Republicans push a risky plot to block witnesses — but public pressure is building against them
Today was another short day in the Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump. Originally scheduled to go for many more hours, the Trump defense wrapped on one long, confusing, and dishonest spray of conspiracy theories and Trump talking points by lawyer Jay Sekulow and one remarkably short summation by White House counsel Pat Cipollone. A brief roundup of today's events:
• More leaks of the contents of former Trump national security adviser and ultrahawk John Bolton's forthcoming book have emerged. The New York Times reports Bolton wrote that Trump was weakening national security policies to boost his personal standing with Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan and Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Bolton also writes that he discussed his concerns with, yes, Trump Attorney General William Barr, who was himself aware that Trump's actions were touching too closely to Department of Justice investigations into the two countries, possibly including Trump leaking information on the status of those investigations to those leaders.
• Games continued between Bolton and the White House, with Bolton's team insisting it had not leaked the contents of Bolton's manuscript to reporters and blaming the White House. Meanwhile the White House, known for a history of truly robust lying on every topic imaginable, denied anything and everything.
• Another, more specific claim from the book: Trump resisted imposing sanctions on Turkish state-owned bank Halkbank for money laundering after being lobbied on the topic by Erdogan. Then, after Trump betrayed U.S.-allied Kurdish forces in Syria by ordering a rapid U.S. retreat and got hammered by U.S. news coverage, he apparently reversed himself and allowed prosecution of Halkbank to go forward.
• Republican senators are continuing to plot out how best to block witnesses from testifying as they scurry to close Trump’s "trial" as quickly as possible. One of the new plans floated by Sen. James Lankford and Sen. Lindsey Graham, both vigorous members of Team Cover-Up: Have Republican senators review the manuscript of Bolton's book secretly, in a "classified" setting, rather than calling Bolton directly. This is deeply stupid and everyone involved should feel ashamed at even proposing it.
• The Republican no-witnesses plan is risky. New polling indicates that 82% of voters want John Bolton to testify in Trump's impeachment trial, and 75% of voters want witnesses in general. (Not to mention being seen as co-conspirators in a scheme that traded U.S. and European national security for a Trump-demanded personal favor.)
• On the Senate floor, the Trump defense spent the majority of the short day with Jay Sekulow haranguing senators with a host of conspiracy theories Trump clearly demanded be included after they were left out of yesterday's shenanigans. The FBI conspired against Trump. Robert Mueller conspired against Trump. Everyone conspired against Trump. It was quite the pasta-to-the-wall performance.
• After a brief break, Pat Cipollone suddenly wrapped his own speech up after less than 10 minutes of speaking. We're not sure if that was the original plan or something decided on during the break, but it was certainly ... abrupt. All in all it was a strange, albeit short, defense.
• House impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff was not impressed with the scattershot defense of Trump, saying Trump's team "really did not, cannot defend the president on the facts despite their presentation of a 'list of grievances.'"
• Republican senators like Susan Collins are not getting good reviews at home for their waffling over whether to even pretend at a real trial or cut it all short after opening arguments. Collins' fallback move (expressing outrage at those who would ask her to do her job) is getting a bit old as well.
• Who's paying for Trump’s defense? The taxpayers are picking up the tab for the official White House lawyers, but the Republican National Committee, through donations from Trump supporters, is expected to pay millions to some of the others.