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Trump lawyers tell impeachment trial: 'Time for this to end'

President's lawyers brush off former national security adviser John Bolton's explosive allegations about Donald Trump's conduct

President Donald Trump boards Air Force One in Andrews Air Force Base, en route to a campaign rally in Wildwood, New Jersey, on Tuesday, January 28, 2020.. (AP Photo/Michael McCoy
President Donald Trump boards Air Force One in Andrews Air Force Base, en route to a campaign rally in Wildwood, New Jersey, on Tuesday, January 28, 2020.. (AP Photo/Michael McCoy

Republican senators remained uncertain on Tuesday over the key question of whether to call witnesses in US President Donald Trump's Senate impeachment trial as his legal team finished its opening arguments with an appeal for a quick acquittal.

Saying "it is time for this to end", Mr Trump's lawyers brushed off former national security adviser John Bolton's explosive allegations about Mr Trump's conduct and accused Democrats of trying to interfere with his November re-election bid.

Later, Republican senators met behind closed doors to discuss calling witnesses including Mr Bolton, but emerged with no certainty. Four Republicans would need to vote for witnesses, along with all 47 Democrats and independents.

Republican Senator John Barrasso said the consensus was: "We've heard enough and it's time to go to a final judgment vote."

But other Republicans said the vote count was unclear and no decision would be made until Friday.

Republican Kevin Cramer, a conservative defender of Mr Trump who opposes bringing in witnesses, said the party's senators were "mostly united".

"I'm pretty sure it's not unanimous but I don't know what the numbers are," Mr Cramer said.

Mr Trump's legal team sought to minimise the importance of Mr Bolton's book manuscript that describes the president's central role in a pressure campaign aimed at having Ukraine investigate Joe Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination.

"You cannot impeach a president on an unsourced allegation," Mr Trump's personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow, told the Senate.

The Democratic-led House on December 18 impeached Mr Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress arising from his request that Ukraine investigate Mr Biden, a former vice president.

The Republican-controlled Senate is almost certain to acquit Mr Trump, who has called the impeachment proceedings on the campaign trail as an effort by Democrats to poison his re-election.

His lawyers echoed that argument on Tuesday.

"Overturning past elections 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," White House Counsel Pat Cipollone told the Senate.

"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."

When they reconvene on Wednesday, senators will begin two days of questions to the lawyers representing Mr Trump and to the seven House of Representatives Democrats who have served as prosecutors.

That would leave summations and a vote on witnesses for Friday.

Adam Schiff, who served as the lead Democratic prosecutor in arguing the case against Mr Trump last week, said witnesses would be needed for the trial to be considered fair.

"A fair trial involves witnesses and it involves documents," Mr Schiff said.

Mr Bolton's manuscript directly contradicts Mr Trump's account of events.

He wrote that the president told him he wanted to freeze $391 million in security aid to Ukraine until Kiev pursued investigations into Democrats, including Mr Biden and his son Hunter Biden, The New York Times reported.

Mr Bolton's allegations go to the heart of impeachment charges against Mr Trump.

Democrats have said the president abused his power by using the security aid, approved by Congress to help Ukraine battle Russia-backed separatists, to get a foreign power to smear a political rival.

Mr Sekulow underscored what fellow Trump legal team member Alan Dershowitz told senators late on Monday – that even if what Mr Bolton says is true, it would not represent impeachable conduct.

Mr Bolton left his White House post last September. Mr Trump has said he fired him but Mr Bolton said he quit after policy disagreements.

Mr Trump has denied telling Mr Bolton that he sought to use the Ukraine aid as leverage to get Kiev to investigate the Bidens.

He has denied any quid pro quo in his dealings with Ukraine.

Mr Sekulow told the senators that impeachment "is not a game of leaks and unsourced manuscripts. That's politics, unfortunately".

Some Republican senators who oppose calling witnesses proposed that Mr Bolton's manuscript be made available for senators to review on a classified basis, an idea rejected by top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer.

"What an absurd proposal. It's a book," Mr Schumer said of the proposal floated by Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and James Lankford.

He said there was no need to place the manuscript for review in a classified setting "unless you want to hide something".

Mr Lankford urged Mr Bolton to speak publicly outside of the trial.

Mr Schumer criticised Mr Trump's legal team for stating during its arguments to the Senate that there was no eyewitness testimony detailing abuse of power, "when we know that John Bolton has eyewitness testimony and is willing to testify."

He made a new appeal for four Republican senators to join Democrats in voting to call witnesses.

Mr Schumer also indicated Democrats would reject any effort at a so-called witness swap with Republicans.

"The Republicans can call who they want. They have the ability. They have the majority," he said.

Mr Sekulow sought to portray Mr Trump as the victim of scheming by Washington insiders dating back to his 2016 candidacy.

He listed grievances that Mr Trump raised about prior investigations, including the special counsel probe that documented Russian interference in the 2016 election, to boost his candidacy and his campaign's contacts with Moscow.

The impeachment drive against Mr Trump, Mr Sekulow said, was a partisan exercise motivated by Democratic opposition to the president's policies, not genuine impeachable offences.

"But to have a removal of a duly elected president based on a policy disagreement?" Mr Sekulow asked. "That is not what the framers [of the Constitution] intended.

"And if you lower the bar that way, danger, danger, danger because the next president or the one after that, he or she would be held to that same standard. I hope not. I pray not."

Updated: January 29, 2020 04:20 AM

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