Members of President Trump’s legal team on Sunday previewed what will be the meat of their forthcoming defense this week by saying that even if all the allegations Democrats laid out last week were true, they would still fall short of “impeachable” offenses under the U.S. Constitution.
A report late Sunday that former National Security Adviser John R. Bolton has said Mr. Trump directly linked military aid to Ukraine with investigations into Democrats could upend some of those arguments. Still, the Senate impeachment trial could wrap up with a vote to acquit the president by the end of the week.
“Even if the factual allegations are true — which are highly disputed and which the defense team will show contrary evidence — but even if true, they did not allege impeachable offenses,” Trump defense attorney Alan Dershowitz said on “Fox News Sunday.” “So there can’t be a constitutionally authorized impeachment.”
Mr. Trump is on trial after the House voted last month on two articles of impeachment: abuse of power for asking Ukraine to open politically beneficial investigations, including into former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, and obstruction of Congress for noncompliance with the House impeachment inquiry.
Mr. Dershowitz said abuse of power and obstruction charges are “vague, open-ended.”
“The conduct has to be criminal in nature. It can’t be abuse of power, it can’t be obstruction of Congress,” he said. “Those are precisely the arguments that the framers rejected.”
Mr. Trump’s team has sought to separate a holdup in about $400 million in military aid to Ukraine from the president’s push for investigations.
But The New York Times reported late Sunday that the president told Mr. Bolton in August that he wanted to continue freezing the security assistance until Ukrainian officials helped with investigations into Democrats, according to an unpublished manuscript by the former Trump adviser.
Mr. Bolton has said he would comply with a subpoena to testify, but the Senate rejected a bid to subpoena him last week.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff, California Democrat, and the six other House impeachment managers issued a joint statement Sunday saying senators should insist on calling Mr. Bolton as a witness in light of the “explosive revelation.”
“There can be no doubt now that Mr. Bolton directly contradicts the heart of the president’s defense and therefore must be called as a witness at the impeachment trial of President Trump,” they said.
Asked last week whether he was opposed to having Mr. Bolton testify, the president expressed concern that his former adviser could reveal too much information about his private conversations regarding global leaders.
Mr. Trump’s team is also calling into question the credibility of Mr. Schiff, the lead House impeachment manager, which figures to be a key element of their defense strategy.
Earlier Sunday, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said on Fox News that it appeared that Mr. Schiff is having a “mental issue” and that he’s obsessed with taking down the president.
Several Republican senators have chided Mr. Schiff for citing a CBS News report in his opening arguments last week that said key senators were warned by a Trump confidant that, if they voted against the president, their “head will be on a pike.”
Mr. Schiff, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said Sunday that he didn’t think the reference was anything personal.
“I made the argument that it’s going to require moral courage to stand up to this president, and this is a wrathful and vindictive president. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it,” Mr. Schiff said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
He said a Sunday morning tweet from the president was intended to be a “threat” directed at him personally.
“Shifty Adam Schiff is a CORRUPT POLITICIAN, and probably a very sick man. He has not paid the price, yet, for what he has done to our Country!” Mr. Trump tweeted.
Mr. Schiff’s “head will be on a pike” comment irked key Republican senators such as Susan M. Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Democrats see them as potential “yes” votes for additional witnesses in the trial.
As he helped kick off Mr. Trump’s defense Saturday, Deputy White House Counsel Patrick F. Philbin referred to a transcript withheld by Mr. Schiff’s committee that could be helpful to the president’s defense.
The transcript is supposedly related to a whistleblower who raised concerns last year to the intelligence community’s inspector general about the president’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which Mr. Trump talked about investigating former Vice President Joseph R. Biden and his son Hunter.
“We don’t know what he was asked and what he believed about the whistleblower,” Mr. Philbin said of the inspector general. “You would think before going forward with an impeachment proceeding against the president of the United States, you would want to find something out about the [complainant] that started all of it.”
Mr. Philbin suggested the reason some of the information was withheld was because Mr. Schiff denied having contact with the whistleblower before it was revealed that his staff did communicate with the whistleblower, who is said to be a CIA analyst assigned to the White House.
Mr. Schiff countered by saying Mr. Trump’s team is trying to out and “punish” the whistleblower.
“The advice he or she — the whistleblower — got was you should talk to a lawyer and you should talk to the inspector general,” the congressman said.
The House impeachment managers have argued that they had “overwhelming evidence” of wrongdoing by Mr. Trump, including using Oval Office power to strong-arm Ukraine into smearing Mr. Biden.
White House Counsel Pat Cipollone promised Saturday that the defense team would present the exculpatory evidence that House impeachment managers left out of their case.
“They are asking you to tear up all the ballots across this country,” he said. “I don’t think they spend one minute talking about the consequences of that for our country.
“Ask yourself,” he told the senators who will decide whether to remove Mr. Trump from office, “why am I just hearing about this now after 24 hours of their presenting their case?”
Depending on how long the defense team spends on arguments and whether enough senators will vote to hear witnesses, the Senate could vote to acquit the president by the end of the week.
After the president’s team finishes its arguments, which are expected to continue Monday, the senators will have 16 hours to submit questions to both sides before debating the issues of more evidence and potential witnesses.
It takes a two-thirds majority in the Senate, or 67 votes, to convict and remove Mr. Trump from office. That means at least 20 Republican senators would have to break ranks and vote to convict.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, predicted Sunday that Mr. Trump will be acquitted because the House impeachment has been a “railroad job.” He said the president will emerge stronger politically than he was after the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference.
“He is now the prohibitive favorite, in my view, to get reelected,” Mr. Graham said on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures.” “And this is the boomerang party. Every time they go after Trump, it hurts them. They throw rocks at Trump, they get hit.”
Mr. Mueller said in his report last year that there was insufficient evidence to conclusively prove that Mr. Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election. But he also said that based on the evidence he saw, he couldn’t exonerate Mr. Trump of obstruction of justice for trying to hamper the Russia investigation.
Other Republicans were likewise saying it’s time to move on.
Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, said Sunday morning that he doesn’t plan to vote to call witnesses.
“The House Democrats have not proven their case against Donald Trump. We don’t need to prolong this matter,” Mr. Cotton said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “I don’t want to forecast the way other senators may vote, but I would just say the last five days have kind of been a microcosm of the last five months.”
In addition to the information about Mr. Bolton, Democrats have pointed to a newly disclosed recording of Mr. Trump apparently talking about firing former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch as an example of the dangers of moving too quickly on the Senate trial.
“Get rid of her,” the voice reported to be Mr. Trump’s says. “Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. OK? Do it.”
The audio purportedly was recorded during a dinner on April 30, 2018, at the Trump International Hotel that included Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, associates of Trump attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani.
Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman worked with Mr. Giuliani in probing corruption in Ukraine and a potential nexus to Mr. Biden and his son.
Hunter Biden held a lucrative position on the board of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy company, while his father was running point on Obama administration policy for the region.
Ms. Yovanovitch, who was removed from her post in early 2019, was viewed as an impediment to Mr. Giuliani’s efforts.
“There’s a lot that’s still out there,” Rep. Jason Crow, Colorado Democrat and House impeachment manager, said on “Face the Nation.” “The American people deserve the full picture, and that’s why we’re going to continue to push for additional evidence.”
⦁ Alex Swoyer, S.A. Miller and Tom Howell Jr. contributed to this report.