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Oleg Albinsky/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The White House on Wednesday released a letter it sent to former national security adviser John Bolton's attorney earlier this month warning that his book manuscript "appears to contain significant amounts of classified information" and that some of the information is classified as "TOP SECRET."

The letter's release comes as senators face the question of whether to call Bolton as a witness in President Donald Trump's impeachment trial to testify about allegations he reportedly makes in the book relating directly to the charges against the president.

Without the removal of the information the White House deemed classified in its review, the letter says, "the manuscript may not be published."

The letter, sent electronically on Jan. 23, was addressed to Bolton's attorney Charles Cooper and signed by the National Security Council's Senior Director for Records, Access and Information Security Management Ellen Knight.

The letter was sent three days before the New York Times published its report based on Bolton's unpublished manuscript that reportedly contains an allegation that the president had tied the frozen Ukraine funding to desired investigations into Democrats.

The revelation of Bolton's accusation and its relevance to a key question in the ongoing impeachment trial against President Donald Trump increased pressure on a key group of moderate Republicans who have not ruled out the possibility of supporting Democrats' quest to call witnesses in the trial.

Trump, who had praised his former national security adviser in the months since his exit from the administration, has since taken to attacking Bolton and accusing him of lying since the revelations from Bolton's manuscript have spilled into the public.

On Twitter Wednesday, the president sought to belittle the man he formerly had tasked with leading his national security strategy as a "guy who couldn't get approved for the Ambassador to the U.N. years ago and now has written a "nasty & untrue book" based on "All Classified National Security."

Last week, the president said it would be a "national security problem" to have Bolton testify in the Senate impeachment trial.

"John, he knows some of my thoughts. He knows what I think about leaders. What happens if he reveals what I think about a certain leader, and it's not very positive, and then I have to deal on behalf of the country? It's going to be very hard," Trump told reporters last week during a press conference in Davos, Switzerland.

Beyond the potential of Bolton testimony, the newly revealed letter shows that the White House could, at a minimum, hold up the process of Bolton publishing his book by putting him in a holding pattern as they adjudicate portions that the White House says contain classified information.

It could also deter Bolton from speaking out publicly about his allegations, ABC News contributor and former acting Department of Homeland Security Undersecretary John Cohen said.

There’s also the possibility that the White House could seek to prosecute Bolton if he did move forward with publishing the manuscript as-is or speak out in some other public forum, Cohen added.

One prosecution possibility, Cohen said, would be to accuse him of a security violation, which could result in Bolton losing his security clearance and prevent him from obtaining a clearance in the future.

The former national security adviser could also be prosecuted criminally, and face the prospect of a fine or even jail time, if he is shown to have "intentionally and knowingly disclosed information he knew to be classified."

Bolton's team has publicly and forcefully denied leaking the manuscript of his book to the New York Times.

While the issue of classification and declassification is an issue over which the president has ultimate authority, Cohen said the Trump White House is suffering from a "credibility problem" in its handling of classified information. Cohen points to the July 25 call memorandum that was put on a highly classified server, even though the contents of the call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy didn’t meet the standard of classification to justify its placement on that server.

Tim Morrison, the former senior director for Europe and Russia at the National Security Council, testified that he was told the memorandum had been placed on that server by "mistake."

"Generally the rule has always been that the classification process is to protect against the disclosure of information that, if public, could harm the national security of the U.S.," he said. "It has been considered inappropriate to use the classification process for political purposes or to hide embarrassing information or criminality."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump's Senate impeachment trial enters an unpredictable new phase Wednesday, when senators begin up to 16 hours of posing questions to House impeachment managers and the president's legal team.

After sitting at their desks in silence for long days listening to opening arguments from both sides, senators -- still prohibited from speaking -- will submit questions written on paper slips to Chief Justice John Roberts, who then will read them aloud to the chamber.

The questions, alternating between Republicans and Democrats, will be under the name of the inquiring senator. Senators may not direct questions at their colleagues.

The questioning, set to take place over Wednesday and Thursday, gives both sides one last opportunity to address the chamber before senators begin considering motions, including on the question of witnesses -- an issue at the center of events on Capitol Hill following reports about the testimony former national security adviser John Bolton could offer the Senate if subpoenaed to appear.

Whether Bolton would testify has become a major point of contention and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told GOP senators Tuesday evening that, as of then, he didn't have enough votes to block adding witnesses to the trial.

The ABC News team of correspondents and producers is covering every aspect of this story. Here is how the day is unfolding. Please refresh for updates.

2:55 p.m. Inside the Senate chamber: Collins taking nonstop notes.

From ABC News Senior Congressional Correspondent Mary Bruce inside the Senate chamber:

The mood is totally different in the chamber from days past. Everyone has perked up and the full Senate is paying close attention.

GOP Sen. Susan Collins is still writing nonstop. It's constant. She’s going to need a wrist brace soon. Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, sitting next to Collins, is listening intently, occasionally jotting notes on a small pad. GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander is doing the same.
There’s not a lot of movement, except for GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham who is still in and out of the chamber constantly.

The choreography of the questioning is fascinating theater.
Senators are called on one by one. They then stand, hand their question card to a Senate page who scurries quickly down the center aisle and up to front where the card is passed off to Chief Justice Roberts.
There is also a stark contrast between the two lead tables.
The House managers are a flurry of activity. Papers strewn everywhere. We have been told they prepped for every possible question they could think of and you can tell. They all have massive binders with many, many different organized sections. They are reading much of their answers from typed up responses.
The Trump team table, by contrast, is much calmer. There is a bit of note taking and talking between the lawyers. They are also holding up paper cue cards to indicate to their colleagues when it’s time to wrap.

I was also struck by the fact that White House counsel Pat Cipollone wasn’t taking any notes -- just sitting there, with a blank legal pad in front of him, twiddling constantly with a pen, shifting and re-positioning it.

2:14 p.m. Dershowitz argues a quid pro quo done in belief it's 'in the public interest' not impeachable conduct

A question from GOP Sen. Ted Cruz brings the debate to the question of a quid pro quo. Former Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz and House manager Rep. Adam Schiff debate the notion of a quid pro quo as a matter of law and a matter of foreign policy. 

“The only way that would make a quid pro quo unlawful is if the quo were in some way illegal,” Dershowitz says.

"If a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment," he says.

"Every public official that I know believes that his election is of the public interest," he adds.

1:31 p.m. Trump lawyers claim Mulvaney comments on a quid pro quo 'misunderstood'

We have heard very little from the president's lawyers about acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney's infamous comments at the White House to ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jon Karl admitting a quid pro quo about the freezing of military aid to Ukraine - so little that Democrats have accused them of ignoring and downplaying the exchange.

But today, in a new twist, Trump lawyer Philbin says Mulvaney's initial remarks in the briefing room were "garbled and misunderstood."

"It's been clear in the record since that press conference that what he was saying was garbled and or misunderstood and he immediately clarified," he says, quoting Mulvaney's statement hours later following the news conference.

1:53 p.m. Philbin argues Democrats are trying to impeach over policy differences

In response to a question from Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, about the president's ability to set foreign policy, White House deputy counsel Patrick Philbin argues that Trump alone has the ability to set foreign policy as commander in chief.

Democrats, he continues, are trying to impeach Trump over policy disagreements that he says should be settled in the next election.

"The president cannot defy the agencies within the executive branch that are subordinate to him. It is only they who can defy the president's determinations of policy. What this all boils down to is it shows that this case is built on a policy difference and a policy difference where the president is the one who gets to determine policy because he's been elected by the people to do that.

"We're right now only a few months away from another election where the people can decide for themselves whether they like what the president has done with that authority or not. That's the way disputes about policy like that should be resolved," he answers.

1:31 p.m. Schiff answers a fair trial must have witnesses

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer essentially tees up the House managers to make the case for witnesses, referencing the reported allegations in Bolton's book.

"There's no way to have a fair trial without witnesses," Rep. Adam Schiff says in response.

"To turn him away, to look the other way, I think is deeply at odds with being an impartial juror," Schiff says.

Republican John Thune then submits a question asking the presidents defense team to respond to Schiff’s answer.

1:07 p.m. GOP moderates Collins, Murkowski and Romney pose first question about Trump's motives

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opens the first day of questions with a one submitted by GOP Sens. Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney – all moderates - for Chief Justice Roberts to read.

