Editor’s Note: SE Cupp is a CNN political commentator and the host of “SE Cupp Unfiltered.” The views expressed in this commentary are solely hers. View more opinion articles on CNN.
President Donald Trump’s lawyers rested their case on Tuesday, and earlier than expected – indicating that their client was more than satisfied with the job they’d done.
It’s not hard to see why.
Trump wanted a spectacle – a Vaudeville show of characters and personalities – and from Jay Sekulow’s theatrics to Alan Dershowitz’s law school lecture, he got it.
There were also offerings to other important audiences. For Trump’s Fox News audience, Sekulow happily waded in their favorite grievances and conspiracy theories, from former FBI director James Comey’s memos to the Christopher Steele dossier to the Lisa Page-Peter Strzok affair.
For Republican Senators who were hoping to leave on stable ground and vote against convicting and removing the president, Trump’s lawyers did a fairly good job making that case. Arguments that Trump’s abuse of power is too vaguely defined, that impeachment has become a political weapon and that it would negate the votes of millions were laid out artfully and convincingly – if you were predisposed to hear them, that is.
Even for those who may be weighing more than just their own near-term reelection bids, such as the long-term, historical consequences of defending Trump’s behavior, there was seemingly enough in the presentation to justify a ‘no’ vote.
I talked to one Republican senator this week about whether he was worried about Trump’s drag on the party in the long gaze of history, and he said: “I guess the short answer is no. The more accurate answer is that this is no different than any other issue in the Trump era. You take each issue separately on its own merits. Sometimes you agree with Trump. Sometimes you don’t. In this case, Trump simply has not committed any high crime or misdemeanor. Asking a foreign leader to investigate a corrupt foreign company is perfectly acceptable behavior.”
What he leaves out, of course, is the part where that was in exchange for lethal military aid and in the hopes of damaging a political rival. But many Republicans these days see only what they want to see.
Meanwhile, Trump’s lawyers explicitly asked Republican senators to believe only certain things – and ignore others. In making the case against conviction, it was one of their only options, given the preponderance of evidence that Trump did in fact do what Democrats and dozens of witnesses have accused him of – condition military aid to Ukraine in exchange for investigations into Joe and Hunter Biden. The other option, as Dershowitz posited, is that Trump did do what was alleged, but it did not meet the threshold for impeachment.
Where Trump’s lawyers failed exquisitely, however, was in making the case against hearing from more witnesses.
The bombshell revelation in former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s forthcoming book, “The Room Where it Happened: A White House Memoir,” was impossible to ignore, and yet, that’s precisely and bizarrely what Trump attorney Mike Purpura asked the Senate jurors – and the rest of us – to do.
“The House managers’ record reflects that anyone who spoke with the President said that the President made clear that there was no linkage,” between the aid to Ukraine and an investigation of Burisma, he argued.
“Not a single witness testified that the President himself said that there was any connection between any investigations and security assistance, a presidential meeting or anything else,” Purpura continued.
Except we can’t unknow what Bolton has alleged, which is the exact opposite – that Trump himself linked the aid to the investigation.
The omission of the Bolton revelation in Purpura’s arguments only made it that much more conspicuous. And following the revelation, some Republicans seemed interested in hearing testimony from Bolton.
Republican Sen. Mitt Romney said, “I think with the story that came out yesterday, it’s increasingly apparent that it would be important to hear from John Bolton.”
And Republican Sen. Susan Collins wrote in a statement, “The reports about John Bolton’s book strengthen the case for witnesses and have prompted a number of conversations among my colleagues.”
The next day, Sekulow would similarly walk into a Bolton minefield, proclaiming that you can’t impeach a president on an “unsourced allegation,” in direct reference to Bolton’s book.
“Unsourced”? As is wildly obvious to anyone, the allegation is sourced – to Bolton himself. And here Sekulow is actually making a very good argument in favor of hearing directly from him.
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In trying to keep four Republicans from voting for more witnesses, Trump’s lawyers were always going to have a shaky case. The “see no evil, hear no evil” strategy isn’t actually a defense; it’s a gimmick and a stunt. And it’s not working on the American people. A recent Quinnipiac poll finds that 75% of registered voters want to hear from witnesses.
Now we wait to see if all 53 Republican senators will fall for it, or if some will decide the stakes are simply too high to ignore what’s right in front of them.