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Trump Lawyers Say Pressuring Ukraine, Even If True, 'Cannot Be Impeachable'

White House Counsel Pat Cipollone defends the president at the Senate impeachment trial.
White House Counsel Pat Cipollone defends the president at the Senate impeachment trial.

U.S. President Donald Trump's legal team has argued that even if he did attempt to trade military aid to Ukraine in exchange for political favors, it was not grounds for his impeachment and removal from office.

Retired professor Alan Dershowitz, a member of the Trump defense team, asserted that every politician equates his or her own interests with the public good and, therefore, "it cannot be impeachable."

The argument came during the first day of the question-and-answer segment of the historic impeachment trial of the president in the Senate, only the third such trial in U.S. history.

The previous two cases ended with acquittals, and this one appears set for the same result, given that the Republicans control the chamber and that a two-thirds majority is required for conviction.

Democrats in the House of Representatives charged on January 18 that Trump "used his official powers to pressure" Ukraine's government to "interfere in a United States election for his personal political gain and then attempted to cover up his scheme by obstructing Congress's investigation into his misconduct."

They accuse him of pressuring Kyiv to investigate his political rivals by withholding aid approved by Congress and a desired White House visit until the Ukrainian government made a public announcement of a probe.

His team's argument that there is nothing wrong with withholding aid for political favors appears to be a major shift from the previous defense. Until now, Trump and his defenders denied he pressured Kyiv, said there was no "quid pro quo," and called his dealings with Ukraine "perfect."

In the Q&A session, Texas Republican Ted Cruz asked if it mattered if there was a quid pro quo -- an exchange of military aid and a White House visit for a political favor.

Dershowitz answered that it did not matter because many politicians equate their own reelection with the public good.

"That's why it's so dangerous to try to psychoanalyze a president [over his intentions]," he said.

Adam Schiff, the Democrat leading the House prosecutors, appeared shocked by Dershowitz's remarks.

"All quid pro quos are not the same," he said, adding that some might be acceptable but others not.

"And you don't need to be a mind reader to figure out which is which. For one thing, you can ask John Bolton," Schiff said, referring to the former U.S. national-security adviser whose explosive allegations in an upcoming book have shaken up the proceedings.

In the book, Bolton quoted Trump as telling him in August that he wanted to withhold $391 million in military aid to Ukraine until Kyiv helped by launching investigations into Democrats, including his potential election opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, and son Hunter Biden, according to The New York Times, which cited the unpublished manuscript.

Democrats want to call Bolton to testify, but the White House has opposed the move. A vote is likely over the matter in the Senate, but Republicans have said they are also against calling witnesses to testify.

Chuck Schumer, the senior Democrat in the Senate, asked whether the chamber could really deliver a fair verdict without hearing from Bolton or other White House aides.

The publication date of the book is now in question, after the White House on January 29 released a letter to Bolton's lawyer objecting to "significant amounts of classified information" in the manuscript, including at the top-secret level.

Bolton and the lawyer have insisted that the book does not contain any classified information.

Meanwhile, Republicans expressed hope that the trial could end on January 31, without calling witnesses.

John Barrasso, the No. 3 Republican senator in seniority, said that "the momentum is clearly in the direction of moving to final judgment on Friday."

"We still have a couple members who said they want to listen to the answers to questions, but that's where the momentum is," Barrasso said.

With reporting by AP and Reuters
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