Trump Says He’s Still Mulling Whether to Block Trial Testimony

(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump said he’d prefer to lengthen his impeachment trial so that former National Security Adviser John Bolton and other current and former administration officials could testify, but that their appearances would pose “national security” concerns.

“I would like to have Mike Pompeo testify, but, again, that’s a national security problem,” Trump said Wednesday of the U.S. secretary of State. “I’d love to have Rick Perry. Rick Perry has asked me, ‘I’d love to testify, please let me testify,’ because he knows this is all a hoax,” he said, referring to the former Energy secretary.

“He understands it better that most,” Trump said. “And Rick Perry would love to testify. But we’re dealing with national security.”

Trump’s remarks, in winding length in a news conference ending his visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, echoed a recurring theme about past investigations into him and his administration. While proclaiming his willingness to submit to inquiries, he also stonewalls them, as he has done by blocking Bolton and other ex-aides from speaking publicly.

The president lashed out at House impeachment managers, calling Representative Jerrold Nadler “a sleazebag,” and praised his own defense team -- whose performance in the first day of the trial has been criticized by Democrats. He vacillated, as he has in the past, on whether senators should call witnesses before deciding whether to remove him from office.

The president spoke hours after the Senate voted at the end of a marathon session to approve rules that delay decisions over calling witnesses.

Trump joked that he’d like to attend the trial himself but that his lawyers would probably object.

“I’d love to go,” he said . “I’d sit in the front row and stare in their corrupt faces. I’d love to do it. Don’t keep talking, because you may convince me to do it.”

Neither side filed pre-trial motions by a 9 a.m. deadline on Wednesday, clearing the way for the House impeachment managers to begin presenting their case later in the day.

The president said the Senate would ultimately decide whether to hear witness testimony, but said he would “love” his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney to appear, in addition to Pompeo. The secretary of State told reporters traveling with him in Kingston, Jamaica, on Wednesday: “If I am legally required to testify, as I’ve said before, I’ll be happy to do it.”

Praising Mulvaney

Trump said Mulvaney has already “expressed himself very well” in a Fox News interview. He said Pompeo’s testimony would be of conern because “he knows some of my thoughts” on foreign leaders and could reveal them if pressed at trial.

Trump Says He’s Still Mulling Whether to Block Trial Testimony

“I would rather go the long way,” Trump said. “I would rather interview Bolton,” he said, referring to his former National Security Adviser John Bolton, who has said he would testify if the Senate subpoenas him.

“I would rather interview a lot of people,” Trump said.

But he then expressed concern over what Bolton would say.

“He knows other things and I don’t know if we left on the best of terms,” Trump said. “I would say probably not. So you don’t like people testifying when they don’t leave on good terms.”

Democratic Motions

Senators argued into the early morning over Democratic motions to subpoena documents and witness testimony. Senate Republicans and Trump’s defense team said such motions were out of order and the questions should be addressed after opening arguments are made. All of the motions were defeated along party lines.

But that didn’t stop Trump from sharing his belief that people like Pompeo and Mulvaney would buttress his defense. Trump has previously said he would exert executive privilege to block their testimony, citing concern about setting precedent for future presidents. He repeated those worries on Wednesday.

“The way I look at it, I call it national security, for national security reasons, executive privilege, they say,” Trump said.

Senators will decide whether to remove Trump from office after the Democratic-controlled House impeached him last month on one charge each of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The charges stem from his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rivals, including former Vice President Joe Biden, while holding up security assistance funds for the Eastern European nation.

The Republican-controlled Senate is exceedingly unlikely to convict Trump, who retains strong approval in his party.

‘Proud’ of Cipollone

Trump said he was “very proud” of how White House Counsel Pat Cipollone defended him in the opening day of the trial. Democrats have criticized Cipollone for lying in his opening remarks -- at one point the White House lawyer said that House Republicans hadn’t been allowed in a secure room to review impeachment evidence, which isn’t true.

“On multiple occasions, they made discrete and demonstrable factual errors,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said Wednesday, without specifying the errors. Trump’s defense was “far more preoccupied with making inflammatory and inaccurate statements about House managers than providing an actual defense of the president’s misconduct.”

Chief Justice John Roberts admonished both Cipollone and Nadler late Tuesday after the two men exchanged insults on the floor of the Senate.

Trump lamented that his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, isn’t part of the legal team. Giuliani’s work on behalf of Trump in Ukraine is a focal point of the House’s impeachment charges and the president said he doesn’t want there to be a “conflict.”

“He could be a witness at some point if this whole sham continues,” the president said. “I’d love to have him up there. But it could be that he’d have a conflict.”

Trump distanced himself from Giuliani associate Lev Parnas, who assisted the former New York City mayor’s efforts in Ukraine, calling him a “groupie” who “shows up at fund-raisers.” Trump said he didn’t know Parnas, despite multiple pictures of Trump and his family with Parnas.

“He’s a con man,” Trump said.

Accusing Trump

Parnas, who has been indicted on charges of campaign finance violations, has accused Trump of lying for saying that he didn’t know what Giuliani and his associates were doing in Ukraine.

“I wouldn’t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president,” Parnas told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow last week.

The president also sought on Wednesday to walk back his criticism of former independent counsel Ken Starr, who is now a member of Trump’s defense team. Trump in 1999 called Starr a “lunatic” and a “disaster” for his Whitewater investigation of former President Bill Clinton, which led to Clinton’s impeachment for lying about an affair.

“I didn’t know Ken Starr, but I didn’t think that Bill Clinton should have been impeached and I was pretty vocal about that,” Trump said in Davos. “I didn’t know Ken, but what I did know is he was very smart, he was very tough, he was very talented.”

Trump said he still believes Clinton shouldn’t have been impeached, but that the difference between him and the 42nd president is that “with me there’s no lying.”

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