Impeachment Today Podcast: A Republic, If You Can Keep It

In today's episode: Will John Bolton testify?

It's Wednesday, Jan. 29. Day nine of the impeachment trial of Donald Trump. Every morning, the Impeachment Today podcast helps you separate what’s real and groundbreaking from what’s just, well, bullshit.

You can listen to today's episode below, or check it out on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

It's Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. Day nine of the impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump, and this is Impeachment Today.

Good morning. I'm Hayes Brown, reporter and editor at Buzzfeed News. That's one phase of the president's trial down, which means there's just an indeterminate number of phases to go where the limit does not exist. There's a reason why they call it a political calculus, so let's get to it and make our way through all of yesterday's drama to see what adds up.

Yesterday was the last day that Trump's defense team had to make their initial case for keeping the president in office, and so the nation buckled in, ready for a marathon of arguments sure to dazzle all who watched?

Pat Cipollone:

Well, I had kind of a lengthy presentation prepared, but I think you've heard a lot from our side, and I think we've made our case.

Hayes Brown:

Or not. In the end, the president's lawyers spent a little under two hours in their presentation yesterday closing their case by early afternoon. In total, the defense only used a bit less than half of the 24 hours they had available. The House managers, on the flip side, used 23 out of their 24. White House counsel Pat Cipollone's closing argument followed a clip show of sorts showing Democrats during the Clinton impeachment saying that Republicans were making a mockery of the process with their hyper-partisanship. Here's what Cipollone said next.


Overturning the last election and massively interfering with the upcoming one would cause serious and lasting damage to the people of the United States and to our great country. The Senate cannot allow this to happen. It is time for this to end here and now. So we urge the Senate to reject these articles of impeachment for all of the reasons we have given you. Do you know them all? I don't need to repeat them.


I'm not saying that sounds like me trying to bullshit my way through an essay on a book I didn't read it in my high school English class — sorry, Mr. Bean — but...


They've repeatedly said over and over again the quote from Benjamin Franklin. It's a Republic if you can keep it. And every time I heard it, I said to myself, "It's a Republic if they let us keep it," and I have every confidence, every confidence in your wisdom. You will do the only thing you can do, what you must do, what the constitution compels you to do. Reject these articles of impeachment for our country and for the American people.


Convincing, but most people's attention wasn't focused on the defense's presentation. It was on whether former national security advisor John Bolton would be able to testify. News broke earlier this week that Bolton's upcoming book, which states that the president told him directly that military aid to Ukraine would remain frozen until Ukraine handed information that would be damning to his democratic opponents. Since then, Republicans in the Senate had been scrambling to figure out what to do with this information. The pressure grew on Tuesday when former White House chief of staff John Kelly said that he believes Bolton and that Bolton should testify in the impeachment trial.

Two of Trump's biggest defenders in the Senate, Jim Lankford and Lindsey Graham, have floated the idea that maybe the Senate should review the book's manuscript in a classified setting. But as many have pointed out, it's a book. It's going to be published, so why a classified setting? The president's defense tried their best with the last of their time to say that Bolton supposed book should not be counted as evidence in the trial, but in the process, they kind of made a really great case for calling in John Bolton as a witness. Here's two arguments that Trump's private counsel Jay Sekulow gave to the Senate.

Jay Sekulow:

Responding to an unpublished manuscript that maybe some reporters have an idea of maybe what it says, and that's what the evidence... If you want to call that evidence, I don't know what you call that. I call it inadmissible, but that's what it is. You're going to stop... Are you going to allow proceedings on impeachment to go from a New York Times report about someone that says what they heard in a manuscript? Is that where we are? I don't think so. I hope not.


I mean, fair. You probably shouldn't make a decision in a trial based on reports that have not been entered into evidence, but you know what is admissible? Testimony from John Bolton under oath. Sekulow also noted that both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have issued statements denying Bolton's reported claims, but you'd think that if what president Trump says is true, that he'd be more than happy to have Bolton questioned under oath about it with the threat of perjury hanging over his head, and deputy White House counsel Pat Philbin earlier in the day had asked this pressing question.

Pat Philbin:

The second point that I wanted to make is that how do we tell, under the House managers' standard, what an illicit motive is, or when there's an illicit motive? How are we supposed to get the proof of what's inside the president's head? Because of course motive is inherently difficult to prove when you're talking about, as they've conceded, they're talking about perfectly lawful actions on their face within the constitutional authority of the president, but they want to make it impeachable if it's just the wrong idea inside the president's head.


How indeed? John Bolton. As of yesterday, it looked like the showdown over witnesses will take place on Friday afternoon. Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell told his caucus yesterday that he's no longer sure he has the votes to keep witnesses out of the process, which isn't to say it's... Calmed down, people, calm down. Which is not to say it's a sure thing that Bolton will be called, let alone that the vote for witnesses at all will pass. But it's looking pretty likely on both counts. And now, in what I hope doesn't multiply your anxieties, I don't know why we're on a math pun kick, we have today's reading from our Nixometer.

On our scale, zero, normal day, normal White House. 10, Richard Nixon resigns, takes off in Marine One. And this morning, we're at an 8.2. The president's defense had what seemed last Saturday like a layup of a gig. Talk for a bit, get the name Burisma out there, blame Democrats, wait for those sweet sweet acquittal votes to roll in. But John Bolton came flying in with a block. McConnell isn't sure if he has the votes to wrap things up quickly and for the first time, the two sides will face direct questions from senators. I am on the edge of my seat. After the break, we've got a new game for you, so stick around and see what that's all about.

