President Trump’s defense team put Hunter Biden and former President Barack Obama on trial on Monday during the impeachment case in the Senate, questioning why Democrats weren’t outraged about Mr. Biden’s $3 million sweetheart deal with a Ukrainian gas company or Mr. Obama’s “caving” to Russia on missile defense.
Brushing past Democrats’ renewed calls for former White House National Security Adviser John R. Bolton to testify, the president’s attorneys essentially put Hunter Biden in the witness chair to show that Mr. Trump had plenty of reasons to urge Ukraine’s president to open a corruption probe of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden and his son.
“Does it merit an inquiry that a corrupt company in a corrupt country is paying our vice president’s son $1 million per year?” Trump attorney Eric Herschmann asked on the Senate floor. “Did he know anything about the natural gas industry at all? Of course not.”
To point out the “absurdity” of Democrats’ impeachment standards, Mr. Herschmann also brought up Mr. Obama’s private conversation in March 2012 with then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, caught on a hot mic, in which he pleaded for “space” from Moscow until after his reelection to negotiate on missile defense systems.
“President Obama knew the importance of missile defense in Europe but decided to use that as a bargaining chip with the Russians to further his own election chances in 2012,” Mr. Herschmann told senators. “President Obama used the powers of the presidency in a manner that compromised the national security of the United States. The case against President Obama would have been far stronger than the allegations against President Trump.”
The president’s team laid out the aggressive defense amid new calls from Democrats for witness testimony in the trial, after a newspaper report said Mr. Bolton, in a forthcoming book, substantiated the impeachment allegations. He reportedly wrote that Mr. Trump pressured Ukraine for an investigation of the Bidens by pausing U.S. military aid last summer.
SEE ALSO: Alan Dershowitz defends Donald Trump in Senate impeachment trial
The report in The New York Times rattled Senate Republicans but did not cause a massive break in the ranks to turn against Mr. Trump or back the call for more witnesses.
The Democrats need at least four Republican defectors to achieve a majority vote needed to call witnesses. The Republicans with the most dramatic reactions were the ones already deemed most likely to defect: Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan M. Collins of Maine.
“The reporting on John Bolton strengthens the case for witnesses and has prompted a number of conversations among my colleagues,” Ms. Collins told reporters.
Sen. Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania told Republican colleagues that he is open to a “one for one” witness deal with Democrats.
Sen. Christopher Murphy, Connecticut Democrat, slammed the suggestion Monday evening.
“I would argue strongly against becoming co-conspirators with the Trump administration in helping to destroy the Bidens,” Mr. Murphy said.
Other moderate Republicans who are considered potential crossover votes did not budge from their positions.
“I said before I was curious about what Ambassador Bolton might have to say. I’m still curious,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican in the Democrats’ sights.
The newspaper reported Sunday that the manuscript for Mr. Bolton’s book claims the president, in a discussion in August, railed about Ukraine’s efforts against him in the 2016 election and said he did not want $391 million in military aid released to Kyiv until it cooperated in investigations.
The claim strikes to the heart of the impeachment case that Mr. Trump abused his office by withholding the aid to get an investigation of the former vice president, his political rival.
Most Republicans said they would wait on the witness questions until after the president’s legal team rests its case.
The president said in a Twitter message that he never told Mr. Bolton that the military aid was tied to investigations of Democrats.
“If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book,” Mr. Trump said.
He said his administration “has done far more” for Ukraine than previous administrations.
The defense is expected to wrap up Tuesday, followed by 16 hours over two days in which senators will submit written questions for both sides to answer.
The debate and vote on witnesses are expected Friday.
“In this case, it may move the needle in one direction or the other,” said Sen. Mike Braun, Indiana Republican. “I’m not going to deny it’s going to change the decibel level and probably the intensity with which we talk about witnesses.”
Senate Democrats celebrated their perceived momentum for calling witnesses.
“This is stunning,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat. “If there was ever a shred of logic left to not hear witnesses and review the documents, Mr. Bolton’s book just erased it.”
Republicans warned that Mr. Bolton won’t be the only witness if the trial is extended.
“I think you’ll want to hear from Joe Biden, you’ll want to hear from Hunter Biden. I’m sure there’s a long list of people we could subpoena,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican.
The president’s legal team didn’t wait for Hunter Biden to appear; they put him on trial in absentia. Pam Bondi, a former Florida attorney general and another member of the president’s legal team, called it Democratic “fiction” that Hunter Biden’s job raised no concerns in the U.S. while his father was vice president.