"If President Trump had more than one motive for his alleged conduct such as the pursuit of personal political advantage, rooting out corruption, and the promotion of national interests, how should the Senate consider more than one motive in its assessment of Article One?" Roberts says.

The president's deputy defense attorney, Patrick Philbin, argues they only need to prove the president was acting in the public interest.

"That's why their case fails," Philbin says.

12:43 p.m. Romney now declines to say where other Republicans stand on witnesses

ABC News Senior Congressional Correspondent Mary Bruce reports:

GOP Sen. Mitt Romney tells reporters he doesn't know where other his fellow Republicans stand on calling new witnesses, but maintains additional information is needed from John Bolton.

"I'd like to hear from John Bolton because I think there are questions that I have that he could answer," Romney says.

Asked whether Bolton's credibility was at issue given the President's denial of his reported claims, Romney defended the former national security adviser.

"I have a great deal of confidence in John Bolton," Romney says. "I've known him for some time. He's a brilliant individual."

“John Bolton for instance may be able to tell us precisely when the decision was made not to provide the aid on an immediate basis to Ukraine and what the president's reasoning was at that point."

Romney was adamant that he could only speak for himself. While just a few days ago, the senator hinted that there was a growing number of Republicans who shared his concerns about hearing from Bolton, today he wouldn’t go that far.

“Where they stand now, you'd have to ask them, I can only speak for myself but I think there are questions John Bolton could help me resolve,” he tells me.

“I've made my point clear in our caucus meeting and people can make their own decision,” he adds.

12:20 p.m. Trump ally Graham calls on president to stop attacking Bolton

ABC News Senior Congressional Correspondent Mary Bruce reports from Capitol Hill:

GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham is sending a not so subtle message to the president this morning, issuing a statement saying he is concerned about attacks on Bolton’s credibility.

“I am concerned when John Bolton’s credibility is attacked, it makes it more likely some will feel the need to call him as a witness,” Graham says.

The South Carolina senator just refused to stop at the cameras -- something I have literally never seen.

“It is my opinion, based on the law and facts, that additional testimony is unnecessary in this case," Graham says in the statement. “For the sake of argument, one could assume everything attributable to John Bolton is accurate and still the House case would fall well below the standards to remove a president from office.

“It is clear to me that there is ample evidence for the President to be concerned about conflicts of interest on behalf of Hunter Biden and that Vice President Joe Biden’s failure to take appropriate action was unacceptable. This combination, in my view, undercut America’s message on reforming corruption in Ukraine. There is a mountain of evidence to suggest the Bidens’ behavior was harmful to the United States," Graham's statement continues.

“The House managers’ claim that the sole reason President Trump temporarily paused the aid was purely personal and political, not public, does not withstand scrutiny. However, I am concerned when John Bolton’s credibility is attacked, it makes it more likely some will feel the need to call him as a witness. In that event, it would be important for the President and his team to call witnesses on other issues,” his statement reads.

Earlier Wednesday, Trump tweeted, "For a guy who couldn’t get approved for the Ambassador to the U.N. years ago, couldn’t get approved for anything since, “begged” me for a non Senate approved job, which I gave him despite many saying “Don’t do it, sir,” takes the job, mistakenly says “Libyan Model” on T.V., and ... many more mistakes of judgement, gets fired because frankly, if I listened to him, we would be in World War Six by now, and goes out and IMMEDIATELY writes a nasty & untrue book. All Classified National Security. Who would do this?"

"Why didn’t John Bolton complain about this “nonsense” a long time ago, when he was very publicly terminated. He said, not that it matters, NOTHING!" Trump tweeted.

12:07 p.m. Trump makes reference to Senate trial at USMCA trade deal signing

The ongoing impeachment trial looms over today's White House South Lawn event celebrating the signing of the new USMCA trade deal -- and the president makes no attempt to avoid the topic, even joking as he recognizes Republican senators in the crowd: “Maybe I'm being nice to them because I want their vote. Does that make sense?”

In one of his many shoutouts, the president recognizes his former 2016 primary rival Sen. Ted Cruz for being “incredible."

“Ted Cruz, boy has he been -- Boy, oh, boy, he's dying to get back there and ask those questions, I know -- he's sitting there, "Let me out of there, president! I want to ask those questions. He's got some beauties, I bet,” Trump says.

--ABC News' Jordyn Phelps at the White House

11:39 a.m. Schumer 'remains hopeful' of GOP votes for witnesses

Speaking ahead of the trial Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer says he “remains hopeful” that four Republicans will join Democrats in voting for witnesses, telling reporters they are still “in the ballpark.”

“They're tying themselves in all kinds of pretzel knots to avoid the truth,” Schumer says, referring to opening arguments made by the president’s defense team.

He pushes back on Jay Sekulow’s defense of the president, saying it underscores the need to call witnesses.

“Four witnesses. Four sets of documents. The men who were in the room. No more, no less,” Schumer says.

“Mr. Sekulow’s version of a trial is Kafka-Esque. Remember ‘The Trial?’ Is that a short story or a novel?” Schumer says.

“It’s a novel,” Sen. Tim Kaine says.

Kaine later adds: “Before there’s a vote on acquittal or conviction, there’s going to be a vote on whether this is a trial, or a sham.”

“Americans know what trials are and what they are not.”

The consequences of voting against witnesses, Kaine says, would be to send Trump a message that “he can do whatever he wants.”

Schumer then responds to Manchin suggesting interest in calling Hunter Biden:

“We want witnesses and documents in the room where it happened,” he says. “It’s not up Joe Manchin or anyone else. The Republicans have the votes. They can call him today ... they don’t want to because they know it will be a circus.”

“It’s irrelevant and a distraction and running away from the truth,” he says.

11:15 a.m. Giuliani associate Lev Parnas arrives to attend Senate trial

Lev Parnas, the indicted former associate of Rudy Guiliani involved in the his dealings with Ukraine, arrives on Capitol Hill to watch the impeachment proceedings as a spectator.

Parnas recently released a tape of President Trump ordering the firing of his then-ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, which Democrats have seized on as evidence of the Trump's pressure campaign against the Ukrainian government. The existence of the recording was first reported by ABC News.

11:01 a.m. Murkowski meets with McConnell

ABC's Trish Turner reports GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski met for 20 minutes Wednesday morning with Senate Majority Leader McConnell.

The pressure campaign on Murkowski and other Republican moderates continues.

As she leaves, Murkowski tells reporters, “You know I’m not going to share my personal thoughts with you this morning.”

Asked if she has a timetable for her decision on whether to vote for witnesses, she responds, “My timetable is kind of dictated, so I don’t think I’ve got a lot of options there.”

10:55 a.m. Democrat Manchin says Hunter Biden should testify

The dispute over whether the Senate should hear new witnesses is getting more complicated as senators discuss each party calling witnesses of their own.

Republicans have floated the idea of calling former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.

Wednesday morning, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia says Biden's son Hunter should be called to testify.

"You know, I think so,” Manchin says on MSNBC. “I really do.”

“If it's relevant, then it should be there," Manchin adds.

Trump’s defense team has pointed to Hunter Biden’s involvement with a Ukrainian energy company as evidence the President was right to ask officials there for help with an investigation. Despite the possible appearance of possible impropriety given his father’s diplomatic ties to Ukraine, no evidence has come to light that the Biden’s engaged in improper dealings.

During the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, Chief Justice William Rehnquist asked that senators' questions be answered in less than five minutes. Roberts, who has presided over the Trump trial, read Rehnquist's directive on Tuesday, and said, "I think the late chief's time limit was a good one and would ask both sides to abide by it."

Lawmakers have wide latitude in composing their questions. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., will submit questions about impeachment manager and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and his staff's interactions with the intelligence community whistleblower who filed the complaint that helped prompt the Ukraine inquiry, along others related to former Vice President Joe Biden, his son Hunter Biden and Ukraine.

Democrats, for their part, are expected to press the Trump legal team on perceived weaknesses in their defense of the president and continue to make the case for witnesses in the trial before they force votes on motions for additional testimony and records.

They could also raise questions about what White House lawyers knew of Bolton's account of conversations with the president. The former Trump adviser submitted a manuscript of his forthcoming book to the White House for a classification review.

According to The New York Times, Bolton wrote that Trump told him over the summer that he wanted to continue freezing military aid to Ukraine until the country's government delivered on his push to investigate the Biden family.

