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Trump impeachment trial live coverage: The president's defense digs in

New curveball: An explosive report alleges John Bolton says in his unpublished book that Trump personally tied aid for Ukraine to an investigation of the Bidens.
Image: Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the House voted to send impeachment articles against President Donald Trump to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell officially received the House managers on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the House voted to send impeachment articles against President Donald Trump to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell officially received the House managers on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020.Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

President Donald Trump's defense lawyers on Monday presented the thurst of their defense against the president, undermining the testimony of key witnesses as well as raising questions about the conduct of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.

The defense team has also attacked the impeachment proceedings themselves, arguing a lack of due process and accusing House managers of trying to interfere in this year's election.

They also largely avoided an explosive report that alleges former national security adviser John Bolton says in an unpublished book that the president personally tied aid for Ukraine to an investigation into the Bidens — an account that conflicts with the president's.

Highlights from the impeachment trial

Live Blog

Article II - The Bolton Factor

Today, on Article II, Steve Kornacki talks to Shannon Pettypiece, senior White House reporter for, about the allegations by former National Security Adviser John Bolton that are upending the White House defense.

The two discuss:

  • How John Bolton’s allegations undermine the President’s legal teams arguments for acquittal
  • The shifting calculations on the part of Senate Republicans on whether to vote in support of witnesses
  • The question of whether the President could invoke Executive Privilege in blocking Bolton’s testimony

Listen here.

Blumenthal says WH counsel 'trying to confuse and distract'

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., spoke to reporters after leaving the Senate chamber for the night. He pointed out that Trump's defense team had largely avoided discussing the Bolton allegations and questioned why, if Trump was so concerned about Hunter Biden and Burisma, the DOJ didn't pursue its own investigation?

"Instead the president went to a foreign government to investigate a United States citizen," Blumenthal said. "That seems to me to be absolutely central to the corrupt abuse of power for personal gain. Never mentioned. Bolton. How many times was he mentioned? Once by Alan Dershowitz in passing. So you know where they are going and don't want to go. They are going toward trying to confuse and distract. They don't want to go to the facts."

Schumer on witness debate: 'Don't underestimate the power that Trump and McConnell' have on GOP

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Monday night that while Democrats might have gained some traction in their push for witnesses, he warned that no one should underestimate the grip that President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have over Republicans. 

“There’s no question we’re making good progress here, and we’re a lot better off today than we were yesterday,” Schumer said on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” about the latest Bolton revelations. 

Reacting to Sen. Angus King’s, I-Maine, prediction on Monday that five to 10 Republicans could vote in favor of witness testimony, Schumer said that while Democrats are “doing better and better” in that debate, he said he has to be a little less bold. 

“Don't underestimate the power that Trump and McConnell, the squeeze, that they will place on these members,” Schumer said of the GOP senators.

The report from The New York Times Sunday night about Bolton’s book manuscript prompted two senators — Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine — to speak out Monday and argue that the developments give greater weight to the need for calling witnesses in the trial. Romney said it's "increasingly likely" there will be enough Republican senators to vote to call witnesses.

Assuming all members of the Senate Democratic Caucus vote in favor of witnesses, they would need four Republicans to join some in order for the Senate to move to that stage. 

Dershowitz says 'nothing' impeachable about Bolton allegations

Dershowitz argued Monday night that even if explosive allegations made by former national security adviser John Bolton against Trump are true, they wouldn’t rise to the level of impeachment.

According to an unpublished manuscript of Bolton's upcoming book, as reported by The New York Times on Sunday night, Trump told Bolton that nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine would not be released until it offered assistance with investigations of Democratic targets, including former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.

“If a president, any president, were to have done what the Times reported about the content of the Bolton manuscript, that would not constitute an impeachable offense. Let me repeat: nothing in the Bolton revelations, even if true, would rise to the level of an abuse of power or an impeachable offense,” Dershowitz said on the Senate floor.

More here.

Warren: Dershowitz argument 'contrary to both law & fact'

And we're done for the day

After Dershowitz wrapped up, Cipollone offered concluding remarks — and the trial adjourned at 9:02 p.m. ET.