“Hunter Biden was paid significantly more than board members for major U.S. Fortune 500 companies,” Ms. Bondi told senators. “The average American family of four during that time, each year, made less than $54,000. Hunter Biden had no experience in natural gas, no experience in the energy sector. As far as we know, he doesn’t speak Ukrainian. Why was Hunter Biden on this board?”
The lawyers played portions of an ABC News interview with Hunter Biden last year when he was asked whether he would have obtained the job on the board of the Burisma Holdings energy company without his father’s connections.
“I don’t know, probably not,” Hunter Biden replied. He was being paid $83,333 per month for three years.
Hunter Biden got the job in early 2014 while his father was the Obama administration’s point person on Ukraine foreign policy. Ms. Bondi said Burisma and its oligarch owner, Mykola Zlochevsky, had a reputation for corruption and money laundering.
She noted that Chris Heinz, a business partner of Hunter Biden and a stepson of Obama Secretary of State John F. Kerry, had “grave concerns” about Hunter Biden’s post with Burisma and ultimately ended their friendship. He also raised red flags with the State Department about the arrangement.
“He was worried about the corruption, the geopolitical risk and how bad it would look,” Ms. Bondi said.
The president’s team also played a video of Obama press secretary Jay Carney being questioned about Hunter Biden’s job with Burisma.
“Hunter Biden and other members of the Biden family are obviously private citizens,” Mr. Carney said in 2014. “Where they work does not reflect an endorsement by the administration or by the vice president or the president.”
The president’s team and Republican senators have vowed to call both Bidens as witnesses if Democrats insist on calling Mr. Bolton and other former and current White House officials to testify.
The proceedings Monday also featured the first arguments on the Senate floor by former independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr and retired Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, legal celebrity members of the president’s team. Mr. Starr delivered an overview of how Congress got to “the age of impeachment” and warned of the “profound danger that a presidential impeachment will be dominated by partisan considerations.”
“The nation’s most recent experience, the Clinton impeachment, even though severely and roundly criticized, charged crimes,” said Mr. Starr, who is scorned by many on the political left for his investigation leading to the impeachment of President Clinton in 1998.
Referring to his role two decades ago, Mr. Starr said, “Like war, impeachment is hell. Or at least presidential impeachment is hell. It’s filled with acrimony, and it divides the country like nothing else. Those of us who lived through the Clinton impeachment understand that in a deep and personal way.”
Mr. Starr said the impeachment of Mr. Trump doesn’t meet historical standards because no crime has been charged, the House vote was not bipartisan and the House inquiry was “dripping with fundamental process violations.”
“The very divisive Clinton impeachment demonstrates, while highly relevant, the commission of a crime is by no means sufficient to warrant the removal of a duly elected president,” Mr. Starr said.
In the case of Mr. Trump’s impeachment, he said, “There is no national consensus. We might wish for one, but there isn’t.
“Impeachment must be bipartisan in nature,” Mr. Starr told senators. “This body should signal to the nation the return to our traditions: bipartisan impeachments.”
Mr. Herschmann, during his turn at the podium, asked where the Democrats’ calls for impeachment were during Mr. Obama’s dealings with Russia.
“They want one system of justice for Democrats and another system of justice for everyone else,” he said of the House impeachment managers.
Mr. Obama met with Mr. Medvedev at a nuclear summit in South Korea in March 2012. During an exchange that Mr. Obama didn’t know was being picked up by microphones, he told the Russian leader, “After my election, I will have more flexibility” on missile defense negotiations. He asked Mr. Medvedev to convey the message to Vladimir Putin, the real power in Moscow.
“President Obama’s actions clearly meet the Democrats’ test” for abuse of power, Mr. Herschmann said.
“He was asking an adversary for space for the express purpose of furthering his own election chances,” he said, claiming that Mr. Obama “was willing to barter away the safety or our troops, the safety of our allies … in order to influence the 2012 election, solely to his advantage.”
“Does it sound familiar, House managers?” Mr. Herschmann asked, addressing the House Democratic team. “It should. Where were the House managers then?”
When Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, he said, Mr. Obama refused to provide lethal aid for Ukraine to defend itself.
As the president’s team ended for the day shortly after 9 p.m., White House Counsel Pat Cipollone proposed that lawmakers learn from the legal arguments by adopting what he called “the golden rule of impeachment.”
“For the Democrats, the golden rule could be: ‘Do unto Republicans as you would have them do unto Democrats,’ ” Mr. Cipollone said. “And hopefully we will never be in another position in this country where we have another impeachment.”
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