The allegations that Trump tied the aid to investigations, which the president has denied, would undermine the White House's defense of the president in the impeachment trial.

The White House has told Republican senators that the lawyers arguing on Trump's behalf in the Senate, including White House counsel Pat Cipollone, had no knowledge of Bolton's account.

Both the managers and the president's lawyers could also rely on friendly senators to submit questions that help them reinforce their arguments to lawmakers.

The Senate could move on to motions and the question of whether to consider additional witnesses later this week.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, speaking to Republican senators in a closed-door meeting Tuesday evening, said he did not yet have the votes to block a vote to consider witnesses.

A senior White House official told ABC News that the president's defense team still believes they will be able to defeat the measure to call witnesses.

"It's still a hard vote, but we are working hard. It's a long time until Friday," the official said.

The Senate's number two Republican, John Thune, said he thought the GOP conference was unified behind a plan that would allow Democrats to call a witness like Bolton in exchange for the GOP calling a number of witnesses of their own -- although that could end up being more witnesses than the Trump team would want.

Thune added that it was proving difficult to figure out how to manage what could become an unwieldy process.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Toshe_O/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The ad wars to sway key votes over allowing witnesses to testify in the U.S. Senate impeachment trial are already underway, with dueling sides of the debate taking to the airwaves to swing the outcome of the upcoming vote.

A group of anti-Trump Republicans are launching new TV ads set to run starting Thursday morning, backed by a six-figure ad buy, to make the case for impeachment witnesses - as the Senate is expected to weigh the critical vote later this week.

Republicans for Rule of Law are airing the series of ads across all cable news networks in six states, plus Washington, D.C, on Thursday and Friday. The targeted states are home to four key GOP senators: Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, as well as Arizona and Colorado, which are home to two vulnerable Republicans up for re-election in 2020, Sens. Martha McSally and Cory Gardner.

"Many Republicans – and a large majority of Americans – now agree with us. And this week, after major revelations from Lev Parnas and Ambassador John Bolton, it’s clearer than ever why," said Chris Truax, a spokesperson for Republicans for the Rule of Law, in a statement to ABC News. "Now it’s decision time and Senate Republicans will come face-to-face with their constitutional responsibilities this Friday when they vote on calling witnesses."

"They can honor their oath to do impartial justice and vote for transparency and openness. Or they can shove their fingers in their ears and try to hide the facts from both themselves and their constituents," Truax continues. "America deserves to see all the evidence. If that changes some minds, whether in the Senate or the public, so be it."

One of those targets, Gardner, who has been quiet during the trial, signaled Wednesday he does not want hear from more witnesses.

"I do not believe we need to hear from an 18th witness," he told Colorado Politics. "I have approached every aspect of this grave constitutional duty with the respect and attention required by law, and have reached this decision after carefully weighing the House managers and defense arguments and closely reviewing the evidence from the House, which included well over 100 hours of testimony from 17 witnesses."

While the spots belabor the message that GOP senators must call for new witness testimony, they range from saying John Bolton, President Trump's former national security adviser, "is willing to do his duty to tell the truth, are Senate Republicans willing to do their duty to listen," with a montage of Alexander, Collins, Murkowski, Romney and Gardner on screen, to using congressional Republicans' own words against them to make their case. One ad goes further, calling for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney to join Bolton on the witness stand.

The ads are part of a $1 million campaign which has focused on promoting a fair and full Senate impeachment trial over the past few weeks, according to the group, and are similar to ones that have already aired. The latest ads will cycle through the CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, and Fox News every hour from 5 a.m. until midnight on Thursday.

On Friday, the ads will air across the morning shows and then again every hour on each of the networks. The TV ads will also be accompanied by a digital ad campaign in those target states and D.C., along with digital billboards up through Sunday.

But there are also ads on the airwaves that seek to pressure the same group of undecided senators to vote against allowing witnesses.

The conservative outside group, Club For Growth, is out with a new TV ad Wednesday targeting Romney for potentially voting for witnesses to testify in the Senate impeachment trial.

"There's Mitt Romney threatening to vote with Democrats again to trot out spotlight-seeking blowhards who will trash President Trump on the witness stand," the ad begins, showing b-roll of John Bolton and Lev Parnas over "spotlight-seeking blowhards."

The ad then pivots to attacking the Biden family - asking if Romney "wants to know the truth, what about the Bidens" - and ultimately calls for Joe Biden's son, Hunter, to take the stand.

This isn't the first time Club for Growth has taken aim at Romney, last October, the group put out an ad attacking the former Republican nominee for president for supporting Democrats as they pushed for impeachment.

The new ad will run from Jan. 30 to Feb. 1 on Fox News in Salt Lake City and Washington, D.C.

The clash over impeachment witnesses isn't only dividing partisan lines, but is splintering the GOP, after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, speaking to Republican senators in a closed-door meeting Tuesday evening, said he did not yet have the votes to block a vote to consider witnesses.

Before the onset of the trial, Democrats have been targeting just four Republican senators -- Romney, Collins, Murkowski and Alexander -- to reach the 51-vote majority they need to force the Senate to call witnesses, including John Bolton, President Trump's former national security adviser. The debate over impeachment witnesses was upended Sunday, after the New York Times reported that Trump tied the release of nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine to investigations into his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, according to Bolton's unpublished manuscript for an upcoming book.

Despite the trial entering a new phase on Wednesday, when senators began up to 16 hours of questioning about the charges against Trump, the focus on Capitol Hill continues to be on the question of witnesses after the New York Times report seemed to outline, at least in part, Bolton's testimony if he was subpoenaed to appear.

But the newest slate of ads in the impeachment saga come as Trump is applying political pressure on Republican senators to fall in line. In a series of tweets Wednesday morning, Trump impelled the caucus to vote against calling new witnesses.

A senior White House official told ABC News that the president's defense team still believes they will be able to defeat the measure to call witnesses.

"It's still a hard vote, but we are working hard. It's a long time until Friday," the official said.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


ABC News, FILE(NEW YORK) -- Alan Dershowitz, a key member of President Donald Trump’s legal team amid the ongoing impeachment trial, joined ABC’s The View on Wednesday, arguing that his job is to defend the constitution, "not any particular president."

"I'm here to defend the constitution, not any particular president," he said. "I'm here to defend future presidents, as well as the current president."

His arguments against impeachment have largely been constitutional during the Senate trial, centered on the idea that the two articles of impeachment brought forth by the House against Trump -- "abuse of power" and "obstruction of Congress" -- are not impeachable offenses.

Dershowitz, a celebrity lawyer and Harvard emeritus, told the hosts he would have made the same argument regardless of the president on trial.

"I would have been making exactly the same argument if Hilary Clinton was elected president and if she had been impeached for abuse of power or obstruction of Congress," he said, adding "the framers rejected terms just like that. They rejected maladministration as a potential term. And maladministration is virtually the same as abuse of power."

News broke on Sunday of an unpublished manuscript by former national security adviser John Bolton detailing a conversation between him and Trump about the nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine being held up pending an investigation into the president's political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

The New York Times article in a way changed the conversation on whether witnesses should be allowed on the Senate floor during the impeachment trial -- and what Bolton, if subpoenaed, would say has been the source of much speculation.

When asked about the news, Dershowitz told The View hosts that he won't argue against witnesses, but said Bolton's testimony still wouldn't hold up against the president.

"Nothing in the Bolton revelations, even if true, would rise to the level of an abuse of power or an impeachable offense," he said, adding that House Democrats can't change that just by using words like "quid pro quo" and "personal benefit."

Bolton and other current and former White House aides have been barred by the White House from testifying, although Bolton said he would testify under subpoena.

"The one thing that's very clear is that if witnesses are permitted on one side, they have to be permitted on both sides," Dershowitz said in an interview on This Week with George Stephanopoulos on Jan. 19. "And if witnesses are permitted, it will delay the trial considerably, because the president will invoke executive privilege as to people like John Bolton that will have to go to the court and we'll have to have a resolution of that before the trial continues."

Talking over each other and Dershowitz, the hosts also pressed the lawyer on why he seems to be the only constitutional scholar arguing that Trump's conduct wasn't impeachable.

"I made the constitutional arguments. My sole role in the case was to argue constitutional," he said, later adding, "It is not treason, bribery [or] high crimes and misdemeanors ... Congress is not above the law."

