Could Tbilisi Decide Iowa Caucuses in 2020 US Presidential Race?    

Next week’s Iowa caucuses are coming to Tbilisi, the capital of the country of Georgia.

For the first time, Iowa’s Democratic Party designated Tbilisi as well as Paris, France and Glasgow, Scotland as international satellite caucus sites, along with 96 new voting locations in the state and across the U.S. where Iowa Democrats can register who they want as their party’s presidential nominee.

Expanding these voting sites will “make these caucuses the most accessible” in the party’s history, said Troy Price, the Iowa Democratic Party Chairman.

The Iowa caucuses, to be held on Feb. 3, will kick off the 2020 U.S. presidential primary season, to be followed within days by the New Hampshire primary. Democratic candidates are competing to become the party’s standard-bearer and face off against the Republican Party’s presumed presidential nominee, President Donald Trump, in November.

Unlike a presidential primary where voters merely cast a ballot for the candidate of their choice, the more time consuming caucus process requires voters to cluster together in support of candidate. Participants may try to persuade wavering voters to join their side — or even attempt to convince voters to switch allegiance.

“What makes a caucus distinctive, of course, is that people are literally voting with their feet,” said Karen Kedrowski, director of The Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at the Iowa State University.

Why Tbilisi?

The Tbilisi site will be hosted by Joshua Kucera, a freelance journalist living in Georgia. Kucera, who is from Des Moines, told the New York Times, “there’s no specific reasons for an Iowan to be here.” So far, he said, only two other Iowa expats have registered for the Tbilisi caucus. As to why Kucera wants to host a caucus, he said “I’m a proud Iowan, nostalgic for Iowa and I like doing Iowan things.”

Kucera told VOA in an email he plans to write about his experiencing hosting the caucus in Tbilisi for another news organization.

The other international sites will be held at a university in Paris and at the home of a graduate student studying in Glasgow.

The 99 Iowa caucuses satellite locations were designated by the Democratic Party following an extensive application process. Organizations and individuals interested in hosting a caucus had to estimate the potential number of Iowa participants in these areas.

Symbolic impact

While the Democratic Party has expanded access, it has limited the potential impact of the satellite caucuses, ruling that no more than 10%  of delegates will be selected based on the outcomes from these sites.

But political analysts will be looking to see if the expanded caucus sites significantly increase participation among more diverse populations and what new voter patterns may emerge.

“I’m going to definitely be watching to see if these folks who are participating in the satellite caucuses had a different outcome than those who went to the traditional caucuses,” said Kedrowski, with Iowa State University’s Catt Center for Women and Politics.

The Republican party of Iowa will also be holding caucuses on the same night but will not participate in the expanded satellite locations. President Donald Trump, who is running for second term of office, is overwhelmingly favored over two other register Republican candidates, former U.S. Congressman Joe Walsh and former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld.

Virtual option

The Iowa Democratic Party considered but ultimately rejected a virtual caucus option, for voters to participate over the phone or on an online platform, due to cybersecurity concerns.  

This year’s expanded caucus sites and schedules, the Democratic Party hopes, will facilitate greater participation among busy parents with children, people working night shifts, students away from home and Iowans living abroad.

In the past, the downside of the time-consuming caucus process has been lower voter turnout. In the 2016 Iowa caucuses only 15.7%  of the voting population participated. In contrast, over 50%  of New Hampshire voters cast ballots in the 2016 primary.  

Iowa Democrats also rejected proposals to allow early voting or mailing in ballots that would blur the distinction between caucus and primary.

New Hampshire state law requires that its primary election be the first one held in the nation. By holding caucuses rather than a traditional election, Iowa’s contest technically does not conflict with New Hampshire’s traditional first primary position.  

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As Primaries Near, Buttigieg Struggles to Make Headway With Black Voters

Pete Buttigieg is betting big on Iowa and New Hampshire, hoping success in the largely white states will help him overcome dismal support from black voters by the time more diverse states weigh in on his bid for the presidency.

Buttigieg’s most recent swing through South Carolina, the first state with a large black population to hold a primary, underscored the depth of his challenge with the critical Democratic voting bloc.

Amid campaign stops designed to put Buttigieg before black audiences, the white, openly gay, former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, faced continued questions about his record on race, his ability to earn black voters’ trust and his sexuality.

“It’s South Carolina. We are gas, sweet tea and religion,” said Mattie Thomas, who co-chairs the state’s Democratic Black Women Caucus. “For many people, they believe their God won’t let them support him.”

Buttigieg, 38, has spent the last year successfully courting Democratic donors and voters in the predominantly white states of Iowa and New Hampshire, where polls show the Harvard-educated, military veteran in the top tier of candidates a week before Iowa’s Feb. 3 caucuses.

But a lack of black voter support could doom his White House chances. A national Washington Post-Ipsos poll this month showed Buttigieg with just 2% support from Democratic black voters nationally, far behind former Vice President Joe Biden’s 48% and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders’ 20%. In South Carolina, where roughly 30% of the population is black, Buttigieg has remained in the single digits.

Buttigieg lacks the national profile and long-standing relationships with the black community that have boosted Biden. His recently ended tenure as mayor has come under scrutiny, including a lack of diversity on the local police force and a fatal shooting of a black resident by a police officer.

He has tried to confront those concerns head-on. Buttigieg named black employees to key positions on the campaign and released a detailed policy proposal – dubbed the Frederick Douglass Plan, named after the 19th-century abolitionist leader who was born into slavery – that would send more federal money to black colleges and black-owned businesses, said Hasoni Pratts, the campaign’s national engagement director. On Monday, the campaign announced endorsements from three state officials, including the first black mayor of the small town of Anderson.

