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Bernie Sanders & 2020 Election — Southern Primaries Buried Sanders Last Time. Will 2020 Be Different?

Sen. Bernie Sanders at the Democratic primary debate at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, January 14, 2020. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

After underestimating Bernie Sanders’s chances of winning the Democratic nomination for much of the cycle, one wonders how long until the pendulum swings back to overestimating Sanders’s chances of winning the nomination.

It’s become common to hear that the Democratic National Committee “rigged” the primary process in favor of Bernie Sanders and against Hillary Clinton. The Clinton campaign’s financial authority over the DNC was an absurd conflict of interest, the party’s superdelegates overwhelmingly preferred her, the 2016 Democratic primary debate schedule was ridiculous — a grand total of four debates before the Iowa caucuses, three of them held on Saturdays and Sundays — and clearly most of the DNC staff had a not-so-hidden preference for Clinton. But that doesn’t quite mean that there was a likely Sanders victory in play, snatched away by Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and the rest of the committee, and replaced with a Clinton win.

Yes, Sanders came within a few coin flips in Iowa, won New Hampshire by nearly 20 percentage points, and kept it pretty close in Nevada. There was indeed a point early on where it really looked like Hillary Clinton could stumble as a front runner in two Democratic presidential primaries, eight years apart.

But Hillary Clinton just crushed Sanders in South Carolina, 73.5 percent to 26 percent. And once the race moved on to Super Tuesday, with a heavy slate of southern states, Clinton racked up a slew of big wins south of the Mason-Dixon line: almost 78 percent in Alabama, 66 percent in Arkansas, 71 percent in Georgia, 66 percent in Tennessee, 65 percent in Texas, and 64 percent in Virginia. Sanders had some nice wins in Colorado (59 percent), Minnesota (almost 62 percent), Oklahoma (almost 52 percent), and his home state of Vermont (86 percent). But one of the clear patterns of 2016 was that Sanders could not win Democratic contests in the South.

As the race continued, Sanders kept matching solid wins in the Midwest against huge losses to Clinton elsewhere, and Clinton steadily expanded her delegate lead. For someone who started the race as an obscure long-shot running with the political label “socialist,” Sanders blew up expectations. But Clinton kept winning by enough margins here and there to have the nomination locked up — with the help of superdelegates — by early June. Nor is it fair to argue that the nomination was some sort of defiance of primary voters’ will; when all was said and done, 16.9 million people voted for Clinton in the primaries, and 13.2 million voted for Sanders.

It is not hard to envision a similar scenario this cycle, with Joe Biden in the Clinton role. Sanders has a good shot of winning Iowa — maybe by a lot! — but Biden’s probably going to finish no worse than a respectable second and it’s possible only Sanders and Biden finish above the 15 percent threshold for delegates. Things look good for Sanders in New Hampshire, too, although once again, Biden’s probably finishing a respectable second. Biden’s lead in Nevada might be dwindling, but it’s hard to see the former vice president tumbling too far. And then there’s South Carolina, where most of the polling (with one glaring exception) has Biden ahead by double digits.

(The four states are all seen as roughly equally important, but the number of delegates at stake varies: Iowa has 49, New Hampshire has 33, Nevada 48, and South Carolina has 63. A big win in the Palmetto State does a candidate a lot more good than a big win in the Granite State.)

Now check out this year’s Super Tuesday states and territories: Alabama, American Samoa, Arkansas, California (494 delegates!), Colorado, Democrats Abroad, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina (122 delegates!), Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas (261 delegates!), Utah, Vermont, Virginia (124 delegates). If Biden is the preferred candidate of Southern Democrats, he’s walking away with wins in a bunch of high delegate states.

Once again, Sanders has a shot at winning the nomination, but if he can’t win primaries in Southern states, hitting the threshold for the nomination gets a lot harder for him.

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GOP Senate leaders pressured senators to not call for witnesses in Trump trial

WASHINGTON — Senate Republican leaders exerted strong pressure Tuesday on the party’s senators to vote against calling witnesses in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, two sources familiar with the matter told NBC News.

The sources said Republican Senate leaders “whipped the vote” — although there was no official vote count —against calling for witnesses at the private GOP Senate meeting Tuesday afternoon, which came after Trump’s defense team wrapped up arguments. Whipping is when leaders firmly tell members how the party expects them to vote.