He further argued the point he made during the Trump legal team's opening arguments on the Senate floor, saying the articles brought forth by the House trial managers were too "vague" and "open-ended."

"This is the key point in this impeachment case, please understand what I'm arguing, is that purely noncriminal conduct, including abuse of power and obstruction of Congress are outside the range of impeachable offenses," Dershowitz said on the floor Monday evening, adding "The framers did intend to limit the criteria for impeachment to criminal-like conduct akin to treason and bribery."

Dershowitz has not said the president's conduct in Ukraine was right or wrong -- but did say it hasn't been declared criminal.

Despite the Government Accountability Office report on Jan. 16 concluding that Trump did violate the law by withholding the aid, Dershowitz argued that Congress doesn't have the "jurisdiction to conclude it’s a crime."

"The president conducts foreign policy," Dershowitz said. " He has the right to withhold funds."

Dershowitz, who was also on the legal team during impeachment trial of former President Bill Clinton, was questioned by "The View" hosts on why he changed his mind on impeachment.

"It certainly doesn’t have to be a crime," Dershowitz said in a 1998 interview on CNN of the trial. "If you have somebody who completely corrupts the office of president, who abuses trust and who poses great danger to our liberty, you don’t need a technical crime."

Host Whoopi Goldberg brought up what he said during the interview, pointing out what she called the "only difference" between the two trials.

"The only difference between then and now is that your side was flipping out for the same reasons the democrats were flipping out," she said. "The difference is one president followed the law and sat down and did what he was supposed to do."

Dershowitz said the issue during Clinton's trial was not whether or not you needed a crime to impeach a president, but "whether or not Clinton had committed a high crime."

Goldberg continued to question his wavering opinion, saying, "I have not seen any briefs about your change of heart when it comes to impeachment."

"Academics change their minds on the basis of research," Dershowitz responded without flinching. "I didn’t do it on a partisan basis."

Host Meghan McCain also questioned the lawyer about his connection as a lawyer to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who committed suicide in his cell in August.

Dershowitz said he was candid about their connection when Trump expressed interest in bringing him on as a defense lawyer.

"I told him this [connection] would be raised, and he should seriously consider if he wants me as his lawyer," Dershowitz said.

The announcement of Dershowitz joining Trump’s legal team came as a surprise to some.

"While Professor Dershowitz is non-partisan when it comes to the Constitution -- he opposed the impeachment of President Bill Clinton and voted for Hillary Clinton -- he believes the issues at stake go to the heart of our enduring Constitution," his office said in a statement. "He is participating in this impeachment trial to defend the integrity of the Constitution and to prevent the creation of a dangerous constitutional precedent."

However, Trump told his associates he wanted a "high profile" legal team that could perform on TV, explaining why Dershowitz and former independent counsel Kenneth Starr both ended up on the team.

Although critics argue Dershowitz statements from the past contradict his stance on impeachment now, Dershowitz continued to defend himself in a previous statement to ABC News.

"That’s still my position. It has to be criminal -- like, akin to treason or bribery," he said of impeachment. "Not abuse or obstruction."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


ajansen/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Rep. Doug Collins, the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, announced Wednesday that he's running in the Senate special election in Georgia, prompting a swift rebuke from Senate Republicans' campaign arm and setting the stage for a divide within the GOP.

"We are in for the Georgia Senate race down here," Collins said in an interview on Fox News. "I've still got a lot of work to do to help this president and finish this impeachment out. We're going to make a bigger announcement down here in Georgia."

In December, Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, appointed financial executive and big Republican donor Kelly Loeffler to serve as senator until a special election is held to determine who finishes out retired Sen. Johnny Isakson's term, whose former seat is up for reelection in 2022. More than 500 Georgians applied to be considered for Isakson's seat, including Collins.

Despite President Donald Trump himself calling Kemp multiple times, according to sources familiar with the effort, to push him to choose Collins -- one of his staunchest supporters throughout the impeachment process -- for the seat, the governor ultimately chose Loeffler.

When asked on Fox News if he expects the president's endorsement, Collins only said, "Well, I think that's up to the president... I appreciate all his help and support in the past. We look forward to working for him and being back in Washington today to do just that."

In a statement sent shortly after Collins announced, the National Republican Senatorial Committee blasted the congressman's decision to jump into the race, and affirmed its support for Loeffler, urging others to follow suit.

"The shortsightedness in this decision is stunning. Doug Collins’ selfishness will hurt (Georgia Sen.) David Perdue, Kelly Loeffler, and President Trump. Not to mention the people of Georgia who stand to bear the burden of it for years to come," NRSC Executive Director Kevin McLaughlin said.

He added, "All he has done is put two senate seats, multiple house seats, and Georgia’s 16 electoral votes in play. The NRSC stands firmly behind Sen. Kelly Loeffler and urges anyone who wants to re-elect President Trump, hold the GOP senate majority, and stop socialism to do the same.”

A day ahead of Kemp tapping Loeffler for the seat, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters on Capitol Hill that the political newcomer was a "terrific appointment."

"She will be an incumbent Republican senator and we will all be behind her," McConnell said. "I'm going to be behind her, and I'm confident that someone we're working with every day is going to enjoy almost total support within the Republican Senate conference."

In a tweet sent after the NRSC put out its statement, Collins said, "Republican voters in Georgia should choose their candidate — not one politician or a Super PAC in Washington. The time for that contest is now so we can unite well before November."

As it stands currently, there will be a "jungle primary" special election on Nov. 3, meaning all candidates will be on the same ballot regardless of party affiliation. If no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote that night, there will be a runoff election between the top two vote-getters on Jan. 5.

A Georgia House committee has already taken steps to change this process, but Kemp is not on board.

On Tuesday, the House Governmental Affairs Committee advanced legislation that would establish a partisan primary for the special election on May 19, coinciding with the state's other primary elections, aside from the presidential primary, which is on March 24. The winners of the Democratic and Republican primaries would then face off in November.

A spokeswoman for Kemp signaled the governor would quash this effort should the legislation make it to his desk.

"You don’t change the rules at half-time to benefit one team over another. People are sick and tired of it. The Governor will veto any bill that attempts to undermine the rule of law for perceived political gain," Candice Broce said in a statement.

On Fox News Wednesday, Collins said he wasn't concerned "at all" about potentially paving the way for a Democrat to win the seat, and said that he looks "forward to a good exchange of ideas" in the election.

Since joining the Senate in the beginning of January, Loeffler has been quick to establish her support for Trump.

On Tuesday, she posted photos on Twitter with both Trump and his eldest daughter, Ivanka, who also serves as an adviser to the president.

"Nobody is working harder for the American people than @realDonaldTrump. Proud to help advance his conservative agenda that will grow jobs, strengthen rural communities, & protect life," Loeffler wrote in one tweet. "Under his leadership, we are building a safer, stronger, & more prosperous America!"

And on Monday, she took to Twitter to criticize Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, for being open to calling additional witnesses in the Senate impeachment trial.

During the 2012 presidential campaign, however, she and her husband were at least financially behind Romney.

Loeffler, the co-founder and former CEO of Bakkt, a Bitcoin futures trading platform, and a co-owner of the WNBA's Atlanta Dream team, and her husband Jeffrey Sprecher, the chairman and CEO of Intercontinental Exchange and chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, gave more than $1.5 million to the super PAC backing Romney's campaign, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

The Loeffler campaign has not returned a request for comment regarding Collins' announcement.

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Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump, in a series of tweets Wednesday, pressured Republican senators to vote against calling new witnesses in his impeachment trial after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell acknowledged that he didn't yet have enough votes to block them.

“No matter how many witnesses you give the Democrats, no matter how much information is given, like the quickly produced Transcripts, it will NEVER be enough for them,” Trump said. “They will always scream UNFAIR. The Impeachment Hoax is just another political CON JOB!”

No matter how many witnesses you give the Democrats, no matter how much information is given, like the quickly produced Transcripts, it will NEVER be enough for them. They will always scream UNFAIR. The Impeachment Hoax is just another political CON JOB!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 29, 2020

Remember Republicans, the Democrats already had 17 witnesses, we were given NONE! Witnesses are up to the House, not up to the Senate. Don’t let the Dems play you!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 29, 2020

Trump also resumed attacks on John Bolton, his former national security adviser, calling Bolton’s account of his time at the White House “nasty” and “untrue.”