“MOSTLY WHITE PEOPLE SHOWING UP”

Yet at an event last week at Claflin University, a historically black college in Orangeburg, South Carolina, Buttigieg said most of his campaign events in the state still
lacked diversity.“

I’ll be honest, it’s mostly white people showing up,” Buttigieg said. “In order to win, in order to deserve to win, I need to be speaking to everyone,” he added.

Larry McCutcheon, a 69-year-old black pastor, said he was open to voting for Buttigieg and gets angry at the portrayal of blacks as homophobic. Looking at some empty seats in the university hall, McCutcheon said the bigger issue was that Buttigieg’s message had not resonated with enough black voters in the state.

“You can see just from this event that he has a problem,” McCutcheon said.

Buttigieg’s campaign blames his sluggish poll numbers on black voters’ lack of familiarity with the candidate, who did not have a national profile before entering the race. As that changes, so will his poll numbers, the campaign says.

In a phone interview, Pratts said the campaign had been the victim of a “false” narrative that had “spiraled out control” about Buttigieg’s handling of race issues during his tenure as mayor.

She said Buttigieg would keep showing up at events with black voters and answering tough questions.“ I get this is an ongoing process of earning trust,” Buttigieg said in Orangeburg. “I get that, as a new guy, I don’t have decades worth of experience with folks around the country. We have our story of our city, which is good, bad and indifferent.”

Afterward, Delanie Frierson, 66, said it was unlikely she would vote for Buttigieg in South Carolina’s Feb. 29 primary. She believes he has falsely equated gay rights to civil rights, a comparison she describes as insulting.“

Pete can walk into a room and no one will know if he’s gay,” she said. “A black person can’t do that.”

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Bloomberg Creates a Parallel Presidential Race. Can he Win?

When the leading Democratic presidential candidates marked Martin Luther King Jr. Day by linking arms and marching through South Carolina’s capital, Michael Bloomberg was nowhere near the early primary state.

The former New York mayor was instead in Arkansas, tossing out candy at a King Day parade and enjoying his status as the only presidential hopeful in town.

“Mike Boomerang?” a woman asked, as the billionaire businessman walked by.

“Mike Bloomberg,” a supporter clarified. “He’s running for president.”

Bloomberg is running, but he’s on his own track, essentially creating a parallel race to the nomination with no precedent. While his competitors are hunkered down in the four states with the earliest primaries, Bloomberg is almost everywhere else — a Minnesota farm, a Utah co-working space, an office opening in Maine. He’s staked his hopes on states like Texas, California and Arkansas that vote on March 3, aiming to disrupt the Democratic primary right around the time it’s typically settling on a front-runner. Or, should Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, be that front-runner, Bloomberg could be a backstop to Democrats still looking for a moderate choice.

Skipping the early voting states and banking on success in later delegate-rich contests has never been done successfully. But no candidate has ever brought the financial firepower that Bloomberg can — he is worth an estimated $60 billion and has already spent more than $200 million building a campaign in more than two dozen states, taking him well past Super Tuesday.

“Every other campaign thinks about this as a sequential set of contests. They spend time in Iowa and New Hampshire … hoping that they’ll (get a) momentum bounce from one to the next,” said Dan Kanninen, Bloomberg’s states director. “We’re thinking about this as a national conversation.”

There’s little public polling available to measure Bloomberg’s progress. National polls show his support in the mid to high single digits, similar to that of former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

But interviews with voters and party officials across the Super Tuesday states show Bloomberg is still just starting to make an impression. While officials marveled at the inescapable ambition of Bloomberg’s advertising, many voters still do not know who he is, or know only what they’ve seen on television. Others noted they were interested but were still waiting to see who emerged as a clear leader in earlier contests.

“I’ve been trying to read up on him to figure out if he’s going to be my key player,” said Cassandra Barbee, a hotel worker who watched Bloomberg in the Arkansas parade. She said his ads about helping people access health care appeal to her.

Bloomberg isn’t the sole candidate campaigning beyond the first four states. Elizabeth Warren’s campaign said it has more than 1,000 staffers, the same number Bloomberg has been touting, across 31 states. All the major campaigns have operations in California, the biggest delegate prize, and several are up and running in states like Texas and North Carolina.

But no candidate’s reach matches Bloomberg’s. He had spent more than $225 million on television and digital advertisements as of mid-January, according to the tracking firm Advertising Analytics, and he’s run television ads in at least 27 states. That’s 10 times what each of the other leading candidates has spent, according to the firm’s tracking.

Bloomberg has already campaigned in every Super Tuesday state, in addition to states like Florida, Michigan, and Ohio, which vote later but are major general election battleground states where Bloomberg thinks his message will resonate. Meanwhile, his campaign pushes out a steady stream of endorsements, policy plans and ads that keep him in the headlines as Iowa’s caucuses near.

“He’s definitely piquing my interest,” said Erica Moore, a guidance counselor at Little Rock schools. Moore said she’s aware of Bloomberg because his ads air constantly but said she wasn’t sure whether she’d vote for him.

How exactly Bloomberg plans to win enough delegates to capture the nomination is unclear. The campaign acknowledges public polls show he hasn’t hit the 15% threshold he will need to win delegates, which are awarded proportionally statewide and by congressional district. Kanninen would not set hard targets for what success looks like on Super Tuesday, when a third of all delegates are awarded. Bloomberg needs to win some delegates, Kanninen said, but regardless of performance, “we’re prepared to move on and compete vigorously.”

But winning a share of delegates isn’t enough, said Democratic strategist Bill Carrick, who argued that Bloomberg needs to win several Super Tuesday states to be credible. And Bloomberg’s anti-Trump advertising may not move voters his way in the primary, Carrick said.