Several Republican senators wouldn’t divulge to NBC News the substance of what they discussed, telling reporters to “check with the whip” about any directives from leadership.

Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., told NBC News that he was “whipped against voting to call witnesses” but that there was not an official whip count.

Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and John Boozman, R-Ark., told NBC News, however, that they did not feel pressured. Boozman said everyone at the hour-long meeting was being “respectful.”

Four GOP aides told NBC News earlier in the day that Senate Republicans had been planning to meet to discuss the question of calling witnesses.

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The meeting of the Senate Republican Conference was held for the purpose of “starting to check the conference on witnesses,” a GOP leadership said. At a Senate Republican lunch ahead of the meeting, executive privilege was also expected to be discussed.

Conversations about where the Senate Republicans are on the witness question have been ongoing.

Full coverage of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial

A debate and vote on whether to call witnesses could come later this week.

Republicans have a 53-47 majority in the Senate, meaning Democrats would need four Republicans to join them in a vote for witness testimony in the Senate trial.

Top Senate Democrats have said repeatedly they want former national security adviser John Bolton, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Robert Blair, senior adviser to Mulvaney, and Michael Duffey, associate director for national security at the Office of Management and Budget to testify.

However, calls for Bolton, in particular, to testify have intensified in recent days after The New York Times reported — according to a manuscript of Bolton’s book, which it obtained and has not seen by NBC News — that Trump told Bolton in August that nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine would not be released until it provided all of the information it had in connection with the investigations of Democrats the president sought.

A pair of moderate Republican senators — Mitt Romney, of Utah, and Susan Collins, of Maine — said Monday that the report of major revelations in Bolton’s soon-to-be-released book strengthens the case for calling witnesses.

Download the NBC News app for full coverage of the Senate impeachment trial

Romney, Collins, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee are considered to be the most likely Republicans to vote for witnesses.

Murkowski said Monday: “I’ve said before I’m curious about what Ambassador Bolton might have to say. I’m still curious.” Alexander said he won’t decide until after both sides have answered questions from the Senate.

Sen. Lindsey Graham. R-S.C., a top Trump ally who’s resisted calls for additional witnesses and documents, acknowledged Monday that Bolton may be “a relevant witness” and said he’d consider subpoenaing a manuscript of his book.

Leigh Ann Caldwell contributed.

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Alan Dershowitz says Elizabeth Warren ‘doesn’t understand the law’ after she criticizes his presentation

“Warren doesn’t understand the law,” he tweeted Tuesday. “My former colleague, Senator Warren, claims she could not follow my carefully laid out presentation that everybody else seemed to understand. This says more about Warren than it does about me.”

Dershowitz alleged that Warren, his former colleague at Harvard Law School, “willfully mischaracterized what I said,” adding that “it’s the responsibility of presidential candidates to have a better understanding of the law.”

The pointed comments from Dershowitz come after Warren told reporters that his lengthy argument on the Senate floor Monday night was nonsensical. Dershowitz used his presentation to assert that even if Trump “were to demand a quid pro quo as a condition to sending aid to a foreign country, obviously a highly disputed matter in this case, that would not by itself constitute an abuse of power.”

He added: “Quid pro quo alone is not a basis for abuse of power, it’s part of the way foreign policy has been operated by presidents since the beginning of time.”

It’s unusual to hear an attorney on one of the legal teams in an impeachment trial directly criticize the senators who are acting as jurors, but Dershowitz’s comments only add to the partisan tensions that have plagued Trump’s trial.

Last week, Trump’s legal team slammed House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat who is one of the House impeachment managers, for accusing Republican senators of being complicit in a cover-up of Trump’s behavior by voting against having witnesses. On Friday, GOP senators themselves reacted negatively to Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who’s the lead impeachment manager, quoting from a news report that stated a Trump adviser had told Republican senators they would face dire repercussions for crossing the President.
The presence of Dershowitz on Turmp’s legal team was a surprise announcement just before the impeachment trial began. Trump was especially fixated on having Dershowitz, a controversial defense attorney, on his legal team but Dershowitz had been telling his own associates he didn’t want to participate in the trial, a source who is familiar with these conversations told CNN.

White House officials had applied a lot of pressure over the last several weeks to convince Dershowitz to join the team, sources familiar with the attorney’s appointment said.

His short tenure defending Trump, however, has been largely defined by a series of contradictory statements from his past.