Why didn’t John Bolton complain about this “nonsense” a long time ago, when he was very publicly terminated. He said, not that it matters, NOTHING!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 29, 2020

The New York Times reported that in a new book, Bolton claims Trump told him he would keep withholding U.S. military aid to Ukraine until Ukraine agreed to help investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

McConnell and the GOP senators met behind closed doors Tuesday evening shortly after Trump's legal team ended their opening arguments, in which they tried to discredit Bolton's reported allegations.

GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine claimed credit Wednesday morning for shaping the initial impeachment procedures resolution to require a vote adding witnesses and additional evidence. A Senate vote on whether to consider calling witnesses and allowing other new evidence is expected as early as Friday.

“I am pleased that I along with Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski and others worked very hard to get into the resolution a guaranteed vote on whether or not to call witnesses at this point in the trial,” Collins said Wednesday.

Trump's tweets come after one of his lead lawyers, Jay Sekulow, also tried to dismiss and discredit the Bolton allegations, arguing Tuesday, "You cannot impeach a president based on an unsourced allegation."

He called the Bolton book manuscript "inadmissible."

The development landed like a bombshell amid Trump's trial, with Democrats insisting that Bolton now must be called as a witness and even some key moderate Republicans, including Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Collins, expressed support for the idea, but have not yet sided firmly with the Democrats.

Even before the trial began, Democrats have been targeting four Republican senators -- Romney, Collins and Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee -- to get to the 51 votes Democrats need to force the Senate to call witnesses, including Bolton.

A senior White House official told ABC News that the president's defense team still believes they will be able to defeat the measure to call witnesses.

"We are exactly where we were going into the weekend," the official said. "There are four senators in play, two of have spoken publicly about where they stand (Romney, Collins) and two who have not (Murkowski, Alexander)."

"It's still a hard vote, but we are working hard. It's a long time until Friday," the official added.

Still, the Senate's number two Republican, John Thune, who is responsible for whipping the vote on witnesses, acknowledged Tuesday to ABC News that there is genuine fear that the trial could turn into a chaotic mess.

"Nobody wants a wide-open, sort-of free-for-all where this thing gets bogged down for weeks on end," Thune said.

He said he thought the GOP conference was unified behind a plan that would see more witnesses called than the Trump team would want, in exchange for a witness like Bolton.

But Thune said it was proving difficult to figure out how to manage what could become an unwieldy process.

"My assumption is that the president's counsel is going to have a fairly long list that they'll want to call, if the Dems get to have the witnesses they want to call. So, I just think it's fraught with a lot of peril and could be a long, drawn-out process," said Thune.

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Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump on Wednesday is set to celebrate his biggest legislative achievement since Democrats took control of the House in 2018 with the signing of a revised trade agreement with Mexico and Canada.

The signing, which comes amid the ongoing impeachment trial in the Senate, represents the second major achievement for Trump’s trade agenda this month, coming on the heels of the signing of a "Phase One" trade agreement with China.

In his 2016 bid for the White House, then-candidate Trump relentlessly assailed the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, as "one of the worst trade deals ever made" and vowed to negotiate a better deal if elected president.

With the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, the president is delivering on that campaign promise.

The USMCA replaces NAFTA by revamping the 25-year-old trade agreement with provisions aimed at strengthening the U.S. auto manufacturing industry, improving labor standards enforcement and increasing market access for American dairy farmers, among other changes.

The agreement represents a rare bipartisan achievement, with both Republicans and Democrats hailing it as a win for the American worker.

Even as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi handed a political victory to the president by approving the deal, she sought to credit Democrat negotiators with making the deal "infinitely better" over months of negotiations with the administration.

Pelosi announced that the final agreement had been reached with the White House in December, on the same day the Democrats also formally unveiled two articles of impeachment against the president, something she acknowledged at the time was "not a coincidence."

The president, reacting at the time, called USMCA the "silver lining" of impeachment.

"Without the impeachment, they would have never approved it, in my opinion. The impeachment is the reason they approved it," Trump said on Dec. 10.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the agreement by an overwhelming 385-41 vote in December and the Senate followed suit with an 89-10 vote earlier this month, sending the agreement to the president's desk for signature.

Mexico has also ratified the agreement and Canada is expected to follow suit in the weeks ahead.

Even as the ongoing trial threatens to overshadow the president’s signing ceremony, the White House has organized a major press event on the South Lawn of the White House that is set to be attended by farmers, U.S. manufacturers and members of Congress. The following day, the president is set to take his USMCA victory lap on tour with a visit to a manufacturing facility in Michigan.

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White House Counsel Pat Cipollone speaks on Jan. 28, 2020. (ABC News)(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump’s defense team wrapped up opening arguments Tuesday, setting the stage for two days of senators asking written questions before voting as early as Friday on whether to consider having witnesses.

Democrats had new hope of getting witnesses they have fought for with word Tuesday evening that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had told Senate Republicans that, as of now, he doesn't have the votes to block them.

The next phase of the trial -- senators’ questions -- gets underway Wednesday at 1 p.m.

In the meantime, get caught up with the latest on the Senate trial with these three takeaways:

1) Trump’s team discounts Bolton allegations

The news from the weekend -- that Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton wrote in an unpublished manuscript that Trump had told him he was withholding U.S. military aid to Ukraine until Ukraine agreed to investigate the Bidens -- continued to raise questions about the possibility of witnesses.

Monday night, former Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz, arguing for Trump’s defense team, briefly addressed the reported allegations made by Bolton, saying, "Nothing in the Bolton revelations, even if true, would rise to the level of an abuse of power or an impeachable offense.” He added, “You cannot turn conduct that is not impeachable into impeachable conduct simply by using words like quid pro quo and personal benefit."

On Tuesday, one of Trump’s lead lawyers, Jay Sekulow, in his Senate floor arguments, echoed what Dershowitz said the night before.

“The trial of the leader of the free world and the duly elected president of the United States is a solemn duty. It is not a game of leaks and unsourced manuscripts," he said, referring to the Bolton allegation which he called "inadmissible."

Sekulow added: "To be specific, you cannot impeach a president on an unsourced allegation. But what Professor Dershowitz is saying, even if everything in there was true, it constitutionally doesn't rise to that level."

2) Trump lawyers: 'Abuse of power' not an impeachable offense

Trump's team elaborated on another of Dershowitz’s arguments. He maintains that a president can't be impeached for what he calls vague charges of "abuse of power" and "obstruction of Congress," arguing the Constitution requires a specific crime or crime-like behavior.

White House deputy counsel Patrick Philbin called the "abuse of power" charge made by the House impeachment managers “malleable,” and argued that it is based on finding a “subjective motive,” instead of “standards, or offenses.”

“How do we tell under the House managers' standard what an illicit motive is?” Philbin said. “How are we supposed to get the proof inside the president's head?"

“They want to make it impeachable if it's just the wrong idea inside the president's head,” Philbin continued.

"The claim that foreign policy decisions can be deemed abuses of power based on subjective opinions about mixed or sole motives that the president was interested only in helping himself demonstrate the dangers of employing the vague, subjective and politically malleable phrase, 'abuse of power' as a constitutionally permissible criteria for the removal of a president," Sekulow added.

3) Senators' questions beginning Wednesday

House Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gave a preview of what the trial's next steps will look like.

Questions from senators will alternate between the two sides when the trial resumes Wednesday, for “up to eight hours during that session of the Senate,” McConnell said. He added the same is the planned for Thursday.

McConnell said rules require questions must be submitted to the chief justice in writing.

"During the question period of the Clinton trial, senators were thoughtful and brief with their questions and the managers and counsel were succinct in their answers. I hope we can follow both of these examples during this time," he said.

Roberts also made mention of the Clinton impeachment trial, quoting then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist as having "advised counsel on both sides that the chair will operate on a rebuttable presumption that each question can be fully and fairly answered in five minutes or less."

"The transcript indicates the statement was met with quote laughter, end quote," Roberts quipped, to laughter as well in the current Senate chamber.

"Nonetheless managers and counsel generally limited their responses accordingly. I think the late chief's time limit was a good one and would ask both sides to abide by it," Roberts added.

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Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WILDWOOD, N.J.) -- Amid the ongoing impeachment trial in the Senate, President Donald Trump will leave Washington and head to the Democratic stronghold of New Jersey to rally for a congressman who refused to vote for impeachment as a Democrat and then switched parties.

