Donald Trump’s lawyers made their final pitch to the Senate on Tuesday afternoon, imploring senators to consider the stakes of removing a president from office for the first time in United States history and asking them to ignore the new revelations from John Bolton as they consider their votes.
The lawyers for the defense have presented “a common theme with a dire warning: danger, danger, danger,” Trump’s attorney Jay Sekulow said Tuesday. “To lower the bar of impeachment, based on these articles of impeachment, would impact the functioning of our constitutional republic and the framework of that Constitution for generations.”
They argued that in seeking to remove President Trump less than a year before the national polls, Democrats were effectively denying voters their chance to weigh in on his performance.
“What they are asking you to do is to throw out a successful president on the eve of an election with no basis and in violation of the Constitution,” said White House counsel Pat Cipollone. “Why not trust the American people with this decision? Why tear up their ballots, why tear up every ballot across this country? You can’t do that. You know you can’t do that. So I ask you to defend our Constitution, to defend fundamental fairness, to defend basic due process rights, but most importantly — most importantly, to respect and defend the sacred right of every American to vote and to choose their president.”
The defense’s brief Tuesday session— senators murmured in surprise when Cipollone announced the end of their arguments after less than two hours— came after two previous days of making assorted arguments that ranged from asserting Trump did nothing wrong at all, to saying that even if he did what has been alleged, that they are not impeachable offenses, to detouring into defenses of Rudy Giuliani and criticisms of Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
They highlighted and repeated many of those points in their final statements, but didn’t seem to convince many Democrats.
“No,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, said when asked by TIME whether she had changed her thinking based on any of the defense’s arguments. “I don’t know where my other colleagues are,” she said, “but I would be surprised if all Democrats didn’t support both of these articles of impeachment.”
The final day of defense arguments was impacted by a stunning revelation in the New York Times on Jan. 26 that former national security adviser Bolton has written in a manuscript of his upcoming book that Trump explicitly linked withholding the Ukrainian aid to investigations into his political rivals. In the articles of impeachment, House Democrats claim that Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine as leverage to get the country to announce an investigation into Biden, and then obstructed Congress’s efforts to investigate that conduct.
After largely ignoring the Bolton news on Monday, Sekulow addressed it head on in his final remarks on Tuesday. “What we are involved in here as we conclude is perhaps the most solemn of duties under our constitutional framework,” Sekulow said. “It is not a game of leaks and un-sourced manuscripts. That’s politics, unfortunately. And Hamilton put impeachment in the hands of this body, the Senate, precisely and specifically to be above that fray.”
Sekulow also reiterated an argument that constitutional law expert and Trump lawyer Alan Dershowitz had advanced the previous evening, in which Dershowitz claimed that even if everything Bolton alleges were true, it still wouldn’t be an impeachable offense.
Multiple Democrats said Tuesday they were disturbed by that line of argument. “There’s this subtext here, which is essentially the President’s defense team saying, ‘Yes, he’s guilty, we know he’s guilty, and we have to fall back on the fallback of all time which is, so what?’” said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, one of the House Democrats’ impeachment managers.
“I was quite appalled at what we sat through all day,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat from Michigan, said Tuesday morning, before the final hours of argument, referencing Dershowitz’s appearance.
The proceedings left most senators staying solidly within their party lines, with the few in the middle wrestling with two conflicting accounts of the evidence before them. A two-thirds majority in the Senate would be required to convict and remove Trump from office; in other words, 20 Republicans would need to vote with the Democrats in the Senate— assuming the Democratic caucus stays united— for that outcome.
“There’s been compelling arguments on both sides,” Sen. Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat from West Virginia, said Tuesday. “There’s also things that basically are contradicting each other, and we’d like to get clarification.”
Senators will begin a period of 16 hours of questions and answers on Wednesday.