The president’s lawyers on Monday resumed their impeachment defense that began on Saturday – but there was an elephant in the room.
The New York Times reported Sunday that John Bolton, President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, writes in his forthcoming memoir that the president told him that he wanted to freeze military aid to Ukraine until officials there began investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
That appears to undercut defense arguments that aid and the investigation of the Bidens were not linked.
David Applegate, a lawyer and member of the conservative and libertarian legal group The Federalist Society, said that while Democratic House managers had “some fairly decent facts to work with,” they were too partisan in the way they presented those facts.
“If you accept (the Democrats’) view, you arguably have a president who is trading on the power of his office to investigate political rivals. That, one can argue, is an abuse of power. But I don’t think it rises to the level that this president or any president should be removed,” said Applegate.
“When you have facts that tell a good story it is better to lay out the facts and let those facts tell the story rather than present things in a highly partisan fashion, which is what I think the House has done,” he said. “Whatever hand it has on the facts I think it has overplayed it and that’s where I think its case falls down.”
But while Applegate agrees with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that it’s not the Senate’s job to make the case for the House, ultimately, he sides with Democrats on their call for more witnesses.
“I think that if there is a vote the Senate should be open to calling witnesses … although I am not sure that Ambassador Bolton is going to be quite as helpful as people seem to think,” he said.
According to Applegate, the strongest argument the president’s defense team has is that “no president has ever been removed from office when there was not some underlying crime involved. And here there is no underlying crime involved.”
Patrick Collins, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Chicago who helped lead the prosecution of former Illinois Republican Gov. George Ryan on corruption charges, said that the House managers did a good job of presenting their case – but their problem is the jury.
“I thought they did a nice job of weaving the video snippets, the motive, the fact witness statements into a compelling narrative for the two charges,” said Collins. “But we are not in a courtroom. We don’t have 12 impartial jurors … This is such a politically charged proceeding and I think the statements made today by the defense side, they’re really talking past each other because the Trump team is really arguing a different case than the prosecutors are.”
One of the problems for the House managers, according to Collins, is that although Trump may have attempted to tie military aid to the commencement of investigations into the Bidens, ultimately that did not happen.
“The aid did get released and the investigations didn’t happen. One of the arguments – and I’m not saying it’s a great one – but in a political sense you sort of have no harm no foul.” said Collins.
But Collins said the apparent leak of Bolton’s book manuscript has turned up the pressure on Republican senators.
“John Bolton now has a book manuscript that says the president tied this freeze on foreign aid to investigations of Biden. We don’t know that, but that is what the New York Times is reporting. If I am a senator I sure as heck wouldn’t want to hear from Mr. Bolton three months from now (after the impeachment trial) – why not hear from him now?” said Collins.
And while the Senate process may have the appearance of a trial, Collins notes that the jurors in this case do not get instructions from a judge as to what the prosecution has to prove.
“You don’t have that here,” said Collins. “When you ask if that is enough to prove it? It all depends on where you set the bar. And where you set the bar depends on where you come at this in a political sense. Impeachment is a political process. It all depends on your perspective.”