“I think that people are going to separate out whether they want him to have a robust effort in the general election taking on Trump versus him being the candidate,” he said.

The best boost to Bloomberg’s chances may be what happens in the weeks leading up to Super Tuesday. As national and early state polls show Sanders in a strong position, Bloomberg could emerge as a moderate alternative should former Vice President Joe Biden or other candidates look weak. While Bloomberg has said he would support Sanders if he were the nominee, the two differ sharply on policy.

Winning the primary isn’t Bloomberg’s only aim. He hopes his ads and organizing soften the ground for whomever Democrats pick to challenge Trump and help Democrats in down-ticket races. Bloomberg has committed to continue to spend millions — keeping offices and organizers in battleground states — regardless of whether he is the nominee.

One of those states is North Carolina, where the campaign announced this week it had more than 100 paid employees. That’s a staffing benchmark more typical for a general election campaign. Hardly a local newscast or game show passes by in a major TV market that a Bloomberg commercial isn’t airing.

“He’s really giving North Carolina Democrats the chance to fight in the general election by running ads now,” said Justin Vollmer, a top Bloomberg adviser in the state.

Those ads tout his record on issues like health care and gun control and attack Trump, branding him a “dangerous demagogue” and calling for his removal from office. “Mike will get it done” is the former mayor’s slogan.

A former Republican and a businessman, Bloomberg believes he’ll appeal to moderates and conservatives frustrated with the president. But he has clear competition on that argument from both Biden and Buttigieg.

Judy Eason McIntyre, 74, who attended a Bloomberg speech last week in Tulsa, Oklahoma, thinks he would match up well against Trump, but that’s not enough to win her vote.

“I’m one of those older black folks that’s going to stick with Biden,” said McIntyre, a former state senator and longtime Democratic Party activist. “But out of the candidates I see, being practical, he and Michael Bloomberg are the ones who could beat Trump, and that’s what I’m after.”

Bloomberg’s campaign says it’s not focused on comparison with other Democrats.

“We’re not really running against the field — we’re running against Donald Trump,” Kanninen said.

Bloomberg recently brought his anti-Trump message to Utah, where Democratic presidential primary ads are “relatively unheard of,” said Jeff Merchant, chair of the Utah Democratic Party. Speaking in Salt Lake City last week, Bloomberg appealed to left-leaning voters who feel overlooked in a state that hasn’t supported a Democrat for president since 1964.

“We shouldn’t be writing off any state no matter how red people think it is,” Bloomberg said while speaking at a modern co-working space.

In some Super Tuesday states, Bloomberg is coming with a history that won’t necessarily help him court moderates and disaffected Republicans. In Virginia, which offers the third-most Super Tuesday delegates, he helped Democrats win full control of the state legislature for the first time in a generation last year through spending by his gun control group, Everytown for Gun Safety.

Democrats are now set to pass a slate of gun control measures, prompting the National Rifle Association to put Bloomberg’s face on a billboard. Such notoriety could serve to bolster his credentials with Democrats but turn off voters in gun-friendly southern states.

Perhaps the biggest question of Bloomberg’s candidacy is whether an ad blitz is enough to win over primary voters. In California, Republican businesswoman Meg Whitman lost statewide in 2010 after spending nearly $100 million, losing to the better-known Democrat Jerry Brown.

And in Texas, it wasn’t a barrage of TV ads that laid the groundwork for Democrat Beto O’Rourke to nearly win a Senate seat in 2018. It was his up-close-and-personal campaign that took him to every single county that captured voters’ attention.

So far, no major Texas officials have backed Bloomberg, even after he finished a five-city bus tour through the state earlier this month.

But Garry Mauro, who was the Texas chairman for both Clintons’ presidential campaigns, sees Bloomberg’s strategy as sensible. Mauro, who supports Biden, says no candidate but Bloomberg has the money to saturate Texas’ many television markets, and there’s no guarantee that a clear front-runner will emerge before Super Tuesday.

“He’s betting on nobody’s getting the momentum, and he can get his own momentum on TV,” he said. “That’s a totally different approach than what we’ve ever seen before.”

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Ten Things You Need to Know About Iowa Caucuses

The 2020 U.S. presidential campaign gets under way for real on Monday, Feb. 3, when voters in the Midwestern state of Iowa gather in schools, libraries and private homes to participate in the Iowa caucuses.

Iowa does not always determine the eventual party nominees, but the caucus vote does play a key role in shaping the primary races and weeding out contenders with little support.

Here are 10 things people should know about the Iowa caucuses.

What are the Iowa caucuses?

Once every four years, Iowa seizes the national political spotlight with its caucus vote. Party activists head out to local schools and other locations to express their preference for the various Democratic and Republican candidates running for president. The process can take hours, and the results are eventually used to award convention delegates to candidates who do well.

How do the caucuses work?

Upon arrival at the caucus site, Democrats taking part elect a local chairperson and form groups supporting the various candidates. After an initial round of voting, candidates who do not have at least 15% support among those at the caucus site are considered no longer viable. Their supporters are free to go to another candidate, and caucus-goers who support other candidates are free to try and persuade them. After this “realignment” process is complete, a final vote tally is taken and reported to the state party. The caucus results ultimately are used to allocate delegates to the national nominating convention in July committed to those candidates who draw the most support.

Why are the caucuses so important?

Iowa only sends 41 delegates to the Democratic National Convention this summer, so its real significance has to do with the fact it is the first voting test in the presidential primaries and can make or break presidential campaigns. The top finishers usually go on to be competitive in the New Hampshire primary the following week and other contests in the coming weeks. Those who finish poorly often see their funding dry up and are forced to leave the race.