Trump's defense will continue its presentations for the third and final day Tuesday at 1 p.m. ET. 

Dershowitz acknowledges flip-flop on 1998 comments in Clinton impeachment

Dershowitz acknowledged his changing position on whether a president can be impeached for "criminal-like conduct."

Dershowitz argued in 1998 during the Clinton impeachment that a president doesn't have to commit a "technical crime," such as abuse of power, in order for it rise to an impeachable offense. However, he has said in Trump's defense that the framers intended for impeachable conduct to mean "criminal-like conduct."

He said in 1998: "It certainly doesn't have to be a crime. If you have somebody who completely corrupts the office of president and who abuses trust and who poses great danger to our liberty, you don't need a technical crime."

However, on Monday he said that he had not done his research and was unaware of past scholarly arguments.

"During the Clinton impeachment, I stated in an interview that I did not think that a technical crime was required, but that I did think that abusing trust could be considered — I said that," he said. "At that time, I had not done the extensive research on that issue because it was irrelevant to the Clinton case, and I was not fully aware of the compelling counterarguments. So I simply accepted the academic consensus on an issue that was not on the front burner at the time."

Dershowitz argues that Congress is substituting 'its own judgment' for the Constitution

Dershowitz argued that the articles of impeachment are not "constitutionally authorized criteria for impeachment." 

Dershowitz, who has been a frequent defender of the president on cable news, claimed that the framers of the Constitution would not have considered the charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress impeachable because they are not specifically mentioned in the Constitution, as treason and bribery are.

"For Congress to ignore the specific words of the Constitution itself and substitute its own judgment would be for Congress to do what it is accusing the president of doing," he said. 

He said that he argued in favor of the rights of presidents in past impeachments, such as Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, and said he would have argued in favor of the rights of Hillary Clinton if she were president and impeached by a Republican Congress. 

"I stand against the application and misapplication of the constitutional criteria in every case and against any president without regard to whether I support his or her policies," he said. 

As Trump's other defense lawyers have argued that the president had a right to look into corruption into Ukraine and did not tie investigations into the Bidens to withholding military aid, Dershowitz is arguing that the charges themselves are not legitimate because they are not what the founders thought of as impeachable offenses. 

ANALYSIS: Bolton pits Trump against Senate GOP's majority

It's going to hurt Senate Republicans more than they thought it would to give President Donald Trump the cover he wants in his impeachment trial.

Former national security adviser John Bolton's allegation that Trump linked U.S. aid for Ukraine to political investigations — the same charge at the heart of the impeachment trial — puts Republican senators in tight re-election fights, the GOP leaders who hope to keep their majority and assorted moderates all in the position of recalculating how much impeachment-related risk they are willing to accept, and how much should be shouldered by the president.

"Bolton's thumb has tilted the scale," said Dan Eberhart, a major GOP fundraiser for Senate candidates and a Trump supporter. "Protecting the president has become an even harder decision for Republican senators."

Read more here.

Dershowitz takes over, presenting constitutional argument against impeachment

Alan Dershowitz, the famed defense attorney whose clients included financier Jeffrey Epstein, kicked off his presentation by noting that he would be making the same constitutional argument against impeachment even if the president were Hillary Clinton and not Donald Trump.

He added that he voted for Clinton in 2016, before beginning his argument that in order to impeach a president, a crime must be committed — "abuse of power" alone is not enough. 

Dershowitz argued the opposite in 1998, during the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, which Democrats now prosecuting the case against Trump noted days earlier. "It certainly doesn't have to be a crime. If you have somebody who completely corrupts the office of president and who abuses trust and who poses greater danger to our liberty, you don't need a technical crime," Dershowitz said at the time.


Trump lawyer suggests Ukraine call wasn't quite perfect

Robert Ray made a point in his speech that Trump could have most likely avoided impeachment if he had gone through proper channels in “attempting to spur action by a foreign government in coordinating law enforcement efforts with our government.”

“While the president certainly enjoys the power to do otherwise, there is a consequence to that action as we have now witnessed. After all, that is why we are all here,” Ray said.