Trump’s rally in Wildwood, N.J. Tuesday night takes place in newly-minted Republican Rep. Jeff Van Drew’s district, who, after switching parties, declared his “undying support” for the president.

And while the rally at Wildwoods Convention Center is in Democratic stronghold of New Jersey, Trump supporters have lined up around the block more than 24 hours before the president is scheduled to speak— a not so uncommon occurrence at the president’s campaign rallies.

The Wildwood rally serves multiple purposes for the president. Trump will look to tie Van Drew’s Democratic exodus to a larger argument against the party’s impeachment push. Van Drew, who will travel with the president on Air Force One to the event, bucked his own party by voting against impeachment in the House. On Tuesday night, the president will tout that move to his constituents.

Tuesday night will also be Trump's latest attempt to counter the ongoing impeachment trial with the packed rally offering the president a bastion of feverish and seemingly undying support from his faithful backers.

And while the Trump campaign won’t exactly say New Jersey is in play in 2020, a state that former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won by nearly 15 points in 2016, the president’s team says the turnout for Trump’s first rally in the Garden State should worry Democrats.

“If I were a Democrat, I would look at the enthusiasm and crowd here and think what the hell is going on here?” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh told ABC News in an interview.

Trump will head to Iowa on Thursday for his second rally this week when he looks to counter Democrats ahead of the caucuses next week. The campaign plans to deploy over 80 surrogates across Iowa on caucus day, including Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, Lara Trump along with Cabinet-level officials like White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.

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dmadig/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- It was another bustling week on Capitol Hill amid the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, but both the Senate and House chambers settled into moments of peaceful reflection over the past two days following the tragic death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant.

The 41-year-old basketball champion was among nine people who died in a helicopter crash in the wealthy Southern California residential neighborhood of Calabasas on Sunday. His 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, died alongside her father.

Representatives Maxine Waters and Harley Rouda delivered remarks before holding a moment of silence on the House floor in a tribute to Kobe Bryant, his daughter, Gianna, and the seven others who were killed in a devastating helicopter crash on Sunday.

— ABC News (@ABC) January 28, 2020

Democratic Reps. Harley Rouda and Maxine Waters led the House California delegation in a moment of silence on Tuesday afternoon and expressed their condolences to the families and communities of the victims.

"We are all heartbroken by the loss of life as this week our neighbors lost parents, children, friends, coaches and heroes in a horrific accident," Rouda said and then read the names of the victims: Kobe and Gianna Bryant, baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife, Keri, and their daughter Alyssa; mother and daughter Sarah and Payton Chester; coach Christina Mauser, and pilot Ara Zobayan.

Waters represents California's 43rd district in the southern part of Los Angeles County, which includes part of Los Angeles, while Rouda represents California's 48th district, which is based in Orange County in southern California.

"Orange County is grieving, but we will find solace and purpose in the example they left behind; in the belief in something bigger than themselves," Rouda added. "I ask that in Orange County and across out nation, we think of the lives lost in neighborhood basketball courts, school gyms, NBA arenas and wherever the game is played."

Rouda's remarks were followed by a tribute by Waters, who reflected on about the legacy that Bryant left behind and what he meant to the city of Los Angeles.

"Celebrated as a king in Los Angeles, Kobe's death is deeply painful for our city and his millions of fans everywhere," Waters said. "For decades, he dazzled generations of fans and aspiring athletes, leaving a legacy as a prolific athlete, devoted husband, loving father and philanthropist that will never be forgotten."

On Monday — one day after Bryant's death — Senate chaplain Barry Black opened the Senate impeachment trial with a prayerful reflection on the tragedy that claimed nine lives.

Senate chaplain: "As millions mourn the deaths of Kobe and Gianna Bryant and those who died with them, we think about life's brevity, uncertainty and legacy.

"Remind us that we all have a limited time on earth to leave the world better than we found it."

— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) January 27, 2020

"As millions mourn the deaths of Kobe and Gianna Bryant and those who died with them, we think about life's brevity, uncertainty and legacy," he said in the silent chamber. "Remind us that we all have a limited time on earth to leave the world better than we found it."

As National Transportation Safety Board investigators are still working to determine what brought down the helicopter, aviation safety advocates are calling for tighter protocols and regulations for helicopters.

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Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead(WASHINGTON) -- As the Senate impeachment trial enters its second week, the White House is locked into a split-screen reality.

While the trial dwarfs all other political storylines in Washington, the administration has pushed forward with a series of events designed to showcase a president focused on his presidential agenda even as Capitol Hill remains consumed with the business of impeachment.

Still, the president has made no effort to conceal that he is paying close attention to the Senate impeachment trial and frequently tweets to insist upon his innocence and blast Democrats.

Last week, as the president attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and met with other world leaders, administration officials lauded the president for his focus on the business of the American people.

Asked about the White House messaging strategy on Fox News last week, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said that the president's actions speak for themselves.

"This president keeps working, this president doesn't stop working," Grisham said in the interview. "I don't even think messaging is needed, you see it, he is out every day. ... So he keeps working, that's fine. They keep screaming impeachment, that's fine."

On Friday, an administration official shared with reporters a photograph of a TV screen of coverage among cable networks titled, "Priorities." It showed Fox News and Fox Business covering the president's appearance at the anti-abortion "March for Life" event while CNN and MSNBC were reporting on the Senate impeachment trial.

And as the trial is now in its second week, the president has rolled out his long-awaited and long-delayed Middle East plan and celebrate his keeping a campaign promise by signing the revamped U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

Monday kicked off with the hastily-arranged visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as his chief political rival Benny Gantz, to coincide with the president's decision to release his peace plan.

The administration has previously delayed the rollout of the plan amid political uncertainties in Israel, but a source familiar with the process said the president decided within the last couple of weeks that now was the right moment to release it. The rationale for releasing the plan now, the official said, was based on the hope that the Israeli people would coalesce around the plan.

Over the last three years of drafting, the plan has been a closely guarded document crafted under the direction of the president's son-in-law, Jared Kusher, and has only been seen in its entirety by a handful of members of the administration.

Unveiling the plan at noon on Tuesday, the timing of the announcement seemed aimed at maximizing potential coverage before the impeachment trial gaveled back into session at 1 p.m. It also provided the White House with another example of television coverage split between the impeachment that the president has decried as a "hoax" and a major presidential announcement.

The rollout also comes just weeks before a critical legislative election in Israel, but the administration denies that the plan's release is any way intended to be a political gift to Netanyahu, with a senior official pointing to Gantz's invitation to the White House to counter the criticism.

On Wednesday, the president is set to celebrate one of his biggest policy achievements with the signing of the USMCA trade plan to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, the preceding trilateral trade agreement that Trump has long assailed as "the worst trade deal ever made." The new agreement has now been ratified by both the United States and Mexico, with Canada expected to follow suit in the coming weeks.

He's also set to hit the road on Thursday to tout the trade achievement with a trip to a manufacturing plant in Warren, Michigan.

The president has two campaign rallies planned this week that will provide him with opportunities to openly vent his frustrations before two audiences of adoring fans. His Thursday rally in Des Moines, Iowa, will insert himself directly into the conversation ahead of the first-in-the-nation caucuses.

While it's unclear if the impeachment trial will continue into next week, the president indicated last week that he is not inclined to delay his plans to deliver the State of the Union address on Feb. 4.

If Trump is faced with delivering the annual presidential address amid the backdrop of an ongoing impeachment trial, he would become the second president to embrace that particular split-screen moment. President Bill Clinton delivered his 1999 State of the Union address amid his own impeachment trial.

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Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump on Tuesday commended Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was accused by an NPR reporter last week of shouting expletives at her following an interview, saying he "did a good job on her."

Trump made the comment during an East Room event announcing his Middle East peace plan, after recognizing Pompeo for his contributions to the agreement.

"Wow, that's impressive," the president said of the standing ovation for the top U.S. diplomat. "That was very impressive Mike."

Trump added, "That reporter couldn't have done too good a job on you ... I think you did a good job on her, actually."

He went on to joke about speculation around Pompeo running for an open seat in the Senate representing Kansas, telling him to stay put.

"That is good, thank you, Mike," he said. "Are you running for Senate? I guess the answer is 'no' after that. They all want him to. Kansas, great state, they want him to. You're doing a great job, don't move."

