‘Dead on arrival’: Trump conviction unlikely after GOP votes to nix trial

Nearly every Senate Republican declared Tuesday that putting a former president on trial for impeachment is unconstitutional, indicating that the House’s case against Donald Trump is almost certain to fail.

The procedural vote, forced by Sen. Rand Paul, underscores the significant hurdles facing the House’s impeachment managers, who will need to convince at least 17 Republican senators in order to secure a conviction. Paul’s motion to declare the trial unconstitutional ultimately failed because Democrats opposed it; however, 45 GOP senators voted to affirm the Kentucky Republican's view, delivering an early and possibly fatal blow to the House’s case.

Some Republicans said the vote did not necessarily indicate their views on the merits of the House’s case against Trump, in part because Paul’s motion focused on a narrow procedural question. But Paul’s effort reflects the widespread belief among Republicans that the Senate should not hold an impeachment trial because Trump is now a private citizen and therefore is not subject to the punishment of removal from office — though that view has been strongly challenged by legal scholars across the political spectrum.

Just five GOP senators — Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse and Pat Toomey — voted with all 50 Democrats to affirm the trial as constitutional and allow it to move forward.

“If you voted that it was unconstitutional, how in the world would you ever vote to convict somebody for this?” Paul told reporters. “This vote indicates it’s over. The trial is all over.”

Immediately before the vote, senators were sworn in for the trial, which is set to formally begin on Feb. 8. The House impeached Trump earlier this month on one charge of inciting the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, when pro-Trump rioters stormed the building in a rampage that left five people dead.

While Paul said the vote shows that the House’s impeachment case is “dead on arrival” in the Senate, it is possible that some senators judge the House’s case differently on its merits, especially as new information about the Jan. 6 insurrection continues to be revealed. Two-thirds of the Senate, or 67 senators, must vote for conviction in order for Trump to face punishments including being barred from holding federal office in the future.

Collins (R-Maine), who voted against Paul’s motion, agreed that the vote was indicative of the final vote on conviction. “Do the math,” she said. “I think that it’s extraordinarily unlikely the president will be convicted.”

“I don't think Democrats expect to have the votes to convict,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) added. “I don't think this is about accomplishing that. I think this is an effort to embarrass not only the former president but also members of the opposing party.”

Indeed, some of the 45 GOP senators who declared the trial unconstitutional said they would still weigh the evidence the House managers present independent of their vote on Tuesday, meaning that more than just five Republicans could be in play for conviction. Still, Tuesday’s vote strongly suggests that the House managers will fall well short of the two-thirds threshold.

“It emphasizes the importance of framing the evidence in a powerful way, and the trial team may want to evaluate whether witnesses will be called in effect to recall what Trump failed to do when he watched the assault in real time,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said, referencing the ongoing debate among Democrats over whether to drag out the trial by allowing the House managers and Trump’s defense team to seek witness testimony.

Republicans have been rallying around the legal argument that the Senate has no authority to put a former president on trial. Constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley, who has defended Trump on similar matters in the past, joined GOP senators for their weekly lunch on Tuesday.

Critics of that argument note that federal courts have consistently deferred to Congress to set its own rules and procedures, including the Senate’s “sole power” to hold trials for impeachment charges, as outlined in the Constitution. They also say that a president or any other official subject to impeachment could simply resign immediately before the Senate convicts the individual, thereby evading punishment that could include barring them from holding federal public office again.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Paul’s argument would allow a government official to “avoid a vote on disqualification by simply resigning.”

“By constitutional text, precedent and basic common sense, it is clearly and certainly constitutional to hold a trial for a former official,” Schumer said.

Romney (R-Utah), who has hinted that he would vote to convict Trump in the trial, pushed back against Paul’s effort, saying “the preponderance of opinion with regards to the constitutionality of a trial of impeachment of a former president is saying that it is a constitutional process.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was among the majority of GOP senators who voted alongside Paul. McConnell has been mostly mum about the House’s impeachment charges, though he indicated earlier this month that he was going into the trial with an open mind and later said Trump bears responsibility for the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection.

Republicans and Democrats alike criticized Trump’s conduct and his rhetoric leading up to the insurrection, in which he advanced unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud and falsely claimed that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen” from him. Just 10 House Republicans joined all Democrats in the vote to impeach Trump.

Ahead of the vote, Paul said Democrats were “angry, unhinged partisans, deranged by their hatred of the former president.”

“Shame on those who seek blame and revenge, and who choose to pervert a constitutional process while doing so,” Paul said on the Senate floor. “I want this body on record — every last person here.”

Murkowski (R-Alaska) said it was “unfortunate” that the Senate voted on Paul’s motion without significant debate.

“We don't get a lot of credit and we don't get a lot of allowance to change our mind around here,” Murkowski said.

During the Senate GOP lunch on Tuesday, Turley presented senators with both sides of the argument over the constitutionality of impeaching a former president. Some senators noted a recent letter from legal scholars, including some from the conservative Federalist Society, who argued a former president can be convicted, according to an attendee.

“We just talked about the history from both sides,” Turley told reporters after the lunch. “It’s just a really difficult question. They have a tough decision to make.”

According to Paul, Turley “said there's not a chance in hell that you could convict Donald Trump in any court in the land of incitement.”

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Everybody in Washington hates John Bolton

John Bolton has few friends left in D.C.

A day after excerpts from his bombshell new book emerged excoriating the President Donald Trump, the former national security adviser has managed to turn everyone against him.

Republicans say he’s a disgruntled sensationalist who’s merely trying to make money off his book. And Democrats, once buoyed by Bolton’s turn against Trump, now say he is “unpatriotic” for documenting his claims in a book rather than testifying to Congress during Trump’s impeachment inquiry.