Volunteers call potential caucus-goers at a campaign field office for Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, Jan. 13, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa.

Do caucus winners always win their party’s nomination?

Since 1972, the winner of the Iowa Democratic caucuses has gone on to win the party’s presidential nomination seven out of 10 times. Jimmy Carter got a big boost by finishing second to “uncommitted” in the 1976 caucus voting, and Barack Obama used his victory in 2008 to demonstrate he was a serious threat to favorite Hillary Clinton. But winning in Iowa does not guarantee success in the primary race. Past Democratic winners have included local favorite Sen. Tom Harkin in 1992, Congressman Dick Gephardt in 1988 and Ed Muskie in 1972, none of whom won the nomination. On the Republican side, Bob Dole in 1996 and George W. Bush in 2000 got a huge boost in momentum from winning the caucuses, and eventually went on to win the party nomination.

Who are some of the recent winners, and how did they fare in later primaries?

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz won the caucuses in 2016 over Donald Trump, while Democrat Hillary Clinton narrowly prevailed over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Sanders is one of the top Democratic contenders again this year. In 2012, former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum won a razor-thin victory over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, only to see Romney eventually claim the Republican nomination. Romney was defeated by Obama in the general election.

Why doesn’t Iowa hold a presidential primary like most other states?

Iowa is one of only a handful of states that still prefers to hold time-consuming caucus meetings to begin the process of selecting national convention delegates. Nevada, Kansas, North Dakota and Wyoming are the others. Iowa has traditionally preferred the caucus model since it became a state in 1846. But several states in recent years have moved away from caucus votes to primaries, where voters simply show up at a polling place and cast a ballot. Primary elections draw a wider cross section of voters compared to caucuses, which are usually attended by the more motivated and committed voters. Caucuses also last hours, compared to the more traditional act of voting at the polls or submitting an early vote by mail.

Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld steps off stage after speaking at a the Faith, Politics and the Common Good Forum at Franklin Jr. High School, Jan. 9, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa.

Are Republicans holding caucuses in Iowa, as well?

They are, even though Trump is a heavy favorite. The Republican caucuses function more simply than the Democratic ones. Voters simply show up at their local caucus locations and cast a vote and leave.

Iowa Democrats have announced changes to the caucuses this year. What are they?

In the past, Democrats would only announce the total number of delegates each candidate has won at the end of voting. This year, after pressure from Sanders supporters to be more transparent, Democrats have decided to also announce the raw vote totals from the first round of voting in the various caucuses, and from the final round of voting after caucus-goers are permitted to realign behind other candidates

Iowa caucuses button

Who decided Iowa should go first?  

Iowa began this tradition of holding the first caucuses for Democrats in 1972 and for Republicans in 1976. It has become a point of pride for Iowa to host the first caucuses and for New Hampshire to hold the first presidential primary. New Hampshire’s tradition goes back to 1916 and took on added significance beginning in 1952. Both states have a long-standing pact that they will remain the first contests to the exclusion of all other states, and for the most part, political leaders in both parties have supported them over the years.

Who is going to win in Iowa this year?

Recent state and national polls show Sanders is surging. He is hoping for a breakthrough in a top tier of candidates that includes former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. In addition, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar is hoping for a strong showing to break into the top tier. But in the final run-up to the vote, Sanders, Warren, Klobuchar and Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet have been limited in their ability to campaign in Iowa because as sitting U.S. senators, they are required to attend Trump’s impeachment trial.

 

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Trump’s Lawyers Resume Defense in Impeachment Trial

Trump lawyer Kenneth Starr says “let the people decide” as he accused Democratic impeachment managers of seeking to overturn the 2016 election and remove Trump from the 2020 ballot.

The president’s defense team spent its first full day at the Trump impeachment trial accusing Democrats of improperly using impeachment as a weapon to get rid of a president they simply don’t like.

Starr was the independent counsel whose investigation led to President Bill Clinton’s 1998 impeachment for lying to a grand jury about a sex scandal.

Starr called impeachment a political weapon that parties use against one another and said House Democrats impeached Trump without any bipartisan support. Starr described impeachment as “hell.”

“Those of who lived through the Clinton impeachment … full well understand that a presidential impeachment is tantamount to domestic war. It is filled with acrimony and divides the country like nothing else,” he said.

In this image from video, Kenneth Starr, an attorney for President Donald Trump, speaks during Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate at the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 27, 2020.

Lawyer Patrick Philbin said the House impeachment inquiry was never about taking the time to find out the truth by issuing subpoenas through the courts. With the 2020 election approaching, he accused House Democrats of rushing to a predetermined outcome to meet a timetable.

Another White House attorney, Jane Raskin, attacked the Democrats for focusing on Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, who they say was at the center of the president’s campaign to pressure Ukraine to investigate Trump’s political rival, Joe Biden.

Raskin said Giuliani is a “colorful distraction” from what she says is the lack of evidence that Trump committed a crime.  She said if Giuliani is such a central figure, why didn’t the Democrats subpoena him to testify? House committees subpoenaed documents related to Giuliani’s work in Ukraine, but he refused to comply.

Defense attorney Pam Bondi spent her time attacking Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden’s lucrative job with a Ukrainian gas company. She said questions about a conflict of interest go back as far as 2014, saying Hunter Biden was paid millions of dollars to sit on the board of Burisma while his father was U.S. vice president.

In this image from video, White House adviser and former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi speaks during the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Jan. 27, 2020.

Bondi said Trump had the right to ask Ukraine to investigate the pair even though no evidence of corruption by the Bidens has ever surfaced.

