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Chief Justice Roberts blocked Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul from posing a question during the Senate impeachment trial that would have named the alleged whistleblower at the center of the episode, Fox News is told — and Paul may try to force the issue during the question-and-answer session Thursday.
Roberts, for now, has ball control because he actually receives the questions in note cards from senators, then reads the question aloud in the Senate chamber to be answered by either House Democratic managers or Trump’s defense team. But, Fox News has learned Roberts may soon lose his grip on the proceedings amid a torrent of criticism both inside and outside the Senate.
The Federalist co-founder Sean Davis condemned what he called Roberts’ “arbitrary and unilateral censorship of senators and Senate business,” and reported that Roberts had initially sought to block even general questions of the whistleblower. When Republicans threatened a vote rebuking Roberts on the record, Davis reported, Roberts backed down and decided only to prohibit mentioning the whistleblower’s name.
Asked by Fox News whether Paul would press the issue during the question period, a spokesman for the senator told Fox News only, “tbd” — short for “to be determined.”
A reporter for Roll Call said that during a break in the trial Wednesday, Paul was fuming.
“I don’t want to have to stand up to try and fight for recognition,” Paul shouted, according to reporter Niels Lesniewski, who noted that Paul’s complaint was “audible from the galleries above the chamber.”
“If I have to fight for recognition, I will,” Paul said.
“If I have to fight for recognition, I will.”
Roberts, under the Constitution, presides over the impeachment trial. But the precise contours of his authority are not clearly established, and remain up for debate; Democrats have even said they will attempt a long-shot motion to give Roberts the unprecedented power to approve or reject witnesses, for example.
Republicans have sought more information on the whistleblower ever since the intelligence community watchdog found several indicators that the person might have a political bias. Fox News has previously reported the whistleblower is a registered Democrat and had a prior work history with a senior Democrat running for president.
The whistleblower’s attorney, Mark Zaid, openly admitted back in 2017 that a “coup” had started against the president from within the administration.
He also openly solicited intelligence community members to help impeach and “get rid” of Trump, years before Trump’s call with Urkaine’s leader that triggered the current impeachment proceedings.
Additionally, Zaid acknowledged that the whistleblower had contact with a prominent Democratic presidential contender, amid reporters that he had served closely with Joe Biden when he was vice president. Trump’s alleged pressure on Ukraine to investigate Biden is at the center of the current probe.
Although Democrats have argued that the whistleblower’s possible bias is irrelevant, Republicans have noted that lead House impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., has made public inconsistent statements concerning his panel’s contacts with the whistleblower.
It could be, Republicans have suggested, that the whistleblower coordinated his complaint with Schiff’s panel for partisan reasons — a disclosure that, if true, would likely undermine the credibility of the impeachment proceedings. Thus far, the impeachment effort has arguably been elevated in importance from normal partisan bickering in part by the gravitas afforded to the supposedly well-meaning whistleblower at the center of the case.
Wednesday’s lengthy question-and-answer session contained other notable moments, including another spirited constitutional argument by liberal Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz.
Multiple media outlets, including CNN, mischaracterized Dershowitz throughout the day as saying that presidents can do “anything” as long as they can argue it’s in the “public interest.” In fact, Dershowitz maintained that criminal or criminal-like conduct is impeachable, regardless of its motivation.
Instead, Dershowitz maintained the Senate should not be in the business of removing presidents based on nebulous “abuse of power” charges that the framers expressly rejected.
‘COUP HAS STARTED,’ UKRAINE WHISTLEBLOWER’S ATTORNEY PROMISED IN 2017, VOWING TO IMPEACH AND ‘GET RID OF’ TRUMP
When House Democratic impeachment manager Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., claimed “all scholars” except for Dershowitz agreed that impeachment didn’t have to involve crimes or criminal-like conduct, there were audible groans from the GOP side of the chamber.
Dershowitz rose later, turned to Nadler, and said he was simply ignorant of the facts. Dershowitz reiterated that the “abuse of power” charge was vague and indeterminate, and was precisely the kind of article of impeachment that the framers wanted to reject — as evidenced by their explicit repudiation of the charge of “maladministration.”
It would be difficult if not impossible, Dershowitz said, to determine that a president has acted with corrupt “motive,” given that countless presidents consider both the national interest and their personal political gain when making decisions. In a thinly veiled shot at former President Barack Obama, Dershowitz asserted that everyone would agree that it would not be impeachable if a president decided to threaten to bomb Syria if it crossed a kind of “red line,” only to retreat because his pollsters said it would not be popular.
Separately, a string of newly resurfaced video clips of former national security adviser John Bolton spurred Trump and his supporters Wednesday to highlight what they described as serious credibility questions — raised by both Democrats and Republicans — amid the Senate impeachment trial, as the president tweeted, “GAME OVER!”
‘GAME OVER’: TRUMP DECLARES VICTORY AFTER STRING OF BOLTON VIDEOS APPEAR TO UNDERMINE HIS CREDIBILITY
In his tweet, Trump linked to an interview of Bolton in August 2019 where he discusses Ukraine policy. In the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty interview clip, Bolton made no mention of any illicit quid pro quo, and acknowledged, as Republicans have claimed, that combating “corruption” in Ukraine was a “high priority” for the Trump administration.
