Trump team conducts Theatre of the Absurd in the Capitol
Lead Actor in Trump's Theater of the Absurd, TV attorney Alan Dershowitz, outside federal court in New York last month. | Richard Drew/AP

Donald Trump’s legal team is shifting its defense of the president to an argument that even if he is guilty of everything charged in the articles of impeachment he, and no president for that matter, can be removed for either abuse of power or obstruction of Congress.

TV defense lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, got up before the Senate to also argue that even if the Bolton statements are true, it is not enough to impeach Trump. Bolton has written in a manuscript for his coming book that Trump told him directly that he was conditioning release of congressionally approved aid on Ukraine announcing investigations of the Bidens. Demands that Bolton testify have grown hour-by-hour since Bolton’s information exploded into the news Sunday night.

Dershowitz and Ken Starr, another Trump defense lawyer, insisted that a president cannot be impeached unless he committed a crime that is on the books. When the Constitution was written, of course, there were no crimes of any kind on the books, making it impossible that this is what the framers could have intended.

One can imagine almost countless scenarios in which the Dershowitz logic falls apart. Stretching the imagination for a moment: What would happen if a president said he wanted to take a break from his job and vacation for a year or so on a tropical island? There is no law against that so under the Dershowitz logic the president could not be impeached even for entirely shirking his duties.

While the president’s legal defense team was mounting ridiculous “defenses,” demands grew that John Bolton, former chief of national security, be called to testify in the trial. He has said he is willing to testify before the Senate.

Several Republican senators are among those who are saying they want witnesses so that this can be a real trial. Independent Maine Sen. Angus King said yesterday that there were five to 10 Republican senators who would do so.

Bolton’s testimony regarding what Trump told him blows a hole in the central contention of Trump lawyers who have argued that the president never connected the suspension of aid to Ukraine to investigations of the Bidens.

At the very least, the Bolton revelations have seriously dampened, at least for now, Republican hopes for a quick end to the impeachment trial. The Bolton revelations essentially kill hours of arguments by GOP lawyers that no first hand witness has testified to direct knowledge that Trump’s holdup of aid was connected to investigations of his political opponents. While that contention by the Trump lawyers is itself not true the Bolton testimony would completely blow their argument out of the water.

The first article of impeachment accuses Trump with abusing his power by asking Ukraine’s president to announce a probe of the Bidens while he was withholding almost 400 million dollars in congressionally appropriated aid.

The second article charges Trump with obstruction of Congress.

Republicans are scheduled to complete their defense arguments today.

Yesterday Trump’s lawyers said the entire impeachment process was illegitimate and unconstitutional. The purpose of that absurd argument was to build an off-ramp for GOP senators who, knowing Trump is guilty as charged in the impeachment articles, can still feel comfortable acquitting him.

Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who herself took illegal campaign contributions from Trump, attacked the Bidens during her defense presentation yesterday.

Hunter Biden served on the board of the Ukrainian gas company Burisma while then-Vice President Joe Biden was in charge of U.S. diplomacy in that country.

Bondi claimed Trump had totally legitimate reasons to be suspicious of those Hunter Biden dealings with Burisma.

The Trump team has tried to implicate the Bidens in corruption that has been almost as rampant in Ukraine as it is in the Trump administration itself.

On Hunter Biden, the essential things to note are as follows:

First, no one has provided any evidence of wrongdoing on his part.

Second, Hunter Biden, at the time his father was Vice President, should not have taken the deal of membership on the Burisma board. No reasonable person can really defend that action.

Third, it is important to note, however, that Hunter Biden is a U.S. citizen. It is improper to try to get foreign governments to investigate and try U.S. citizens. There are plenty of mechanisms to deal with Americans engaging in corruption overseas without turning Americans over to the justice systems of other countries. (Note that Trump has pushed for removal of laws that forbid Americans to bribe people overseas.)

Fourth, Republicans were in control of Congress when Hunter Biden was on the Burisma board. They were busy accusing the Obama administration of all kinds of corruption and investigating Hillary Clinton endlessly for what happened in Libya. If they had concern about corruption on Hunter Biden’s part they could have taken action then. They waited, however, to push for investigations against Hunter until Joe Biden, years later, became a threat to Trump’s re-election. This makes absurd, then, Bondi’s argument that Trump’s concern about Biden is a legitimate concern about corruption in Ukraine.

Fifth, if there really was something they had on Hunter Biden we could all be sure that with William Barr as attorney general, it would already be out in the open.

Sixth, and most important, however, is that what Hunter Biden did or did not do all those years ago has nothing to do with the reasons for the holdup in aid or the extortion of the Ukrainian government by Donald Trump. In any normal trial, the judge would rule out as “irrelevant” any call for bringing in Hunter Biden as a witness.

The Trump lawyers were undaunted in their determination to conduct absurd theater, however. High on their list of those efforts was their contention before the Senate yesterday that it was Barack Obama who should be impeached.

But wait, there’s more! The GOP lawyers pushed hard on the idea that the aid holdup is not important because, in the end, Ukraine got the money. It was just another of the many rickety off-ramps they tried to build for nervous GOP senators.

Trump eventually did release the money but only after he was caught by the whistleblower making a complaint.

Perhaps more important is the fact that the problems that surfaced over the corrupt Trump Ukraine deal have not gone away with the release of those funds. We are facing another election right now and if Trump is acquitted nothing would stand in the way of him seeking to further corrupt that process between now and the November vote.

Turning again to the Trump defense lawyers and their arguments: The award for most nonsensical comment of the day yesterday by a member of the Trump defense team should go to the aforementioned Alan Dershowitz.

“Purely non-criminal conduct, including abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, are outside the range of impeachable offenses,” Dershowitz said.

The Trump lawyers, as a group, were caught off-guard by the Bolton revelations. They reacted slowly, sticking at first with what they obviously had planned before the bombshell Bolton material came out.

On the Bolton book itself they eventually said either Bolton was lying or that even if he was telling the truth, it did not matter.

Trump tweeted: “I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens. If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book.”

The revelations have caused at least two GOP senators to speak out so far.

“John Bolton’s relevance to our decision has become increasingly clear,” said GOP Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah while Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said she has “always wanted the opportunity for witnesses.” The Bolton revelations, she said, “strengthen the case.”

There are news reports that at a closed Republican lunch yesterday Romney made the case for calling Bolton. The person who gave the press that information did so anonymously because they were not authorized to make the disclosure.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was among those blindsided by the Bolton revelations. He said he didn’t know about Bolton’s book.

The lawyers and the GOP senators continue to scramble today as reports surface that some want one-for-one deals on witnesses – Hunter Biden for Bolton, for example.

Another of the absurd attempts to deal with the mess involves a GOP proposal that Bolton would not be called as a witness but that there could be a closed-door reading of his book!

Things got worse for the president mid-day today when former chief of staff, John Kelly, said he supported the calling of witnesses and coupled that call with praise for the “integrity” of John Bolton.

If things really unravel for the president and current Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney had to testify for example, under penalty of perjury and jail time, even he could be motivated to tell the truth.

McConnell has called for an emergency meeting of Republicans tonight when the defense finishes its arguments.

When the president’s team finishes today, there will be 16 hours for written questions to both sides. By late in the week, they are expected to hold a vote on whether or not to hear from any witnesses.

Knowing Mitch McConnell it will not be a simple vote and discussion on witnesses. If McConnell does not have enough votes to prevent witnesses he will be sure to extract a pound of flesh by insisting on calling witnesses like the Bidens or others that the GOP can use to distract from the central issues of the trial.


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.