Several Republicans this week took direct shots at Bolton, a neoconservative once heralded as the gold standard for the GOP on foreign policy and national security issues.

Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said Bolton is “somebody who thought he was being hired to be the commander-in-chief, and he wasn’t.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he found it hard to take seriously “anyone who claims to have witnessed treason and obstruction of justice and tells about it in a book.”

“Every meeting I’ve been in with John Bolton, he views himself as the smartest person in the room,” added Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the No. 3 GOP leader. “He thinks he should be president, speaker of the House and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court all at the same time.”

Barrasso also accused Bolton of becoming “the darling of the liberal left.” But that’s not exactly true, either. Despite producing several new vivid anecdotes that could launch new congressional investigations targeting the Trump administration, Bolton has few friends in the opposition party.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said Bolton “cares more about his book than he did public service.” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said Bolton is “obviously interested in making money, not saving the Republic.”

On the House side, Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday criticized Bolton for not testifying during the impeachment trial and said she’ll meet with committee chairs to discuss whether to haul him in to speak to lawmakers.

And it’s not just Capitol Hill Democrats who once tried to subpoena Bolton and Republicans who feel like he’s turned on the party to juice his book sales. The Trump administration is suing him in an attempt to block publication of the book even as it’s set to be released in the coming days.

Asked about the timing of Bolton’s book and his credibility, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) declared: “Nothing about that smells right. The House is frustrated by it, we are frustrated about it.”

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., listens to testimony from Secretary of State-designate Mike Pompeo during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on Pompeo's nomination Thursday, April 12, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

In his forthcoming memoir, “The Room Where It Happened,” Bolton makes a series of explosive claims and argues that House Democrats focused their impeachment investigation too narrowly on the president’s posture toward Ukraine and suggests Trump may have committed multiple impeachable offenses.

Bolton alleges that Trump asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to buy American agricultural products to help him win reelection, and that the president encouraged Xi to continue building concentration camps for the Uighurs, a religious minority in the country’s Xinjiang region.

Several senior Republicans indicated they had no interest in discussing Bolton’s bombshell claims, questioning both his credibility and his motivations. It’s a somewhat painful moment for the hawkish Republican Party, which once found itself in lockstep with Bolton on many issues.

“I don’t have anything to say about it, because he’s selling books,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said. He also downplayed any suggestion that Bolton should testify.

“I have no ill feeling towards John Bolton. Do you want to ask me about any policy questions?” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

In January, Bolton said he would be willing to testify as part of the Senate impeachment trial under subpoena; but just two Republicans Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) — joined Democrats in the failed effort to hear from additional witnesses. Several Republicans said they didn’t need to hear from Bolton in order to conclude that Trump did, in fact, solicit Ukraine’s help in the 2020 presidential election, even as they determined that it was not impeachable.

“The question for me was, did I need to hear more evidence to prove that the president did what the Democrats accused him of doing. And I said no because I’m convinced he did it,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who was essentially the deciding vote on the witness question.

Still, Bolton resisted efforts to testify before House impeachment investigators — even threatening to challenge a subpoena in court if Democrats issued one to him, citing directives from the White House.

“He did it to maximize book sales. He felt like if he gave away information before, it would hurt his book sales,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said. “And so he held back even when it would be valuable to the nation.”

Democrats also took issue with Bolton’s criticisms of the impeachment inquiry, arguing that he should have testified if he felt that he had relevant information to share.

“Bolton himself says if the Democrats just asked the right questions the impeachment might have turned differently,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.). “Mr. Bolton, why didn’t you come forward and testify to this effect while we were conducting an impeachment trial?”

Members of Bolton’s staff, however, testified voluntarily during the impeachment inquiry, something that Democrats regularly pointed out as they decried Bolton’s “unpatriotic” refusal, as House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) put it in statements filled with criticism.

“For the first time in my 14-year political career I agree with Adam Schiff,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). He said of Bolton’s book: “I got a long reading list ahead of me and it’s not going to go to the top of the stack.”

But Democrats may find Bolton’s book more enticing. And they were quick to not dismiss Bolton’s claims outright, saying that many of them fit into a pattern for Trump. Both Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said they found Bolton credible, while Brown said Bolton likely had documents to back himself up.

“I understand that given his motivations, people might question what he’s written. That’s a logical skepticism,” Murphy said. “But what he’s written seems consistent with everything we’ve watched Trump do publicly for the past three years.”

Senate Democrats are pushing for additional information on many of Bolton’s assertions, most notably his allegations involving Trump’s conversations with Xi.

“Regardless of whether you believe it or not, it needs to be tested because some of the issues presented in the book, if true, in my view undermine the interests of the United States,” said New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 22:  Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) talks about bipartisan legislation to create

The GOP-controlled Senate, though, is unlikely to pursue Bolton’s account of working at the White House.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the interim chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, demurred on whether he was interested in bringing Bolton before the panel to question him about the classified aspects of his memoir. Rubio declined to take sides in the battle between Bolton and Trump, who has repeatedly accused Bolton of lying.

Bolton doesn’t seem to have many friends left within the Trump administration, either. Hours after explosive details from the manuscript emerged, the Justice Department asked a federal judge for an emergency order to block publication of Bolton’s book, which is slated for public release on Tuesday and has already been shipped to some sellers.

The Justice Department argued that Bolton’s book contains classified information — an apparent acknowledgment that many of the details in the book are true. Yet Trump and his allies have dubbed Bolton a liar, saying he fabricated the anecdotes included in the book.

“Bolton’s book, which is getting terrible reviews, is a compilation of lies and made up stories, all intended to make me look bad,” Trump tweeted Thursday morning. “Many of the ridiculous statements he attributes to me were never made, pure fiction. Just trying to get even for firing him like the sick puppy he is!”

Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

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