Earlier this month, he told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that he is “much more correct right now” in his current views on what qualifies a president for impeachment than in his nearly opposite views during the Bill Clinton impeachment.

“I didn’t do research back then, I relied on what professors said … because that issue was not presented in the Clinton impeachment,” Dershowitz said. “Everybody knew that he was charged with a crime, the issue is whether it was a hard crime. Now the issue is whether a crime or criminal-like behavior is required.”

He continued, “I’ve done the research now — I wasn’t wrong (at the time), I am just far more correct now than I was then. I said you didn’t need a technical crime back then. I still don’t think you need a technical crime.”

CNN’s Daniella Diaz, Caroline Kelly and Jamie Ehrlich contributed to this report.

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When PolitiFact hit the road to cover the Iowa caucuses

People cheer as democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a campaign rally Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020, in Sioux City, Iowa. (AP)

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Our job, most days, is to fact-check what candidates say about themselves and their opponents. That usually happens from our desks in Washington and Florida. But in January, it was time to get up close and personal — in Iowa.

Three PolitiFact staffers spent five days following the Democratic presidential contenders in their closing sprint before the Feb. 3 caucuses. The Iowa crew included D.C.-based senior correspondent Louis Jacobson, south Florida-based staff writer Amy Sherman, and our audience engagement editor, Josie Hollingsworth, who is based at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg. 

All told, we drove roughly 1,100 miles to cover the candidates as they stumped across the state. Stops included town halls for Andrew Yang and Elizabeth Warren in communities along the Mississippi River, a rally for Joe Biden in suburban Des Moines, Bernie Sanders in the college town of Ames, and Amy Klobuchar in Waterloo. Our final stop was a Fox News town hall with Pete Buttigieg. 

Iowans respond to criticism of the state’s prominent role

The fact that African-American candidates Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, and Julián Castro, who is Latino, dropped out before the caucuses have left some questioning why Iowa — an overwhelmingly white state — should play such a large role in winnowing the field. 

After dropping out, Castro said that Iowa is “not reflective of the United States” and “not reflective of the Democratic Party,” and he urged that it lose its crucial spot at the head of the line. Biden didn’t say Iowa should lose its status, but he did acknowledge, “Are they representative historically and practically — based on race and creed and color — of the nation? No, they’re not.”

Iowa voters we interviewed vigorously defended their special place in the political calendar. 

“We are the crossroads of the United States. We are dead-center of the United States,” said Jim Auxier, a retired tool and die maker at a Biden event in Ankeny. “Where can you get a better perspective on the U.S.?” 

Others said Iowa shares many of the same challenges as other parts of the country, such as grappling with climate change. Connor Shannon, a 19-year-old who works at a sandwich shop, told us after the Sanders rally that he was concerned about flooding in Iowa, which was severe in some locations in 2019.

“More than ever this election cycle, Iowa is a very relevant place,” Shannon said.

Connor Shannon and Lauren Bey were among the Bernie Sanders supporters who packed a municipal auditorium in Ames, Iowa, for a rally. (Louis Jacobson/PolitiFact)

 

Iowa voters take their job seriously

Political scientists agree that Iowa has something special to lend the process: A citizenry that is not only used to scrutinizing candidates first-hand, but one that demands it.

According to a recent Iowa Poll, one-third of likely Democratic caucus-goers said it is “extremely important” how a candidate has engaged with voters at events.

“Iowa caucus-goers take the process seriously, and are serious about trying to learn about the candidates and put them on the spot with questions,” said David Redlawsk, a University of Delaware political scientist and Iowa caucus expert who has attended more than 100 caucus-related events in Iowa this campaign cycle. “Candidates have to be responsive, which is a learning experience for many of them.”

The Democratic caucus process allows voters to switch their allegiance on caucus night if the candidate they support fails to reach 15% in the initial round of voting at a caucus site. 

As a result, “voters pay attention to multiple candidates rather than locking into one early, and thus spend more time actually comparing and judging between them than primary voters in other states would,” Redlawsk said.

Historically, half or more of Iowa voters are late deciders about who they are going to support. 

“There’s an old saying here that you need to shake hands with a candidate seven times before you caucus for them,” said Christopher Larimer, a political scientist at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. “That seems to hold.”

It held for Nadene and Gary Davidson of Cedar Falls, a couple who attended an Amy Klobuchar event in Waterloo. The Davidsons were “95% behind Amy,” but they had attended a half dozen events featuring various candidates and were still seeking out more.

