WASHINGTON - Trump lawyer Kenneth Starr says "let the people decide" as he accused Democratic impeachment managers of seeking to overturn the 2016 election and remove Trump from the 2020 ballot.
The president's defense team spent its first full day at the Trump impeachment trial accusing Democrats of improperly using impeachment as a weapon to get rid of a president they simply don't like.
Starr was the independent counsel whose investigation led to President Bill Clinton's 1998 impeachment for lying to a grand jury about a sex scandal.
Starr called impeachment a political weapon that parties use against one another and said House Democrats impeached Trump without any bipartisan support. Starr described impeachment as "hell."
"Those of who lived through the Clinton impeachment ... full well understand that a presidential impeachment is tantamount to domestic war. It is filled with acrimony and divides the country like nothing else," he said.
Lawyer Patrick Philbin said the House impeachment inquiry was never about taking the time to find out the truth by issuing subpoenas through the courts. With the 2020 election approaching, he accused House Democrats of rushing to a predetermined outcome to meet a timetable.
Another White House attorney, Jane Raskin, attacked the Democrats for focusing on Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, who they say was at the center of the president’s campaign to pressure Ukraine to investigate Trump's political rival, Joe Biden.
Raskin said Giuliani is a "colorful distraction" from what she says is the lack of evidence that Trump committed a crime. She said if Giuliani is such a central figure, why didn't the Democrats subpoena him to testify? House committees subpoenaed documents related to Giuliani’s work in Ukraine, but he refused to comply.
Defense attorney Pam Bondi spent her time attacking Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden's lucrative job with a Ukrainian gas company. She said questions about a conflict of interest go back as far as 2014, saying Hunter Biden was paid millions of dollars to sit on the board of Burisma while his father was U.S. vice president.
Bondi said Trump had the right to ask Ukraine to investigate the pair even though no evidence of corruption by the Bidens has ever surfaced.
Democrats impeached Trump on two articles — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
He is accused of withholding nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine and putting off a White House meeting unless Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was publically committed to investigating the Bidens and a debunked allegation that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that meddled in the 2016 U.S. election.
The 100 U.S. senators must decide his guilt or innocence.
But a major line of Trump's defense could fall apart. Former national security advisor John Bolton has reportedly written in a yet-to-be-published book that Trump personally told him to withhold the aid to Ukraine. Trump denies there was any quid pro quo with Ukraine.
Bolton has said he is willing to appear as a witness if he is subpoenaed and the Democrats say they would like to hear from him. A few Republicans are also expressing that desire.
So far, minority Democrats in the Senate have been waging a futile battle to get at least four Republican senators to join them in a simple majority to subpoena Bolton and other Trump officials to testify about their recollections of behind-the-scenes meetings with Trump about Ukraine last year.
Trump's lawyers contend there have been no firsthand accounts of officials who spoke with the president directly about his Ukraine actions. But Bolton often met with Trump until the U.S. leader ousted him last September from his national security post.
Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, a Republican who supports calling White House witnesses whom Trump has blocked from testifying, said the Bolton book revelation makes it "increasingly likely" that more Republican senators will agree to hear testimony from Bolton and others.
Maine Senator Susan Collins, another Republican who has signaled she is open to witnesses, said news reports about the Bolton book "strengthen the case for witnesses."
But it was uncertain whether Senate Republicans supporting Trump, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, have changed their minds. Calling witnesses could significantly extend the length of the trial.
The president rejected Bolton's reported account in a series of early Monday tweets.
"I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens. In fact, he never complained about this at the time of his very public termination. If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book," Trump said.
A Bolton attorney said in a statement the text of the book had been sent to the National Security Council a month ago to undergo standard reviews for classified information ahead of its publication in mid-March.