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John Bolton Bombshell Roils Impeachment Trial

January 27, 2020, 10:26 PM UTC

News of former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s unpublished manuscript scrambled Senate Republicans’ efforts to defend President Donald Trump in his impeachment trial and raised the possibility that additional witnesses could be called, should a majority of the Senate vote to do so.

On Sunday night, the New York Times reported that Bolton wrote in his upcoming book that Trump told him directly that he wanted to continue freezing security assistance to Ukraine until the country’s president announced an investigation into the Bidens, contradicting the Trump’s legal defense that the President himself did not link the assistance to the demand for investigations.

Two Republican senators said Monday that Bolton’s forthcoming book supported their case for allowing witnesses to be called in the trial.

“I think it’s increasingly likely that other Republicans will join those of us who think we should hear from John Bolton,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told reporters. “I think it’s important for us to hear from John Bolton for us to be able to make an impartial judgment.”

“The reports about John Bolton’s book strengthen the case for witnesses and have prompted a number of conversations among my colleagues,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) in a statement.

Bolton has said that he would comply with a subpoena from the Senate to testify, and, according to the Times, wants to testify before his book comes out on March 17 to avoid being accused of holding back relevant information to increase sales.

A third Republican senator, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, tweeted that she was “curious as to what John Bolton might have to say.”

However, there was no indication yet that Romney’s prediction would come true; the outcome of a vote expected later this week on whether to allow additional witnesses remained uncertain. The Senate was expected to acquit Trump as soon as the end of this week should no witnesses be called.

Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a possible vote tipping the call for witnesses to a majority of the Senate, did not say Monday whether or not he would vote for additional witnesses but left the door open to doing so after the conclusion of the Trump team’s arguments and questions from senators. 

“Keep cool”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has controlled the process of the Senate impeachment trial, and has shown a willingness to alter the process when the mood of his caucus shifts, as when he altered the rules of the trial to allow for three days of arguments per side from two. Should four or more Republicans come out in favor of witnesses, McConnell may move to maintain control over the process.

McConnell’s message to his caucus at a Monday closed-door lunch before arguments was to “keep cool,” according to Indiana Sen. Mike Braun. “Take a deep breath, and let’s take it one step at a time,” he added.

Still, the news upended Republicans’ message of unity in the impeachment trial. Many senators arriving to the Capitol sought to downplay Bolton’s revelation, others said he was credible, and some portrayed him as a disgruntled former employee fired by Trump.

“My guess is that John Bolton tells the truth,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) told reporters, but also opined that the timing of the news was “rather exquisite.”

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who said he was opposed to calling additional witnesses, agreed that Bolton had integrity, but added, “You got to keep in mind, for the first time in his life, he was fired, that does have an effect on him.”

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wy.), the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, dismissed the news.

“Really there’s nothing new here. It does seem to be an effort to sell books,” he told reporters. “Every day there’s going to be something new—and today is just one more day.”

Another Republican senator, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, lumped Bolton into calling for probing the Bidens, despite the fact that there is no evidence that former Vice President Joe Biden did anything improper while his son worked for a Ukrainian gas company, Burisma.

“He may be a relevant witness,” he told reporters, “But I’ve also said, I want to know is there a reason to believe by the President that the Bidens were involved in corrupt behavior, is there a reason believe that Ukraine knew they were involved in both sides or the Democratic party. All that stuff can be looked at.”

The newest Republican senator, Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, took a shot at her fellow Republican colleague, Mitt Romney.

“Sadly, my colleague @SenatorRomney wants to appease the left by calling witnesses who will slander the @realDonaldTrump during their 15 minutes of fame. The circus is over. It’s time to move on!” she tweeted.

“We do not deal with speculation”

One of Trump’s lawyers, Jay Sekulow, appeared to address the Bolton allegations at the outset of the second day of presenting the Trump team’s arguments.

“We deal with transcript evidence. We deal with publicly available information. We do not deal with speculation, allegations that are not based on evidentiary evidence at all,” he said.  

Still, the question of whether the Senate would vote to allow additional witnesses remained unresolved.

Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) was waiting to hear the arguments.

“We’re about halfway through the trial,” he said. “I think everybody ought to pop a Zoloft, take their meds, and let’s wait and finish up.”

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