Democrats impeached Trump on two articles — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

He is accused of withholding nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine and putting off a White House meeting unless Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was publically committed to investigating the Bidens and a debunked allegation that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that meddled in the 2016 U.S. election.

The 100 U.S. senators must decide his guilt or innocence.

But a major line of Trump’s defense could fall apart. Former national security advisor John Bolton has reportedly written in a yet-to-be-published book that Trump personally told him to withhold the aid to Ukraine. Trump denies there was any quid pro quo with Ukraine.

Bolton has said he is willing to appear as a witness if he is subpoenaed and the Democrats say they would like to hear from him. A few Republicans are also expressing that desire.

So far, minority Democrats in the Senate have been waging a futile battle to get at least four Republican senators to join them in a simple majority to subpoena Bolton and other Trump officials to testify about their recollections of behind-the-scenes meetings with Trump about Ukraine last year.

Trump’s lawyers contend there have been no firsthand accounts of officials who spoke with the president directly about his Ukraine actions. But Bolton often met with Trump until the U.S. leader ousted him last September from his national security post.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, speaks to reporters after a classified members-only briefing on Iran, May 21, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, a Republican who supports calling White House witnesses whom Trump has blocked from testifying, said the Bolton book revelation makes it “increasingly likely” that more Republican senators will agree to hear testimony from Bolton and others.

Maine Senator Susan Collins, another Republican who has signaled she is open to witnesses, said news reports about the Bolton book “strengthen the case for witnesses.”

But it was uncertain whether Senate Republicans supporting Trump, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, have changed their minds. Calling witnesses could significantly extend the length of the trial.

The president rejected Bolton’s reported account in a series of early Monday tweets.

“I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens.  In fact, he never complained about this at the time of his very public termination. If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book,” Trump said.

A Bolton attorney said in a statement the text of the book had been sent to the National Security Council a month ago to undergo standard reviews for classified information ahead of its publication in mid-March.

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Bolton Book Undermines Trump Impeachment Defense

The Senate is to consider Friday whether to call witnesses in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial.

But it remains unclear whether enough Republicans will join the Democrats to compel such testimony. At least one senator of Trump’s Republican Party is indicating that the revelations leaked from an upcoming book by former National Security Adviser John Bolton could persuade his colleagues.

The book undercuts one of the key points of the president’s defense in his impeachment trial.
  
Senator Mitt Romney of Utah says Bolton has relevant testimony to provide, and he thinks “it’s increasingly likely that other Republicans will join those of us who think we should hear from John Bolton.”

FILE – Senator Angus King speaks at a Senate Armed Services hearing in Washington, April 11, 2019.

During an appearance on MSNBC, independent Senator Angus King of Maine predicted 10 or more Republicans will vote for documents and witnesses, perhaps defying Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“So, I’ll be surprised if the motion fails,” King said. “The Republicans ought to build a statue of Mitch McConnell on the Mall, because that’s party unity the likes of which is never seen.”  

Other Republicans, speaking to reporters Monday, are holding firm.

“He’s trying to sell a book,” Senator John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican, told reporters about Bolton. “I wouldn’t bet my house on his credibility.”  

Before Bolton spent 17 months as Trump’s national security adviser, he had a long track record as a hawk on foreign policy, giving him credibility among many of the Republican senators who will have to decide if he should testify in the ongoing impeachment trial.  

The team around Trump quickly began turning against Bolton after The New York Times detailed that an excerpt from “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir,” to be published March 17, states Trump wanted to freeze military assistance to Ukraine until Kyiv’s government announced an investigation into Democratic Party presidential contender Joe Biden and his son.  
  
The newspaper also reported that Bolton alleges after Trump’s July 25, 2019, phone call with Ukrainian President Volodmyr Zelenskiy, the national security adviser raised his concern with Attorney General William Barr that the president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, was pursuing a shadow Ukraine policy.
  
A senior legal adviser to the Trump re-election campaign, Jenna Ellis, who is also an attorney to the president, accuses Bolton of “willing to sell out America … just to score a book deal or five minutes of fame.”
  
Retweeting Ellis on Monday, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said this was “So true & so unfortunate.”

So true, & so unfortunate. But it’s OK because @realDonaldTrump did nothing wrong, & is undeterred as always. He continues to work on behalf of this country, & most importantly – produce real results that benefit Americans & their families. https://t.co/iFpMHvM7De

— Stephanie Grisham (@PressSec) January 27, 2020

While Trump was hosting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on Monday, he was asked by a reporter about the key allegation in Bolton’s book.
  
The president responded that “nothing was ever said to John Bolton” and that what is written in the book is “false.”
    
Trump’s defense team has maintained that he had valid reasons for withholding military aid from Ukraine.
  
In their arguments to senators, the president’s lawyers are rebutting Democrats’ allegation of a “quid pro quo.” The Democrats say Trump was not going to help Kyiv until Zelenskiy announced an investigation of former U.S. Vice President Biden and his son, Hunter, who served on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company, while his father was in office.

Trump, early Monday morning, denied Bolton’s account, saying on Twitter that his former adviser “never complained about this at the time of his very public termination. If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book.”

I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens. In fact, he never complained about this at the time of his very public termination. If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book. With that being said, the…

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 27, 2020

The president later inaccurately stated in a tweet that Democrats never asked Bolton to testify during last night’s impeachment inquiry in the House.
  
Contents of Bolton’s manuscript were submitted to the National Security Council for a standard security review on Dec. 30, 2019.
  
Bolton’s attorney, Charles Cooper, is blaming the White House for disclosing contents of the book.    