On Saturday, Pompeo released a blistering statement that accused NPR's Mary Louise Kelly of lying, but did not dispute her account of his expletive-laden tirade against her in his office after she interviewed him.

He said the incident was "another example of how unhinged the media has become in its quest to hurt" Trump and his administration.

Pompeo removed another NPR reporter on Monday from an upcoming trip to Europe and Central Asia, just days after Pompeo berated Kelly -- who was born in Germany and has a masters in European Studies from Cambridge University in the U.K. -- in his office and demanded she find Ukraine on a map.

Removing NPR's Michele Kelemen from the trip was seen as further retaliation by the State Department Correspondents' Association, according to its president Shaun Tandon of Agence France-Presse.

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rarrarorro/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Federal workers are asking a court to redefine the rules blocking them from speaking out amid the ongoing impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, arguing it is a restriction of their First Amendment rights.

American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the nation's largest federal workers union representing more than 600,000 employees, filed a motion on Friday in an effort to speed up an ongoing lawsuit against the Office of Special Counsel (OSC).

The motion asks OSC to rescind guidance it issued in 2018 as part of the Hatch Act, a law that bars government employees from political expression in the workplace that supports a political party or partisan group.

The guidance also restricts most federal employees from discussions related to impeachment or against the president.

"These restrictions not only harm the federal employees who are censored, but the public interest at large, as the restrictions restrict speech on topics over which federal employees have unique knowledge and expertise," the motion reads. "The restrictions strike at the heart of the First Amendment."

Ward Morrow, AFGE's assistant general counsel, says the organization decided to file the emergency motion to speed up the legal process, rather than wait for the lawsuit to advance through the court system.

"Currently impeachment is practically the only news story out there, so instead of waiting months and years for litigation to go through we decided to expedite it in the court now," Morrow said.

Morrow said impeachment-related content is all over the TV, even in federal offices, which makes it even more difficult for workers to avoid the subject.

"We need to do something right now because impeachment is in the news right now, and is having a substantial chilling effect on free speech at this moment," he said. "In six months, it may not be a topic of discussion. Time really is of the essence."

OSC has clarified that the guidance did not restrict the employees from discussing impeachment -- only from taking a side.

In a memo released on Friday, AFGE and American Oversight, the group representing AFGE members, expressed concern with the confusing nature of the OSC advisory. They said the rules outlined are convoluted and some employees have opted to not speak at all, out of fear of litigation.

"In the guidance, which equates the concept of 'impeachment' with 'removal from office,' OSC confusingly advises that federal employees are allowed to discuss whether the president should or should not be impeached, but they are not allowed to advocate for or against impeachment," the statement said. "A meaningless distinction that has made silence the only safe option for workers wishing to avoid potential punishment."

Regardless, Morrow said he feels impeachment should not be subject to the Hatch Act at all, since it is a legislative -- and not political -- situation.

"This isn’t political campaigning, it’s like any other legislative act," he said. "The Hatch Act is limited to partisan political activity, not legislative activity."

An OSC spokesperson declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

The OSC is not connected to former special counsel Robert Mueller.

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rarrarorro/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Trump legal team wraps opening arguments at Senate impeachment trial

Schumer rejects GOP talk of letting senators see Bolton manuscript before deciding whether he should testify

In next phase, senators will submit written questions to both sides

President Donald Trump’s impeachment defense team on Tuesday heads into their final day of opening arguments as questions over whether senators will hear new witnesses at the trial remain up in the air.

Trump’s lawyers are expected to finish making their case on the Senate floor by late afternoon.

The next phase of the trial -- in which senators will submit questions to both sides for up to 16 hours -- is expected to begin Wednesday, according to White House sources and Senate aides. After that, a key point in the trial -- a Senate vote on whether to consider new witnesses and other evidence -- could come as early as Friday.

Republicans faced new pressure to add witnesses following newly reported revelations from the New York Times that former National Security Adviser John Bolton claims Trump told him he wanted help from Ukraine to investigate Democrats and would withhold their military aid to get cooperation.

But in a twist late Monday, Oklahoma Republican James Lankford suggested that senators could review the unpublished manuscript of Bolton’s forthcoming book. In a video posted to Facebook Monday, after Republicans spent the day largely dodging questions of whether to accept new witnesses, Lankford called Bolton’s information “pertinent” to the trial.

“If John Bolton’s got something to say, there’s plenty of microphones all over the country that he should step forward and start talking about it right now,” Lankford said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a staunch ally of President Trump, said he agrees that the draft manuscript of Bolton’s forthcoming book be made available to senators, but in a classified setting.

Here is how the day is unfolding. Please refresh for updates.

2:52 p.m. Cipollone: 'The Senate cannot allow this to happen'

White House counsel Pat Cippollone ends three days of arguments with a low-key but impassioned plea to senators.

"The Senate cannot allow this to happen. It is time for this to end here and now.,' he says. "So, we urge the Senate to reject these articles of impeachment for all the reasons we have given you."

Cipollone tells the senators to end the era of impeachment "for good."

'This should end now, as quickly as possible," he argues. "Reject these articles of impeachment for our country and for the American people."

Cipollone spoke after a brief recess.

As that recess began, Sen. Susan Collins turned to her GOP colleague and seat mate Sen. Lisa Murkowski and both huddled, intensely in their seats - talking just to one another, ABC's Trish Turner reports. from the chamber. Each is resting her head in hand - as if to shield what is being said from press and potentially GOP colleagues all around them.

They are two key senators on the question of witnesses. Most stopped taking notes during the Sekulow comments.

And ABC's Devin Dwyer reports that after Murkowski and Collins broke the Alaska senator stood in the aisle shoulder to shoulder with GOP Whip Sen John Thune for over 10 minutes, both clearly presenting countering views on the question of witnesses.

Thune, heavily chewing gum, looked sternly away while Murkowski seemed to thoughtfully lay out her thinking into his left ear. You could see her saying “witnesses” but exact statements not clear. Murkowski’s body language and facial expressions seemed to reflect the conflicted views she has made publicly in recent days.

I can overhear her saying “....imagine if it was someone else...” and “... I do understand the concerns...” and “.... there’s no way anyone wants that....” She occasionally shrugs her shoulders.

1:41 p.m. Sekulow warns; 'danger, danger danger' while dismissing Bolton allegation

Jay Sekulow, one of the president's lead lawyers, takes the Senate floor to sum up the team's arguments, and appears to reference the Bolton manuscript controversy, saying "The trial of the leader of the free world and the duly elected President of the United States is one of the most solemn of duties. It is not a game of leaks and unsourced manuscripts."

Trump attorney Jay Sekulow says "the trial of the leader of the free world and the duly elected President of the United States" is one of the most "solemn of duties" and "it is not a game of leaks and unsourced manuscripts. That's politics, unfortunately."

— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) January 28, 2020

"You cannot impeach a president based on an unsourced allegation," he says later, this time mentioning Bolton by name and the president's denial of his allegation that he heard him tie withholding Ukraine aid to Ukraine agreeing to an investigation of the Bidens.

Sekulow also says all the legal scholars the president's lawyers have presented have warned against lowering the bar for impeachment, saying it would set a bad precedent.

"Hamilton put impeachment in the hands of this body, the Senate, precisely and specifically to be above that fray. This is the greatest deliberative body on Earth. In our presentation so far, you have now heard from legal scholars from a variety of schools of thought, from a variety of political backgrounds, but they do have a common theme with a dire warning, danger. Danger. Danger," he says.

"To lower the bar of impeachment based on these articles of impeachment would impact the functioning of our constitutional republic and the framework of that Constitution for generations," he continues, attacking Democrats.

"The claim that foreign policy decisions can be deemed abuses of power based on subjective opinions about mixed or sole motives that the president was interested only in helping himself demonstrate the dangers of employing the vague, subjective and politically malleable phrase, abuse of power as a constitutionally permissible criteria for the removal of a president," he says, echoing the argument from Alan Dershowitz on Monday night. .

Sekulow connects that idea to The New York Times report of excerpts from Bolton's book that has increased calls for Bolton's testimony. But Sekulow says that even if those comments are true the president's behavior still isn't an impeachable offense.

Senators are paying attention, but only a few appear to be taking notes, ABC's Mary Bruce notes from the Senate gallery.

Sen. Susan Collins is still the most prolific note taker. And a new name stands out, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. He is also paying close attention.