Iowans “really want to do their homework and understand what each candidate is really about and make the best decision,” Nadene Davidson said.

Nadene and Gary Davidson of Cedar Falls, Iowa, who attended an Amy Klobuchar event in Waterloo, Iowa, on Jan. 26. (Louis Jacobson/PolitiFact)

 

The campaign can be an emotional journey

The events in Iowa offer a more intimate setting where caucusgoers can ask questions or take selfies (and, in the case of Warren, meet her dog, Bailey, too). In the student center at Muscatine Community College, Yang’s speech was more like a conversation than a formal address, with a few dozen voters huddled around tables. He asked the group why Donald Trump won in 2016.

“Because the electoral college sucks!” one voter called out.

“He appealed to people that didn’t feel they had a voice,” another voter said.

Iowa voters made clear how complex issues of Medicare for All, trade policy and Social Security affect their everyday lives.

A mother of an 8-year-old with learning disabilities shared with Warren her struggles to get services at school. She fought back tears, and Warren got emotional too. Eventually, they hugged.

At the televised town hall with Buttigieg, a woman who described herself as an anti-abortion Democrat asked Buttigieg whether he would state that voters like her belong in the party, and that the party’s platform should embrace diverse opinions on abortion. Buttigieg said he understood her position but wouldn’t follow her request. The woman was frustrated. Buttigieg said it was up to women to decide what is best.

The personal sharing went both ways. Biden talked about his late son Beau, who died of cancer. Klobuchar spoke of her father’s struggles with alcoholism and her grandfather’s hard work as a miner. Warren tried to appeal to the everywoman in the audience by sharing how her path in life included some unexpected twists and turns, including getting married at age 19 and later getting divorced. 

The Iowa state capitol in Des Moines. (Josie Hollingsworth/PolitiFact)

 

Trump remains the ultimate Democratic rival, even in the primary

Democratic candidates, we found, generally focused more on their differences with Trump than on each other. Still, there were differences in style.

Biden’s speech at a community college near Des Moines was held in front of a calm crowd where voters told us their top priority was to defeat Trump. Biden campaigned as if he was already facing Trump. “The character of the country is on the ballot,” he said.

By contrast, Sanders’ event in an auditorium in Ames was boisterous and drew enough voters, many of them college students or recent graduates, to fill up the aisles. The crowd seemed to identify themselves as part of a movement.

With several candidates bunched close together at the top of recent polls, political observers said the outcome on Feb. 3 is hard to predict. While every caucus seems to pack a surprise at the end, said Larimer of the University of Northern Iowa, “I think people are a little more undecided this year” due to the closeness of the race.

PolitiFact is also sending a team to New Hampshire before the Feb. 11 primary. Follow along with all of our coverage @PolitiFact.

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President Trump Meets With Jon Voight in the Oval Office

President Trump Meets With Jon Voight in the Oval Office

President Trump met with actor Jon Voight in the Oval Office Tuesday afternoon before heading out for a campaign rally in Wildwood, New Jersey.

Voight, who won the Best Actor Oscar award in 1979 for the Vietnam veteran story, Coming Home, has been one of the most outspoken Trump supporters in Hollywood.

Trump awarded Voight with the National Medal of Arts in a White House ceremony last Novemeber. In addition to the Best Actor win, Voight has been nominated two other times for Best Actor and once for Best Supporting Actor. Voight has also won several Golden Globe awards. (Source.)

Voight posted video of an impassioned, prayerful speech supporting Trump in the impeachment battle last week.

White House reporters posted observations on the meeting between Trump and Voight, some with a dash of humor.

“While press awaits the President’s departure for a rally in Wildwood, NJ, Trump is joined in the Oval Office by supporter and actor Jon Voight, who is drinking a Coke at the Resolute Desk, reports @petermorrisCNN”

Reporters said Voight did not travel with Trump when he departed for New Jersey.


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Senate Republicans calm down after Bolton panic

In the closed-door meeting in the Strom Thurmond Room, a location where they’ve had tough internal debates over the years, critics of hearing from witnesses made a “strong” case against voting for new evidence, according to two attendees. A third attendee who opposes new witnesses said the meeting seemed to solidify the position against new witnesses and documents: “I feel good.”