 

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Democrats Demand Bolton Testify at Trump’s Impeachment Trial

The stakes over witness testimony at President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial are rising now that a draft of a book from former national security adviser John Bolton appears to undercut a key defense argument.

Bolton writes in the forthcoming book that Trump told him that he wanted to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in security aid from Ukraine until it helped him with politically charged investigations, including into Democratic rival Joe Biden. Trump’s legal team has repeatedly insisted that the Republican president never tied the suspension of military assistance to the country to investigations that he wanted into Biden and his son.

The account immediately gave Democrats new fuel in their pursuit of sworn testimony from Bolton and other witnesses, a question expected to be taken up later this week by the Republican-led Senate. The trial resumes Monday afternoon with arguments from Trump’s defense team.

Bolton’s account was first reported by The New York Times and was confirmed to The Associated Press by a person familiar with the manuscript on the condition of anonymity to discuss the book, “The Room Where It Happened; A White House Memoir,” ahead of its release March 17.

When the Times report went online Sunday night, the seven House Democratic managers immediately called on all senators to insist that Bolton be called as a witness and provide his notes and other relevant documents. Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s top Democrat, issued the same call.

Trump denied the claims in a series of tweets early Monday. “I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens,” Trump said in a tweet. “In fact, he never complained about this at the time of his very public termination. If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book.” Trump said people could look at transcripts of his call and statements by Ukraine President Vlodymyr Zelinskiy that there was no pressure for such investigations to get the aid.

I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens. In fact, he never complained about this at the time of his very public termination. If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book. With that being said, the…

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 27, 2020

He also falsely claimed Monday morning that the Democrat-controlled House “never even asked John Bolton to testify.” In fact, Democrats did ask Bolton to testify, but he didn’t show up for his deposition. They later declined to subpoena Bolton, as they had others, because he threatened to sue, which could lead to a prolonged court battle.

Bolton, who acrimoniously left the White House a day before Trump ultimately released the Ukraine aid on Sept. 11, has already told lawmakers that he is willing to testify, despite the president’s order barring aides from cooperating in the probe.

“Americans know that a fair trial must include both the documents and witnesses blocked by the President — that starts with Mr. Bolton,” the impeachment managers said in a statement.

First, though, Trump’s legal team will begin laying out its case in depth, turning to several high-profile attorneys to argue against impeachment.

The lawyers revealed the broad outlines of their defense in a rare but truncated Saturday session, at which they accused House Democrats of using the impeachment case to try to undo the results of the last presidential election and drive Trump from office.

WATCH: Trump Impeachment Defense Closes First Week of Trial

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The legal team is expected to pick up on that theme and also dive into areas that received negligible attention during the Democrats’ presentation, including the now-concluded investigation into ties between Russia and Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Trump’s lawyers aren’t expected to take as much time for their arguments as the Democrats, whose impeachment managers spoke for about 24 hours over three days. But they also don’t need to: Acquittal is likely in a Senate where Republicans hold a 53-47 majority, with a two-thirds vote needed for conviction. Still, they see an opportunity to counter the allegations, defend the powers of the presidency and prevent Trump from being weakened politically ahead of November’s election.

Trump faces two articles of impeachment. One accuses him of abusing his power by asking Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, his Democratic rival, while his administration withheld hundreds of millions of dollars from the country. The other alleges that Trump obstructed Congress by directing aides to not cooperate with the impeachment inquiry.

The legal team will portray Trump as having been harassed by investigations from federal agents — and Democrats — since he took office and will seize on the FBI’s recent acknowledgment of surveillance errors during the Russia probe. The lawyers have already hinted that they will focus attention on Biden just as he campaigns for a first-place finish in next week’s Iowa caucuses.

FILE – Attorney Alan Dershowitz leaves Manhattan Federal Court in New York, March 6, 2019. Dershowitz is among the lawyers representing President Donald Trump in his impeachment trial.

Monday’s presentation is expected to include appearances by Alan Dershowitz, who will argue that impeachable offenses require criminal-like conduct, and Ken Starr, the independent counsel in the Whitewater investigation that led to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is also expected to make arguments.

Many legal scholars reject Dershowitz’s arguments, saying the Founding Fathers meant for impeachable offenses to incorporate a broad range of conduct by presidents. Dershowitz told The Associated Press last week that he understood that some critics thought his argument was “bonkers” but encouraged them to listen nonetheless.

Democrats argued their side of the impeachment case for three days last week, warning that Trump will persist in abusing his power and endangering American democracy unless Congress intervenes to remove him before the 2020 election.

On Saturday, the president’s attorneys said there was no evidence that Trump made the military aid contingent on the country announcing an investigation into Biden. They also accused Democrats of omitting information that was favorable to Trump’s case.

Once Trump’s team concludes, senators will have 16 hours to ask questions of both the House impeachment prosecutors and the president’s legal team. Their questions must be in writing, and Chief Justice John Roberts, who has been presiding over the trial, will read them aloud.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., told reporters Saturday that Republicans expected to get together on Monday to start formulating a list of questions.

“We will meet as a conference and decide what questions we want to pose, what the order may be of those of those questions,” he said.

After the question-and-answer time has elapsed, the Senate will take up the question of whether to consider new witnesses and evidence — a question that could be more politically complicated with the account in Bolton’s book.

Trump on Monday objected to the idea of calling Bolton, insisting it was up to House, “not up to the Senate!” to hear witnesses, even though the Senate has that right and is likely to consider the question of witnesses this week.

Four Republicans would have to break ranks to join Democrats t o call any witnesses, whic h would extend the trial for an undetermined amount of time.

Democrats have been especially seeking testimony from Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.