Welcome back. So I was all set to do another round of wild dish from today, but then the day wrapped up early. This led me to, well, panic and scramble, but because necessity is the mother of invention, I came up with a solution. So let's play a new game I'm calling Can I Get a Witness? Here's how this works. I'll present each side's argument on a specific part of the impeachment case. Then we'll look at what evidence exists and which witness or documents could clear things up further. Let's start off with the president's defense. Trump's lawyer said that Trump was well within his rights to ask Ukraine to investigate the Bidens because corruption, duh. The House managers say that there's no basis for the corruption claims and that it was evident to most people involved, including Trump administration officials who listened in on Trump's call with the Ukrainian president, that things were weird and wrong. So who would make the best witness here?

Why it's none other than former national security adviser John Bolton. Bolton is the number one preferred witness for most senators who want any witnesses at all. And based on testimony from some of the staff of the White House when this whole mess was going down, Bolton was firmly against the "drug deal," reportedly his words, that was being cooked up. And unlike most people who were listed in this segment today and later, Bolton has already agreed to testify, just as soon as the Senate subpoenas him. Plus, there's a little fact that there has been no evidence put forward so far showing that the claims that Rudy Giuliani passed along from Ukrainian officials that say that Hunter and Joe Biden were acting corruptly in Ukraine exist at all, no documents.

Next up we have the House managers who said that President Trump ordered nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine frozen until Ukraine's president publicly announced that Ukraine would open investigations to Hunter Biden's company and the wacko theory that Ukraine, not Russia, hacked the 2016 US election. That announcement will then be used to whack Democrats in the 2020 election, and show that Trump was framed as a Russian stooge during the last election. The defense's response, that the president is a foreign aid skeptic in general, which we all know and the money was being reviewed for whether it was worth spending. Plus, Ukraine is corrupt. We all know it. All the witnesses for the Democrats in the House have said so. So why send that money to a corrupt place? Also, all the money got spent anyway, so shut up.

Now, who would make for the best witness here? And we have a three-way tie for best witness on this front. Mick Mulvaney, Robert Blair, and Mike Duffey. Let's start off by pointing out the Government Accountability Office has already said that the way the aid to Ukraine was held up was illegal and in violation of a 1974 law passed to keep Nixon in check. So that's just out there as a fact. But Mulvaney is the one who got the order to hold the aid from the president. He then passed that on through the OMB, the Office of Management and Budget in the White House, to the rest of the federal government. His adviser, Robert Blair, knew all about the hold. This we know from New York Times reporting and other documents. And Mike Duffey, a political appointee at the White House Office of Management and Budget, is the one who signed off on the aid being held for months. Duffey took over that job from a normal career official at OMB, which was pretty weird at the time. That official testified that folks in OMB below Duffey were really weirded out by this process.

Now any one of them could help either seal the house manager's case or totally show that the president was innocent, but none of them have seen particularly eager to talk. A strong runner up, the numerous emails and other documents between OMB staff and the rest of the government, which apparently, according to witnesses, hated the hold and thought it was probably illegal. Again, they were right. The president has ordered that all documents related to the impeachment be put on lockdown and not sent to Congress, which is part of what led to the second articles impeachment against him. This Friday's vote over witnesses would open the door to getting at least one of these fellas to testify if it passes, but just who would be called and who would show up, that's to be an entirely different fight. We've got at least one more day before we know of witnesses will even be a thing this trial, so come back tomorrow for another game of Can I Get a Witness?

All right, friends, time for the latest edition of Trial Watch 2020. It's where we run down what's happening next in the Senate impeachment trial. We're entering a new stage of the trial where senators finally get to grill both the House managers and the defense. Drama galore, right? Well, not really. See, senators still have to be silent during the trial, so no speeches, but there's a workaround. The senators will be able to submit questions in writing. The questions have to be written down by hand on little cards directed at one side or the other and can't be anonymous. Senators have to sign their name to each question. The Chief Justice then reads off the questions alternating between the majority and minority parties. Here's an example of what that's going to be like from the Clinton impeachment trial back in 1999. The first voice you'll hear is then Chief Justice William Rehnquist, the second will be house manager, Asa Hutchinson.

William Rehnquist:

Senators and Coverdell asked the House managers, please elaborate on whether the president's defense team failed to respond to any allegations made by the House managers.


So this part where it's all quiet, that's Asa Hutchinson walking from his spot at the table in the front up to the front of the Senate where he'll give his answer. It takes a long time, apparently. Expect a lot of this dead air. This is unedited. Sorry about that. Okay, here we go. Any minute now? Okay. Okay.

Riveting. Hmm. The Democrats at least are pooling their questions to make sure there's not too much overlap. TBD on the Republican side. The manager and lawyers have been gently urged to keep their answers to about five minutes per question. It'll be up to Chief Justice John Roberts, though, to decide how strictly that's followed and how much work his gavel will be getting during this process. Tomorrow will be the first of two days where eight hours will be spent doing this back and forth. This concludes Trial Watch 2020.

Okay, that's it for today. Tomorrow we'll have for y'all all the pulse-pounding excitement that only a guy reading out questions can bring. All right, thank you guys so much who have subscribed so far. If you haven't yet, please just be sure to subscribe to Impeachment Today on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you go to hear my disembodied voice for all of your updates on this wacky, wild ass trial. Also, tell your friends about the show as we move toward what may be a finale and figure out how this all ends together.

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