Still, Republicans privately cautioned that they expect more revelations to follow the New York Times report on former national security adviser John Bolton that seemed to rattle Republicans. The vote on witnesses is expected on Friday after two days of question and answer.

“We’ll make our decision on Friday. We’ve got questions to go through yet,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.).

A wave of panic swept through Republican ranks on Monday following a report that Trump told Bolton in August that almost $400 million in U.S. aid to Ukraine would only be restarted when Ukrainian officials assisted investigations into the Bidens.

The claims — made in an unpublished book — severely undermined arguments from Trump’s defense team, and GOP leaders and the White House feared the report would cause enough Republicans to break with the leadership and vote with the Democrats to call Bolton as a witness, a move that could drag out the proceedings.
But by Tuesday, a “feeling of calm had been restored” to the Republican Conference, claimed GOP senators and aides.

Top Republicans are warning that calling Bolton or other witnesses could lead to “an endless cycle” that could drag out the Trump impeachment proceedings for weeks or months, especially if Trump asserts executive privilege to block Bolton’s testimony.

“If you start calling, then the Democrats are going to want to call [acting White House chief of staff Mick] Mulvaney, and they’re going to want to call [Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo – because I’m sure they would get referenced,” Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said of Bolton.

“And our guys are, obviously, going to start wanting to call witnesses on the other side to illuminate their case, and I think that gets us into this endless cycle… and this drags on for weeks and months in the middle of a presidential election where people are already voting.”

“I don’t sense any real turning of the tide” on Trump’s acquittal, added. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

There also appears to be little support among GOP leaders and the White House – or Democrats – for a proposal by Sen. Jim Lankford (R-Okla.) and supported by Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to review a copy of the Bolton manuscript in a classified session.

“Responding to an unpublished manuscript that maybe some reporters have an idea of maybe what it says — I don’t know what you’d call that. I’d call it inadmissible,” said Jay Sekulow, Trump’s attorney, on the Senate floor.

“What an absurd proposal,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Senators and aides speculated that Lankford floated the Bolton manuscript proposal in order to pull support from the push to subpoena him as a witness. A trio of GOP senators – Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska – have publicly suggested they will vote with Democrats on a Bolton subpoena, although a fourth Republican has not come forward yet to support that effort.

“I think that Bolton probably has something to offer us so we’ll figure out how we’re going to learn more,” Murkowski said.

Republicans’ “keep calm and carry on” attitude Tuesday stood in sharp contrast to the day before, when GOP senators were clearly shaken by the Bolton revelations and the idea of a prolonged trial with new witnesses and documents was revived.

But that revival appeared short lived after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) privately advised his caucus at a lunch Monday to take a breath and first see how things unfold this week — a mantra GOP senators repeated over and over heading into the chamber Tuesday.

“We’ll make up our minds on further documentation and on witnesses on Friday,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.). “Until then, we’ll listen to the rest of the defense team’s argument today and then we’ll make up our minds and make that decision on Friday.”

Some Senate Republicans were already using parts of the defense team’s case as cover in the Bolton drama.

Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) said he doesn’t think senators need to see a manuscript of Bolton’s book because the allegations don’t amount to an impeachable offense anyway, citing the arguments made by Alan Dershowitz — a former Harvard law professor and member of the defense team.

“He’s one of the smartest constitutional lawyers in the country and he said and made it clear that that doesn’t even get close to rising to the level of being impeachable,” Braun told reporters.

A number of Senate Republicans offered criticism of Bolton as well, denouncing the longtime conservative figure for undermining Trump at a critical time. They also suggested Bolton was leaking the allegations – which Bolton and his publisher have denied – to help sell his book.

“He’s a very unhappy person who was fired by the president. You have to take it with a grain of salt what he says,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), whose libertarian foreign policy views clash with Bolton’s hawkish stance. “He’s being paid millions of dollars for what he’s saying. He didn’t have anything to say a month because his book wasn’t finished. Now that his books is finished, he has a lot to say.”

Burgess Everett and Melanie Zanona contributed to this report.

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Trump, McConnell each increasingly resigned to Senate calling witnesses

It’s amazing how the GOP’s best-laid plans for the trial were upended by two short documents. One was Bolton’s statement on January 6 that he’d testify if subpoenaed by the Senate notwithstanding his prior reluctance to do so in the House. The other was the Times’s story on Sunday night alleging that Bolton’s book draft claims Trump told him personally there was an aid-for-Biden-dirt deal with Ukraine.