Romney is listening and looked slightly unamused during the more political portion of Sekulow's remarks.

Before things got underway, Sen. Liindsey Graham was seen speaking very briefly to Collins and Cassidy, separately.

Graham genuinely seems bored. He is snapping his gum, staring at the wall and constantly leaving the chamber for long stretches.

The most activity in the room is happening at the Trump legal team and managers' tables.

From my vantage point, I could see directly over Sekulow's shoulder as he tweaked and rewrote the top of his remarks. Notable, since the beginning of his comments included a not-so-subtle reference to Bolton's allegations, saying "It's not a game of leaks and unsourced manuscripts."

The managers did not make eye contact when Sekulow ripped into their handling of the House impeachment process. But Schiff is taking non-stop notes. And there was a lot of chatter among members of the team throughout the presentations.

1:13 p.m. Analysis: 'Blizzard of spin' on GOP senators

I think it’s fair to say no one here really yet knows the outcome of the question of whether or not to call witnesses, ABC's Trish Turner says in analysis.

There’s a blizzard of spin and pressure being brought to bear against GOP senators.

White House Legislative Affairs Director Eric Ueland has been making the rounds pressing GOP senators to oppose the vote on calling witnesses, according to 2 GOP senators requesting anonymity who were contacted by Ueland.

One senior administration official tells ABC the case is basically this:

“This could add weeks if not months to a potential trial process and lead to some very challenging outcomes for the Senate as an institution, the court itself, and obviously how it would handle executive privilege issues out in the executive branch and in Congress.

So, for example, is there supposed to be one set of rules for executive privilege and classified information for Senate presidential impeachment trials only and one set of rules for everything else? There are some real practical challenges that start to crop up pretty quickly.”

The source noted there are real-time implications and concerns about executive privilege assertions. You could see a situation, the source says, where “every question that rotates around executive privilege having to go to a court for adjudication – every one of those questions is a time process. This is a question by question affirmation of executive privilege which is held by the president, not by Ambassador Bolton.”

There’s also a challenge “about the availability of information.”

As for releasing the Bolton manuscript in a classified setting, the official said "Lots of people have talked about this, but there are lots of attendant complexities.”

Who owns the manuscript? The publisher? Is it Bolton’s? The marketer’s? The administration official said this might not be a White House or Senate question to be answered. This source said the White House has “little visibility” into this.

Some of the concern is abated by addressing this in a classified setting but to put it mildly, the administration wouldn’t trust that the information would stay classified.

The document could also still be subject to privilege assertions.

That’s why they handled it very carefully on the Senate floor, versus the speculation in the media.

There are “complex and somewhat novel legal issues suddenly front and senator courtesy of the article,” the official said.

Where is the Trump administration on the witness vote? “No predictions,” the official said.

1:08 p.m. White House lawyer echoes Dershowitz argument

Tuesday's trial session gets underway with White House deputy counsel Patrick Philbin saying he wants to elaborate on arguments made last night by former Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz. He argued that a president cannot be impeached for "abuse of power" and "obstruction of Congress" because the language is too vague -- that the Constitution requires a crime or something like a crime.

Philbin also asks, "How do we tell what an illicit motive is? How do we get inside the president's head?" regarding what he says are Trump's lawful actions on their face.

12:31 p.m. GOP's Murkowski signals she's increasingly open to hearing Bolton

GOP moderate Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska is signaling that she is increasingly likely to support hearing from John Bolton. Asked if she wants to read his manuscript, she says, "I think that Bolton probably has something to offer us. So we’ll figure out how we’re going to learn more,” she said, before hopping into an elevator.

12:04 p.m. GOP's Lankford says seeing manuscript will help senators decides whether to call Bolton

GOP Sen. James Lankford, who late Monday floated the idea of reviewing Bolton’s manuscript, tells CNN the review is necessary before senators can decide whether to call him as a witness.

“This at least allows people to reach a decision based on facts that they can actually read in the manuscript,” Lankford says.

The National Security Council, which is based at the White House, has held Bolton’s manuscript since he submitted it for a standard review process last month, according to a Bolton representative and an NSC spokesperson.

11:16 a.m. Romney says hearing witnesses from both sides 'has some merit'

Sen. Mitt Romney, one of the key moderates Democrats hope will support new testimony, again appears open to new testimony. But he goes further on Tuesday, suggesting he’s just as open to hearing from other witnesses called by Trump’s defense team.

"I'd like to hear from John Bolton and I think the idea that's been expressed in the media about having each side be able to choose a witness or maybe more than one witness on a paired basis, it has some merit," Romney tells reporters.

Some Republicans and Democrats have reportedly considered calling former Vice President Joe Biden to the Senate floor in exchange for senior officials with closer connections to the President.

But Democratic senators have publicly rejected the idea, insisting the accusations that the Bidens engaged in Ukraine-related corruption are baseless distractions.

11:13 a.m. Schumer says Bolton must testify so senators can decide whether he or Trump is telling the truth

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer makes another argument for witnesses before Trump's impeachment trial convenes at 1 p.m.

He notes that with the president's denial of John Bolton's allegation on Monday, the two are telling opposing stories and says, since Trump won't testify, senators need to hear from Bolton to decide who's telling the truth.

He says it's "on the shoulders of four Republican senators" to make sure Bolton, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and two other administration officials testify, referring to GOP Sens. Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Lamar Alexander.

He also called the GOP talk of having senators read the Bolton manuscript in a secure setting is an "absurd proposal."

"Nothing is a substitute for a witness testifying under oath," Schumer says.

"We're not bargaining with them," Schumer says of Republican talk of having Hunter Biden testify in exchange for Bolton appearing.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead(WASHINGTON) -- Attorney General William Barr announced Tuesday federal authorities will more aggressively pursue alleged acts of anti-Semitism moving forward as part of their commitment to prosecuting hate crimes cases.

Barr made the announcement during a meeting with Jewish leaders, adding that he's "extremely distressed" about recent acts of intimidation and violence against Jewish communities.

"It strikes at the very core of what this country is about," Barr said during a meeting in New York at the Boro Park Jewish Community Council. "I've always felt it is particularly pernicious because it does target people based not only their ethnicity but also on their religious practice."

Allen Fagin, executive vice president and chief professional officer of the Orthodox Union, also attended the event. He told ABC News in a phone interview that the group had a "very open and candid conversation" with Barr over the steps the federal government can take to combat anti-Semitism.

"When the federal government says we will prosecute as a hate crime ... conduct that might be seen as relatively low-level criminal activity, I think that also conveys a message that the enormous weight of federal authority and resources will be brought to bear on this issue," he said.

Fagin added that "time will tell" whether the specific proposals put forward by Barr will have a real impact on problems facing the Jewish community, but he applauded the attorney general for his public declaration.

"Just being there and declaring publicly that there would be zero tolerance for such conduct is enormously important," Fagin said.

As a part of his new effort, Barr disclosed new federal charges unsealed against Tiffany Harris, a woman accused of slapping three Orthodox Jewish women in Brooklyn in December. Harris had been released on bail when she allegedly attacked another women and she was released on bail again.

"We are charging her federally," Barr said, inserting the federal government into the highly charged debate in New York over the state’s new bail reform law.

The federal complaint said Harris knew she was walking through the "Jewish neighborhood," where she allegedly told police she recalled slapping the women, cursing at them and saying to them, "F*** you Jews."

The incident was one in a series of acts alleged to have been motivated by anti-Semitism that alarmed New York's Jewish community just before the New Year, including the Dec. 29 stabbing of five people at a Hanukkah celebration in Monsey.

In addressing what he described as a nationwide uptick in anti-Semitic acts, Barr sought to tie the issue to government actions that have attempted to restrict the curriculum of religious schools, stepping into another politically charged debate in New York. Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn have come under fire for maintaining yeshivas -- or schools that focus on traditional Jewish texts -- that do not properly teach secular courses.

Barr told the group of leaders he was concerned that a deterioration of values and a "spiritual hollowing out that's been occurring in the western world" was a broader concern of his in working to address acts of harassment and violence against religious groups.

"One worries whether barbarism is right below the surface," Barr said.

Barr announced another initiative, where he said a directive will be sent to U.S. attorney's offices across the country, calling for them to "initiate or reinvigorate" their outreach to Jewish communities.

He said the directive will also require them to provide points of contact for Jewish leaders to report hate crimes and law enforcement concerns.

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