An attempt to call either probably would lead to a showdown with the White House, which claims both men have “absolute immunity” from being called to testify before the Senate, even in an impeachment trial.

 

 

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NYT: Bolton Book Says Trump Held Up Ukraine Aid for Biden Investigation

U.S. President Donald Trump’s lawyers resume their impeachment defense Monday, as Democrats issue fresh calls for new witnesses in the Senate trial after accounts emerged of Trump telling his then-national security adviser he wanted to withhold security aid to Ukraine until it launched an investigation of a Democratic rival.

The New York Times first reported the allegations that appear in John Bolton’s upcoming book Sunday, and they were later confirmed by other news organizations who spoke to people familiar with the text.

Trump is currently on trial in the Senate on articles of impeachment charging he withheld $391 million in Ukraine aid while pushing Ukrainian leaders to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and a debunked theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, which interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.  A second charge is that Trump obstructed Congress by seeking to thwart investigations of his actions.

The president rejected Bolton’s reported account in a series of early Monday tweets.

“I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens.  In fact, he never complained about this at the time of his very public termination.  If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book,” Trump said.

I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens. In fact, he never complained about this at the time of his very public termination. If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book. With that being said, the…

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 27, 2020

A Bolton attorney said in a statement the text had been sent to the National Security Council a month ago to undergo standard reviews for classified information ahead of its release.

The House of Representatives members serving as prosecutors in the impeachment trial issued a statement renewing their calls for Bolton to be called as a witness, saying he “has vital information to provide.”

“During our impeachment inquiry, the President blocked our request for Mr. Bolton’s testimony.  Now we see why.  The President knows how devastating his testimony would be, and according to the report, the White House has had a draft of his manuscript for review.  President Trump’s cover-up must come to an end,” they said.

WATCH: Related video by VOA’s Arash Arabasadi:

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The White House blocked several current and former administration officials from testifying before House committees during the impeachment investigation, including Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, citing executive privilege.

Bolton left his post in September, and said this month he is willing to testify if the Senate subpoenas him.

The rules for the impeachment trial blocked any consideration of new witnesses at the outset, leaving only the possibility for a vote after both sides have made their presentations and the 100 Senators have had 16 hours to ask them questions.  That discussion will come later this week, and Democrats will try to convince four Republicans to join them to get the simple majority necessary to vote in favor of witnesses.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone began his defense Saturday during two hours of arguments.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Jay Sekulow and White House counsel Pat Cipollone pass through security as they arrive for opening arguments in the impeachment trial of U.S. President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

Cipollone said Trump’s legal team does not believe the House Democrats came “anywhere close to meeting their burden” that Trump committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” — the U.S. Constitution’s standard for impeachment and removal from office.

Now, Cipollone and other Trump defense attorneys have said they will expand on their defense, in part focusing on why they believe there was nothing wrong with Trump’s request last July to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Biden, his son Hunter Biden’s work for a Ukrainian natural gas company and the Ukraine election meddling theory. No evidence has ever surfaced against either of the Bidens.

The Republican majority in the Senate makes a conviction of the president highly unlikely given that such an outcome requires two-thirds of the senators to vote in favor.

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Vote Expected This Week on Allowing Witnesses at Trump Impeachment Trial

The third impeachment trial in American history enters a new phase this week.  Experts expect lawmakers in the Republican-majority Senate to vote on whether or not to allow witnesses and documents that so far have been blocked by the White House. As VOA’s Arash Arabasadi reports, senators from the two major parties seem on opposite ends of the issue.

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Trump Claims His Lawyers ‘Shredded’ Impeachment Case Against Him

President Donald Trump claimed Sunday that his lawyers “absolutely shredded” Democrats’ case that he should be convicted of impeachment charges and removed from office.

A day after Trump’s lawyers began their defense of him at his Senate trial, he said on Twitter, “The Impeachment Hoax is a massive election interference the likes of which has never been seen before.

The Impeachment Hoax is a massive election interference the likes of which has never been seen before. In just two hours the Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats have seen their phony case absolutely shredded. Shifty is now exposed for illegally making up my phone call, & more!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 26, 2020

He attacked the Democrats’ lead prosecutor in the case, Congressman Adam Schiff, as “a CORRUPT POLITICIAN, and probably a very sick man. He has not paid the price, yet, for what he has done to our Country!”

Shifty Adam Schiff is a CORRUPT POLITICIAN, and probably a very sick man. He has not paid the price, yet, for what he has done to our Country!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 26, 2020

Trump’s trial resumes Monday before the 100 U.S. senators deciding his fate, with his lawyers laying out their argument that he did nothing wrong in asking Ukraine last July to launch an investigation of one of his chief 2020 Democratic rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone began his defense Saturday during two hours of arguments on the two impeachment charges Trump is facing — that Trump abused his presidency and obstructed congressional efforts to investigate his Ukraine-related actions.

In this image from video, White House counsel Pat Cipollone speaks during the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump in the Senate, at the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 21, 2020.

Cipollone said Trump’s legal team does not believe that Democrats from the House of Representatives prosecuting the case came “anywhere close to meeting their burden” that Trump committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” — the U.S. Constitution’s standard for impeachment and removal from office.

WATCH: Trump Impeachment Defense Closes First Week of Trial

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Now, Cipollone and other Trump defense attorneys have said they will expand on their defense, in part focusing on why they believe there was nothing wrong with Trump’s request last July to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Biden, his son Hunter Biden’s work for a Ukrainian natural gas company and a debunked theory that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 U.S. election to undermine Trump’s campaign. No evidence has ever surfaced against the Bidens.