That’s all it took. If Bolton had kept silent about testifying, if that manuscript had remained bottled up, there’s zero question that the GOP would be on the brink of wrapping up the trial without calling any witnesses. To my mind that’s the best evidence that Bolton or his inner circle are behind the leak of the manuscript to the Times this past weekend. Clearly he wanted to testify, per his statement earlier this month, but until Sunday night it looked like Democrats might fall just short of the 51 votes they’d need to call him. Lamar Alexander was keeping his head down and Lisa Murkowski was making various disapproving noises wondering why Democrats didn’t call the witnesses they want in the House to begin with. Suddenly, like a bolt from the blue, the bombshell allegation from Bolton’s draft landed on page one of the NYT, all but ensuring that Murkowski and others would have to call him after all.

It’s gotta be Bolton who leaked, no? Gabriel Sherman reports that that’s the suspicion within TrumpWorld — and that McConnell realizes the chances of a trial without witnesses are evaporating.

Bolton’s revelations have made McConnell frustrated with Trump, two Republicans briefed on McConnell’s private conversations told me. “The White House knew and kept it mum,” a McConnell ally said. McConnell is said to be unhappy, and recalibrating his impeachment tactics. “He’s resigned to the fact there will be witnesses,” another prominent Republican said.

Inside Trumpworld, it is widely assumed Bolton is behind the leak, three Republican sources told me. Their suspicion is driven by the fact that Bolton left the administration in September on bad terms and has been waging a shadow war against Trump ever since. In November, NBC News reported Bolton trashed Trump during a private speech, saying Trump’s foreign policy was driven by Trump’s business interests. A source close to Bolton told me that Bolton has privately told GOP donors that Trump is “mentally unstable.” Bolton also has said he worries Trump will pull the United States out of NATO if he gets a second term. “Bolton’s been out there trying to bring down Trump. He’s the ultimate passive-aggressive,” the person close to Bolton said.

That might explain why he’s eager to insinuate himself into the trial. There’s no chance the Senate removes Trump, but if Trump’s own NSA testifies under oath that he thinks POTUS is both nutty and corrupt then a million Democratic attack ads will flow from it this fall. He doesn’t need to testify to make that point, of course: The book is coming out and he can do as many TV interviews as he wants. But nothing would lend gravity to a claim like that the way testimony during an impeachment trial would. And Bolton may want to create the perception, however weak, that he’s being compelled to speak out rather than attacking Trump willingly, never mind that he immediately took to writing a memoir after stepping down as NSA and practically begged the Senate to subpoena him per his statement a few weeks ago. One former White House official told Sherman he thought Bolton really had no choice but to try to get called as a witness if in fact he’s intent on accusing Trump of Ukraine misconduct in his book: “I mean, what an a**hole he would look like if impeachment ended and it looked like he withheld evidence.”

So yeah, he’s going to be called. Like McConnell, Trump is reportedly resigned to it too:

According to several people who spoke to him, Mr. Trump has sounded resigned to the possibility of witnesses after The New York Times reported Sunday that Mr. Bolton’s manuscript described the president directly tying the release of security aid to Ukraine to the country’s pursuit of investigations he sought into Democrats.

Still, several Trump advisers said that Republican senators seemed reassured after hearing from one of the president’s defense lawyers, Alan Dershowitz, the only member of Mr. Trump’s team to reference the manuscript’s claims during the legal team’s presentation on Monday. Even if what Mr. Bolton wrote was true, Mr. Dershowitz told the senators, it did not rise to the level of an impeachable offense.

It’d be funny if they used Dershowitz’s presentation last night as an excuse to shift immediately to the increasingly inevitable “bad but not impeachable” grounds for acquittal without ever calling Bolton. If Dersh is right that withholding military aid in order to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens isn’t a high crime or misdemeanor, well, then there’s no need to hear any witnesses. Just stipulate that Trump is guilty of a quid pro quo, exactly as House Democrats have alleged, and issue the verdict. Not a removable offense.

I don’t think they have the stones to do it, especially since Trump is so wedded to his “PERFECT CALL!” nonsense. But the shamelessness of it would befit our era. They could turn on a dime from “there’s no evidence!” to “the overwhelming evidence is irrelevant!” and skip the intermediate step in which Bolton has to deliver his dramatic testimony. They should go for it! Bolton could shrug and say, “Hey, I tried,” and then release his book to great fanfare. Susan Collins could shrug and say, “I admitted that what Trump did was bad, didn’t I?”, and then hopefully get reelected.

