Cipollone will wrap up arguments, Cipollone said.
"Our goal is to be finished by dinner time and well before," he said.
Romney spotted with a new beverage: chocolate milk
'You can't predict him': Lamar Alexander key in vote for witnesses at Senate trial
His political hero is former Sen. Howard Baker, the Republican Tennessee lawmaker remembered for his impartiality during the Watergate impeachment hearings.
Now, all eyes are on Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., as he could be a pivotal vote on whether there are witnesses in President Donald Trump's Senate impeachment trial.
Alexander hasn't tipped his hand and no one is totally sure of which way he'll go.
'You can't predict him," Tom Ingram, Alexander's former chief of staff, told NBC News. "He will hold his counsel, make his own decision and you won’t be sure of it until he makes it known in due course."
Alexander, who is retiring at the end of this term and has a history of working with Democrats on major issues, has been zeroed in on along with GOP Sens. Mitt Romney, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski as the top targets for Democrats hoping to have witness testimony and documentary evidence at the Senate trial.
Ex-White House chief of staff John Kelly: 'I believe John Bolton'
John Kelly, the retired Marine general who served as Trump's chief of staff for 18 months, said Monday that he believes the reported allegations made by Bolton in an upcoming book.
"If John Bolton says that in the book, I believe John Bolton,” Kelly said at a lecture series appearance in Sarasota, Fla..
Kelly added, "John’s an honest guy. He’s a man of integrity and great character, so we’ll see what happens,” according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
The former White House chief of staff said "the majority of Americans would like to hear the whole story," adding, "I think if there are people that could contribute to this, either innocence or guilt ... I think they should be heard.”
Bolton reportedly claims in the upcoming book that Trump linked Ukrainian aid with the investigations he sought into the Bidens in an August conversation with his former national security adviser. Trump denies having done so.