Bolton revelations upend Senate impeachment trial as Trump's defense continues making its case

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(CNN) — President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser has upended the Senate impeachment trial, and new revelations from John Bolton’s draft book manuscript could turn the tide on whether senators call for witnesses.

The President’s legal team resumed its second day of arguments just after 1 p.m. ET Monday, but all of the attention will be focused on the Republican senators sitting in the chamber and how they react to Sunday night’s New York Times bombshell that Bolton’s draft manuscript says Trump told him US security assistance to Ukraine was conditioned on investigations into Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden.

Two key moderate Republicans said the Bolton news strengthened the case for having witnesses in the trial — and Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah predicted it was “increasingly likely” that other Republicans would now join him in calling for Bolton to testify.

But other GOP senators, including in Republican leadership, downplayed or dismissed the developments.

Jay Sekulow, the President’s private counsel, alluded to the Bolton allegations during his opening remarks but suggested it would not be discussed by the team on Monday.

“What we’ve done on Saturday is the pattern that we’re going to continue today as far as how we’re going to deal with the case. We deal with transcript evidence, we deal with publicly available information. We do not deal with speculation, allegations that are not based on evidentiary standards at all,” he said.

Sekulow said the team, including Judge Kenneth Starr, who led the investigation leading to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment, would lay out an overview of “historical and constitutional issues with impeachment proceedings.”

Democrats ratcheted up the pressure on the Senate to call for witnesses in response to the draft book manuscript, while the President’s legal team debated how to address it during their argument on the Senate floor on Monday.

It’s a conversation that shifted far from where the President’s lawyers and Republican senators thought they were going this week when the President’s trial resumed. Republican sources thought Saturday they were confident that they had the votes to defeat a motion for additional witnesses and documents, leading to an acquittal vote by the end of the week.

Now that’s all in doubt.

“I can’t begin to tell you how John Bolton’s testimony would ultimately play on a final decision but it’s relevant,” Romney told reporters Monday. “And therefore, I’d like to hear it.”

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, a moderate Republican, said in a statement that the reports on Bolton’s book “strengthen the case for witnesses and have prompted a number of conversations among my colleagues.”

Republicans mixed on Bolton allegation

Republican senators were peppered with questions about Bolton as they returned to the Capitol on Monday for the resumption of the impeachment trial, which paused Saturday after the defense counsel presented for two hours.

While Romney and Collins said the Bolton news strengthened the argument for calling him, other Republicans downplayed the need for Bolton be a witness or argued that it wasn’t relevant to deciding whether to convict the President on the two articles of impeachment.

GOP sources expect the Senate Republican leadership to reiterate to their conference the arguments they’ve been making for weeks: That seeking Bolton testimony would raise constitutional and executive privilege concerns — and argue that going through a protracted legal fight for his testimony would accomplish very little since Trump is expected to be acquitted anyway. One GOP aide told CNN Monday morning that Bolton news doesn’t change the Republicans’ underlying point — if you aren’t going to vote to remove him, why drag the process out with witnesses?

Plus, they will reiterate that it was the House’s job to conduct the investigation, not the Senate’s.

“Unless there’s a witness that’s going to change the outcome, I can’t imagine why we’d want to stretch this out for weeks and months,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican in Senate leadership. “And if we call any witnesses that are subject to privilege, it would take weeks and months.”

Sen. Mike Braun, an Indiana Republican, said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Republicans at their closed-door party lunch that senators shouldn’t lock themselves into a position before the defense team makes its case and senators ask questions, describing McConnell’s message as “take a deep breath, and take it one step at a time.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican close to Trump, pushed another argument: Republicans would call the Bidens if the Democrats push Bolton to testify.

“What I’ve said all along is if you’re going to add to the record, we’re going to do it in a balanced way. So let’s see what’s in the manuscript, let’s see if it’s relevant, and if it is, then I’ll make a decision about Bolton,” said Graham. “But I promise you this — if we add to the record, then we’re going to call Hunter Biden, Joe Biden, all these other people.”

There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Biden in Ukraine.

Both parties are turning their eyes toward two Republican senators in particular: Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who is not running for reelection.

“I said before I was curious about what Ambassador Bolton might have to say. I’m still curious,” Murkowski told reporters on Monday.

Alexander spoke briefly to reporters to note he was among the Republicans who fought to include in the trial rules a vote on whether to have witnesses. “I’ll decide then at that time,” he said.

Democrats seized on the new Bolton allegations, arguing that anyone seeking to learn the truth should want to hear from the President’s former national security adviser in light of the revelations.

“It completely blasts another hole in the President’s defense,” said House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff.

Schiff, the lead House impeachment manager, said the Bolton news “makes it all the more clear why you can’t have a meaningful trial without witnesses and you certainly can’t have one without one without John Bolton.”

Trump team debates how to handle Bolton

The President denied Bolton’s allegations on Twitter early Monday morning, and continued to attack the impeachment trial and the managers as the trial was set to resume.

In the wake of the Bolton news, the President’s legal team wrestled with whether to address the manuscript directly on the Senate floor, according to a person briefed on the discussions. It became a major source of debate, with some advising it should be ignored while others said there’s no way they couldn’t talk about it.

Bolton has flirted with testifying in the Senate impeachment trial for several weeks now after Democrats say his lawyer threatened to file suit if he were subpoenaed to testify during the House impeachment inquiry.

Earlier this month, Bolton said he was willing to testify in the Senate if he was subpoenaed — a development that looked unlikely when the Senate recessed on Saturday but is now up in the air.

On the Senate floor, Sekulow argued that Democrats conducted “a pattern and practice of attempts over a three year period to not only interfere with the President’s ability to govern,” which he called “unsuccessful.”

Sekulow said the team, including former independent counsel Kenneth Starr, who led the investigation leading to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment, would begin by laying out an overview of “historical and constitutional issues with impeachment proceedings.”

Starr warned senators they were in what “can aptly be described as the age of impeachment,” as he argued that Trump’s impeachment was setting a dangerous standard, failed to charge the President with a crime and moved forward despite lacking any Republican support.

“Like war, impeachment is hell, or, at least, presidential impeachment is hell,” Starr said. “Those of us who lived through the Clinton impeachment understand that in a deep and personal way.”

In addition to the Bolton question, the President’s legal team is expected to raise the Bidens in its opening argument, which the defense team will continue to deliver on Monday and potentially on Tuesday.

On Saturday, the defense team spent two hours walking through an overview of its argument without mentioning the Bidens, seeking to poke holes in the House’s case — including that the House didn’t have any direct evidence linking the President to a quid pro quo.

What happens next

After the defense team concludes its arguments, there will be 16 hours for senators to ask questions of both sides. The Senate’s trial rules then call for a debate and vote on whether the Senate generally should seek more witnesses and documents.

If that vote fails, the trial is likely to conclude with an acquittal vote this week. But if it succeeds, the trial will enter into an unpredictable phase where both senators and the legal teams could propose witnesses, which the Senate could vote on.

In addition to the debate over Bolton’s testimony, Schiff argued that the Senate must also seek his notes — as House Democrats were stonewalled from receiving documents from the Trump administration during the impeachment inquiry, even from witnesses who testified before the House.

“We learned John Bolton took detailed notes and presumably these are contemporaneous. These notes took place while the events were happening, while they were fresh in his mind. Those in many respects are more important than the manuscript,” Schiff said. “We ought to not only have John Bolton testify but we ought to see what he wrote down in his notes at the time.”

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