Everyone would be happy. Except the president, fuming that his own party ended up agreeing with Pelosi that he misbehaved. Just not so egregiously that he had to be removed from office because of it.

Here’s Lindsey Graham this afternoon also sounding more resigned to witnesses being called, and warning Democrats that both Bidens, the whistleblower, and some DNC official who was in contact with the Ukrainians in 2016 will all be called. That’s highly unlikely, both because the Collins crew will be reluctant to call the whistleblower and because something will have to go badly wrong — mostly for the GOP — if each side is suddenly chasing as many as four witnesses apiece. (If the Dems get four, they’re going to be heavy-hitters like Bolton, Mulvaney, and Pompeo, all of whom could do Trump serious damage.) Axios reported this morning that once McConnell is convinced there are 51 Republicans who want to call witnesses, he’ll probably reach out to Schumer to try to make a deal on the number. But Schumer has no reason to deal with him. If Collins feels she has to call people like Bolton to impress swing voters back home, as a matter of her own self-preservation, then Schumer is under no pressure to make any sort of concession to her or to McConnell. If Collins refuses to call Bolton or anyone else unless the Dems agree to call Hunter Biden, etc, that’s still a “no deal” from Schumer. Democrats will simply go into attack mode and accuse Collins and other vulnerable Republicans of engaging in a cover-up by refusing to call anyone, precisely the outcome Collins fears. Where’s the leverage over Schumer to join with Republicans in calling the Bidens, then, especially knowing that Republicans can muster 51 votes to do that themselves?

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‘Time for this to end’: Trump team asks for acquittal at impeachment trial

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s lawyers wrapped up their arguments in his impeachment trial on Tuesday with a plea for the Senate to acquit him, and also sought to marginalize former national security adviser John Bolton’s explosive allegations about Trump’s conduct as “inadmissible” in the proceedings.

“The election is only months away. The American people are entitled to choose their president. 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. The Senate cannot allow this to happen,” White House Counsel Pat Cipollone told the Senate.

“It is time for this to end, here and now. So we urge the Senate to reject these articles of impeachment.”

He spoke on the third and final day of Trump’s legal team’s presentation to the Senate.

Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow told the Senate: You cannot impeach a president on an unsourced allegation,” referring to Bolton’s unpublished book manuscript that describes Trump’s central role in a pressure campaign aimed at getting Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden.

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

Directly contradicting Trump’s account of events, Bolton wrote in the manuscript that the president told him he wanted to freeze $391 million in security aid to Ukraine until Kiev pursued investigations into Democrats, including Biden and his son Hunter Biden, the New York Times reported.

Trump is seeking re-election on Nov. 3. Biden is a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination to oppose Trump.

Bolton’s allegations go to the heart of impeachment charges against Trump. Democrats have said Trump abused his power by using the security aid – approved by Congress to help Ukraine battle Russia-backed separatists – as leverage to get a foreign power to smear a political rival.

Trump has denied telling Bolton he sought to use the Ukraine aid as leverage to get Kiev to investigate the Bidens. He has denied any quid pro quo – a Latin term meaning a favor for a favor – in his dealings with Ukraine.

Sekulow told the senators they were taking part in “the most solemn of duties under our constitutional framework: the trial of the leader of the free world, the duly elected president of the United States. It is not a game of leaks and unsourced manuscripts. That’s politics, unfortunately.”

“Responding to an unpublished manuscript that may be – some reporters have an idea of maybe what it says – that’s what the evidence (is) – if you want to call that evidence. I don’t know what you’d call that. I’d call it inadmissible,” Sekulow added.

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

Schumer stepped up his party’s calls for Bolton to be summoned as a trial witness. Senate Republicans, who have so far refused to allow any witnesses or new evidence in the trial, faced mounting pressure from Democrats and some moderates in their own party to summon Bolton.

The trial will determine whether Trump is removed from office after being impeached by the Democratic-led House of Representatives last month on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress arising from his conduct toward Ukraine.

Trump is expected to be acquitted in the 100-seat Senate, where his fellow Republicans hold 53 seats. A two-thirds majority is needed to remove him from office under the U.S. Constitution.