Bolton also called Trump’s communications with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “warm and cordial,” without mentioning any misconduct. It seemingly contradicted reported assertions in Bolton’s forthcoming book that Trump explicitly told him he wanted to tie military aid to Ukraine to an investigation into Joe and Hunter Biden. (Zelensky has said his communications with Trump involved no pressure for any investigation.)
Fox News later identified clips of Schiff, D-Calif., now the lead House impeachment manager, in which he says Bolton had a distinct “lack of credibility” and was prone to “conspiracy theories.” This week, Schiff said Bolton needed to testify in the impeachment trial as an important and believable witness.
WHITE HOUSE TELLS BOLTON TO REMOVE HIGHLY CLASSIFIED MATERIALS FROM MANUSCRIPT, THROWING TESTIMONY INTO DOUBT
“This is someone who’s likely to exaggerate the dangerous impulses of the president toward belligerence, his proclivity to act without thinking, and his love of conspiracy theories,” Schiff told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on March 22, 2018, when Trump named Bolton national security adviser.
“And I’ll, you know, just add one data point to what you were talking about earlier, John Bolton once suggested on Fox News that the Russian hack of the DNC [Democratic National Committee] was a false flag operation that had been conducted by the Obama administration,” he said. “So, you add that kind of thinking to [former U.S. attorney] Joe diGenova and you have another big dose of unreality in the White House.”
Schiff made similar arguments back in May 2005, saying in an interview with CNN’s “Crossfire” that Bolton was “more focused on the next job than doing well at the last job” when he was up for nomination as ambassador to the United Nations under then-President George W. Bush.
“And particularly given the history, where we’ve had the politicizing of intelligence over WMD [weapons of mass destruction], why we would pick someone who the very same issue has been raised repeatedly, and that is John Bolton’s politicization of the intelligence he got on Cuba and other issues, why we would want someone with that lack of credibility, I can’t understand,” Schiff had said.
Bolton himself had admitted in the past that he would be more than willing to lie if he felt it was in the nation’s best interest.
“If I had to say something I knew was false to protect American national security, I would do it,” Bolton said in an interview with Fox Business in 2010.
But, speaking to CNN on Monday, Schiff took a different approach — calling Bolton essential to the “search for truth.”
“I think for the senators, and I’m just not talking about the four that have been so much the focus of attention, for every senator, Democrat and Republican, I don’t know how you can explain that you wanted a search for the truth in this trial and say you don’t want to hear from a witness who had a direct conversation about the central allegation in the articles of impeachment,” Schiff said on CNN’s “New Day.”
WHITE HOUSE TELLS BOLTON TO REMOVE HIGHLY CLASSIFIED MATERIALS FROM MANUSCRIPT, THROWING TESTIMONY INTO DOUBT
Seemingly responding to charges of hypocrisy, Schiff remarked on the Senate floor late Wednesday: “I’m no fan of John Bolton, but I like him a little more now than I used to.”
Whether or not the Senate will vote to call Bolton as a witness — or whether he will legally be able to testify — remain open questions. Republicans have suggested that Schiff himself should testify.
Any witness resolution would likely require four Republican defections in the Senate, because in the event of a 50-50 tie, Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts is highly likely to abstain rather than assert his debatable power to cast a tie-breaking vote. The witness question will be decided later this week, after the question-and-answer session of the trial wraps up.
Republicans, who have a 53-47 majority in the chamber, have suggested to Fox News that they would amend any witness resolution that subpoenas Bolton to also require the appearance of several additional witnesses favorable to the Trump administration — likely killing support in the Senate for the whole witness package altogether.
In the meantime, concerns over Bolton potentially divulging classified information, as well as violating the legal principle of executive privilege, have emerged. On Wednesday, the White House revealed it had told Bolton not to publish his upcoming tell-all book about his time in the Trump administration until classified material is removed from the manuscript.
“Under federal law and the nondisclosure agreements your client signed as a condition for gaining access to classified information, the manuscript may not be published or otherwise disclosed without the deletion of this classified information,” Ellen J. Knight, a National Security Council (NSC) aide, wrote in a letter to Bolton attorney Charles J. Cooper last week, which was obtained by Fox News.
Bolton’s book has disrupted Trump’s impeachment trial. The New York Times reported that Bolton’s draft manuscript includes a claim that Trump explicitly linked a hold on military aid to Ukraine to an investigation of Joe and Hunter Biden — a central part of the case against Trump.
The letter from the NSC was transmitted to Bolton’s attorney on Jan 23. The New York Times article about the manuscript came out on Sunday, Jan. 26 — three days after the letter was transmitted. That indicates that the NSC had already made the determination that there was top secret information in Bolton’s manuscript before anything became public.
Earlier in the day, CNN reported that the letter amounted to a threat against Bolton. But sources told Fox News this was not a “threat,” saying the letter merely points out that there is top secret information contained in the manuscript that cannot be released to the public.
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