President Trump’s lawyers wrapped up their impeachment defense on Tuesday by urging senators to “trust the American people” with elections and to acquit the president, but the trial’s end was still in doubt, with Republicans lacking the votes to stop Democrats from calling witnesses.
“You know what the right answer is in your heart,” White House Counsel Pat Cipollone told senators in his closing argument. “The election is only months away. The American people are entitled to choose their president. It is time for this to end, here and now.”
As the third impeachment trial of a president in history neared its possible conclusion this week, the issue of calling witnesses was unresolved. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Republicans in a closed-door meeting that the GOP currently lacks enough votes to prevent witnesses from being called, several news outlets reported.
Democrats were still pushing to hear testimony from several current and former White House officials, including ex-national security adviser John R. Bolton, whose forthcoming book purportedly supports Democrats’ impeachment case.
“We want the truth. The whole truth. And nothing but the truth,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York. “That’s what witnesses and documents means. They don’t want the truth. They’re afraid of that.”
At the White House, the president again showed the public that he was hard at work, hosting embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he revealed the administration’s long-awaited plan for Middle East peace. Later, Mr. Trump traveled to New Jersey for a Tuesday night campaign rally in the district of Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who switched to the GOP late last year when he voted against the president’s impeachment.
The president told supporters at the rally that congressional Democrats are obsessed with “deranged partisan crusades.”
“We will make sure they face another crushing defeat in the next election,” he said.
The president’s lawyers ended three days of legal arguments in the Senate, and the trial will now move to two full days of questions from senators. A vote on whether to call witnesses is likely on Friday.
Republicans huddled in private late Tuesday to discuss witnesses; at least two GOP senators, Susan M. Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah, are likely to vote with Democrats on the issue. Democrats would need two more votes to win that battle.
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the second-ranking Republican, emerged from the closed-door GOP meeting late Tuesday to say he believed the Senate was still “kind of on schedule” to finish the trial by the end of the week. But most GOP senators were tight-lipped, after Mr. McConnell reportedly told them that they currently lack enough votes to block witnesses and documents.
Some Democrats want to view Mr. Bolton’s manuscript, which allegedly states Mr. Trump told Mr. Bolton that he was withholding military aid to Ukraine until its president started a corruption investigation of Democratic candidate Joseph R. Biden and his son, Hunter — a charge at the core of the impeachment case.
“I’m for releasing it to the public,” said Sen. Richard Durbin, Illinois Democrat. “Let’s start with that as an opportunity. Certainly, I’d like to read it in private, if that’s the alternative. And third, that is no substitute for his testimony.”
Democratic aides working on the trial also said they want to subpoena Mr. Bolton’s notes from his tenure in the White House, which they believe include contemporaneous accounts of conversations with the president.
A source on the president’s legal team said the White House is still opposed to any new witnesses.
“It is not the role of the Senate now to begin taking in new witnesses,” the person said. “The House did have 17 witnesses.”
One of Mr. Trump’s lawyers, Jay Sekulow, told senators Tuesday that Mr. Bolton’s manuscript is “inadmissible” in the impeachment trial.
“You can’t impeach the president on an unsourced allegation,” Mr. Sekulow said.
He said the president and other top administration officials have been forced to respond “to an unpublished manuscript that maybe some reporters have an idea of maybe what it says.”
“If you want to call that evidence, I don’t know what you call that,” Mr. Sekulow said.
Former White House chief of Staff John Kelly, who clashed with the president before leaving his post a year ago, said the Senate should hear from witnesses, and he believes Mr. Bolton’s reported version of the truth about Ukraine.
“If John Bolton says that in the book, I believe John Bolton,” Mr. Kelly told an audience in Sarasota, Florida. “He’s a man of integrity and great character.”
He also said most Americans want to “hear the whole story” from witnesses.
“If there are people that could contribute to this, either innocence or guilt … I think they should be heard,” Mr. Kelly said. “I think some of the conversations [involving Ukraine] seem to me to be very inappropriate, but I wasn’t there. But there are people that were there that ought to be heard from.”
The president’s legal team used only about half of its allotted 24 hours to present its defense. Mr. Trump’s lawyers hammered the themes again Tuesday that the president did nothing wrong in pursuing a corruption probe in Ukraine against the Bidens, and that the impeachment articles are unconstitutional because they fail to state any crimes committed.
During his summation, Mr. Cipollone played video clips of several Democratic lawmakers arguing against President Bill Clinton’s impeachment in 1998. The videos included Sen. Edward Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, when he was a congressman, warning that the articles of impeachment against Bill Clinton dangerously lowered the standard.
He called it a “constitutional coup d’etat.”
In another clip, Sen. Bob Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, warned as a House member in 1998 that Republicans were turning impeachment into “another weapon in the political arsenal.”
There was also then-Rep. Schumer of New York, now the Senate minority leader, who warned at the time that impeachment “will be used as a routine tool to fight political battles.”
“My fear is that when a Republican wins the White House, Democrats will demand payback,” Mr. Schumer said then.
Some senators in the chamber laughed at the irony of Mr. Schumer’s remarks from two decades ago.
Mr. Cipollone told Mr. Schumer, “You were right, but I’m sorry to say you were also prophetic.”
“What they are asking you to do is to throw out a successful president, on the eve of an election, with no basis and in violation of the Constitution,” Mr. Cipollone said.
The White House counsel said convicting Mr. Trump and removing him from office “would dangerously change our country and weaken forever all of our democratic institutions.
“We urge the Senate to reject these articles of impeachment for all of the reasons we have given you,” he said. “Overturning the last election 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.”
Mr. Sekulow called the case “partisan impeachment based on policy disagreements.” He implored senators, four of whom are running for the Democratic presidential nomination, not to throw the nation into turmoil by removing a president from office nine months before the election.
“You are being asked to remove a duly elected president of the United States and you’re being asked to do it in an election year,” he said. “There are some of you in this chamber right now that would rather be someplace else. I understand why you would rather be someplace else, because you’re running for president, the nomination of your party. I get it.”
Mr. Schumer said the closing arguments showed the weakness of the president’s case.
“He said we don’t have eyewitness accounts, that all we have are newspaper articles,” Mr. Schumer said. “Well, Mr. Sekulow, President Trump — we want to get witnesses. You can bring Bolton right into this chamber and you can swear him in under oath and he can be cross-examined by you.”
Sen. Mazie Hirono, Hawaii Democrat, virtually dared Republicans to follow through on their threat to subpoena the Bidens to testify if Democrats succeed in calling witnesses.
“If they want Hunter Biden, our side will argue that this is not relevant,” she said. “They should take a vote to have Hunter Biden. They should own that. And then if they don’t want our witnesses, then they should own not wanting our witnesses.”
⦁ S.A. Miller contributed to this report.