‘MAKES SENSE’

“Looking at the manuscript makes sense to me. But we’re not going to just call John Bolton. If you call John Bolton, we’re calling everybody. We’re not just going to call one witness,” said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally who was at the White House on Tuesday morning.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone departs at the end of the day as the impeachment trial of U.S. President Donald Trump continues in Washington, U.S., January 27, 2020. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

“What an absurd proposal. It’s a book,” Schumer told reporters about the proposal floated by Graham and fellow Republican Senator James Lankford, saying there was no need to read the manuscript in a classified setting “unless you want to hide something.”

Schumer criticized Trump’s legal team for stating during its arguments to the Senate that there was no eyewitness testimony detailing abuse of power by Trump, “when we know that John Bolton has eyewitness testimony and is willing to testify.”

Schumer made a fresh appeal for four Republican senators – the number needed for a majority – to join Democrats in voting to call witnesses. 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,” Schumer said.

Lankford urged Bolton late on Monday to speak publicly outside of the impeachment trial.

“John Bolton is no shrinking violet,” Lankford said in a video posted to his Facebook page. “My encouragement would be: If John Bolton’s got something to say, there’s plenty of microphones all over the country – that he should step forward and start talking about it right now.”

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

‘DANGER, DANGER, DANGER’

The impeachment drive against Trump, Sekulow argued, was a partisan exercise motivated by policy differences that Democrats have with Trump, not genuine impeachable offenses.

“But to have a removal of a duly elected president based on a policy disagreement? 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.”

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The Senate may resolve the issue of whether to call witnesses in a vote on Friday or Saturday. Some moderate Republican senators, including Mitt Romney and Susan Collins, said the disclosures were likely to sway at least four Republicans to call Bolton to testify.

The focus was on whether two other moderate Republicans, Lamar Alexander and Lisa Murkowski, would vote to hear from Bolton.

Reporting by Susan Heavey, Susan Cornwell, Makini Brice, Karen Freifeld, David Morgan, Patricia Zengerle and Richard Cowan; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Jonathan Oatis , Bernadette Baum and Peter Cooney

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Senators brace for the unknown as Trump impeachment defense wraps

“In a few weeks or a few months do my Republican colleagues want to pick up the paper and read that one of the witnesses they blocked had crucial information about the president’s misconduct?” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday morning. “At this point, how can Senate Republicans not vote for the witnesses and documents we’re seeking?”

The claim from Bolton that Trump explicitly linked a freeze on military aid to Ukraine with investigations of his political rivals has driven up the pressure on Republicans senators to, at the very least, demand his testimony and documents. Bolton’s claims were contained in an unpublished book manuscript first reported by The New York Times.

It prompted one last-minute proposal from Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) — backed Tuesday by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — to obtain and review a copy of the book in a classified setting. Schumer quickly rejected the proposal as “absurd,” saying a book should not need to be kept in a secure facility and calling it an effort to deflect from Democrats’ demand to call witnesses.

The development also served as a reminder that the case against Trump has unfolded more rapidly than lawmakers can handle, and new evidence could emerge at any moment. Separately, a top former aide to Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky told The Daily Beast that Ukraine did in fact feel “rattled” by Trump’s request that the country investigate his Democratic rivals. That undercut another Trump team defense: That Ukraine did not feel pressured by Trump’s call for the probes.

The rapidly shifting landscape has left Senate Republicans facing a tricky calculus just as the House’s prosecutors are preparing to retake the stage. The seven House Democrats prosecuting the case will join Trump’s lawyers for a 16-hour question-and-answer session with senators, spread over two to three days.

Trump’s team is expected to present an abbreviated final argument on Wednesday before the Senate adjourns and leaders hash out the process for the question-and-answer portion of the trial. In the 1999 trial of Bill Clinton, senators wrote their questions and submitted them to the chief justice, who then read them aloud. Back then, Republicans and Democrats alternated asking questions and were required to direct their inquiries to either the president’s lawyer or the House prosecutors — not both. And the lawyers were asked to make a good faith attempt to answer directly and succinctly, rather than filibuster.

Trump’s defense spent Monday meandering between philosophical and procedural objections to the House’s charges against him. There was only a limited effort to push back on the facts Democrats presented, and there were presentations in defense of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s actions in Ukraine, as well as protracted attacks on Joe Biden and Barack Obama.