Over three days last week, seven House Democrats laid out their case that Trump endangered U.S. national security to benefit himself politically by asking for the Biden investigations by Ukraine at the same time he was withholding $391 million in military aid that Kyiv wanted to help fight Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

“The evidence against the president is overwhelming,” Congresswoman Val Demings, one of the House impeachment managers, told ABC News’ “This Week” show on Sunday.

WATCH: Democrats Make Case Trump Abused Power of Presidency 

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Criminal defense attorney Alan Dershowitz, part of Trump’s legal team, told “Fox News Sunday” that he will argue that there is not a “legally constitutional” argument that Trump can be impeached. He claimed that the offenses he is accused of have “to be a crime,” a contention disputed by scholars supporting Trump’s impeachment in the House and conviction in the Senate.

Trump released the defense aid to Ukraine in September after a 55-day delay, even though Zelenskiy had not opened the Biden investigations. Republicans say that is proof that Trump had not engaged in a reciprocal deal with Kyiv — the military aid in exchange for the politically tinged investigations Trump wanted. Democrats say he did so only after the alleged scheme was exposed.

Trump’s impeachment trial is only the third such event in U.S. history. After Trump’s lawyers finish their defense of the country’s 45th president, possibly by Monday evening, 16 hours have been set aside for the senators to ask questions of the House managers and the Trump lawyers.

With the completion of the question-and-answer session, Democrats then are expected to resume their efforts to try to get the Senate to vote to subpoena key witnesses familiar with Trump’s actions, specifically former national security advisor John Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and others in Trump’s orbit, as well as Ukraine-related documents from the White House, State Department and Defense Department.

But Republicans, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are opposed to calling witnesses and subpoenaing documents and instead are hoping to acquit Trump by week’s end, just days ahead of his annual State of the Union address to Congress on Feb. 4.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks during the second day of the Senate impeachment trial of U.S. President Donald Trump, Jan. 22, 2020. (U.S. Senate TV/Handout via Reuters)

With Republicans holding a 53-47 majority in the Senate, Democrats will need the votes of four Republicans to secure a majority calling for witnesses and more documents, but so far do not have assurances of four Republican votes.

If Democrats are successful in winning the votes to have Bolton and Mulvaney testify, Trump has said Republicans should call the Bidens to testify, along with the still-unidentified government intelligence whistleblower who first disclosed Trump’s request that Ukraine investigate the Bidens.

House impeachment manager Schiff said that “the president has a right to call relevant witnesses, not irrelevant witnesses.” Schiff said the president should not be allowed to use his impeachment trial “to smear his opponent. Hunter Biden cannot tell us anything about military aid to Ukraine” or Trump’s thinking about whether to schedule the White House meeting that Zelenskiy wanted.

The two leaders eventually met on the sidelines of United Nations meetings but not at the White House.

FILE – President Donald Trump speaks during a bilateral meeting with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on the sidelines of the 74th session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, Sept. 25, 2019.

If the Democrats’ subpoena efforts fall short, McConnell could move quickly to vote on the two articles of impeachment, which Trump is all but assured of winning since a two-thirds vote is needed for Trump’s removal from office. No Republican has called for Trump’s ouster.  

On Saturday, Cipollone reiterated the oft-repeated criticism of the Democratic-led impeachment proceedings that they are trying to nullify Trump’s 2016 election win and keep him off the November 2020 ballot when he is seeking a second term in the White House.

“They’re here to perpetrate the most massive interference in an election in American history and we cannot allow that to happen,” Cipollone said. “It would violate our Constitution. It would violate our history. It would violate our obligations to the future. And, most importantly, it would violate the sacred trust that the American people have placed in you.”

In a two-hour session, White House deputy counsel Michael Purpura played a video clip of lead House manager Adam Schiff embellishing the conversation Trump had with Zelenskiy during a July 25 phone call that is central to the impeachment probe.

In this image from video, House impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff holds redacted documents as he speaks during the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, in the Senate at the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 22, 2020. (U.S. Senate TV via AP)

“That’s fake. That’s not the real call, that’s not the evidence,” Purpura said in an attempt to discredit Schiff and other Democrats.

Schiff said after the hearing that his recounting of the Trump-Zelenskiy call during the House impeachment investigation was “in character with what the president was trying to communicate.”

During the July call, Zelenskiy told Trump that Ukraine sought more U.S. military assistance. Trump responded, “I would like you to do us a favor, though,” and then asked Zelenskiy to investigate the Bidens. Trump’s lawyers contend that the “us” refers to the United States, not Trump personally.

Even though the aid embargo was lifted in September, Congressman Jason Crow said during the House impeachment managers’ closing arguments Friday, “It was only lifted because President Trump had gotten caught.” Shortly before the release of the aid, a still-unidentified government intelligence official filed a complaint against Trump for soliciting a foreign government’s help in investigating a political rival.

In this image from video, White House deputy counsel Mike Purpura speaks during the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump in the Senate at the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 25, 2020. (U.S. Senate TV/Handout via AP)

But Purpura said Saturday that Ukraine did not become aware of Trump’s hold on the military aid until the latter part of August, well after the fateful July 25 call.

“There can’t be a threat without a person knowing he’s being threatened,” Purpura said. “There can’t be quid pro quo without the quo.” Democrats contend that Ukraine was already asking about the delay in the aid around the time of the Trump-Zelenskiy conversation.

Trump is only the third U.S. president to be impeached and tried before the Senate. Andrew Johnson was impeached in 1868 because of a post-Civil War dispute over states that seceded from the union. Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998 for lying to a grand jury over a sex scandal. Both Johnson and Clinton were acquitted and remained in office until the end of their terms.

 

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