by Ken Bredemeier and Chris Hannas
Washington, D.C. – U.S. President Donald Trump’s lawyers resumed their impeachment defense Monday, as majority Republicans in the Senate weighed how to respond to a former Trump national security adviser’s allegation that the U.S. leader told him he wanted to withhold military aid to Ukraine until it launched an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a staunch Trump defender, told reporters he would support a subpoena of national security aide John Bolton’s upcoming book, “The Room Where It Happened,” to “evaluate the manuscript and see if it’s a reason to add to the record.”
Bolton’s claim that Trump wanted Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and Biden’s son before he would release $391 million that Kyiv wanted to help fight pro-Russian separatists undercuts a key Trump defense — that he did not engage in a quid pro quo deal with Ukraine, the aid in exchange for the politically tinged investigation.
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 in the June-to-September period last year.
Trump’s lawyers have contended 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.
As the second day of Trump’s defense opened, Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow told the 100 senators acting as jurors that Trump’s actions “at all times” were both legal and within his constitutional authority.
Trump defense attorney Kenneth Starr called the Democratic-led House of Representatives “a runaway House” in a rush to impeach the U.S. leader last month, “dripping with fundamental process violations” in its allegedly unfair treatment of Trump.
Starr said that rather than removing Trump from office, the Senate should acquit him and “let the people decide” his fate in the November national election when he is seeking a second term in the White House. Starr headed the investigation that led to the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton.
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.
Senator Susan Collins of Maine, 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, who have opposed calling witnesses and subpoenaing Ukraine-related documents had changed their minds. Many Senate Republicans and White House officials are eager to see Trump acquitted of two impeachment charges by week’s end, ahead of next week’s State of the Union address. Calling witnesses could significantly extend the length of the trial.
Trump is currently in the second week of his Senate trial on two articles of impeachment, one of them alleging he abused his presidency by withholding the military assistance while pushing Ukrainian leaders to investigate Biden, his son Hunter Biden’s work for a Ukrainian natural gas company, and a debunked theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 U.S. election. Trump is also accused of obstructing congressional review of his Ukraine-related 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.
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 in mid-March.
The seven members of the House of Representatives serving as prosecutors at Trump’s impeachment trial immediately renewed their calls for Bolton to be called as a witness, saying he “has vital information to provide” to the 100 U.S. senators acting as jurors deciding Trump’s fate, whether he should be convicted and removed from office.
“During our impeachment inquiry, the president blocked our request for Mr. Bolton’s testimony,” they said. “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.”
Democrats: Bolton should testify
The lead House impeachment manager, Congressman Adam Schiff, told CNN on Monday, “The senators ought to hear him first hand. The senators should see the man testify live.”
He said Bolton kept contemporaneous notes of White House meetings, which Schiff said “are more important than the manuscript” he has written. “The president is clearly trying to hide the truth here.”
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called the revelation of the Bolton claim “stunning. It goes right to the heart of the charges against the president. How can the Senate vote to not call that witness and his documents?”
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 to protect the sanctity of White House conversations.
Bolton says he is willing to testify at Trump’s impeachment trial if the Senate subpoenas him.
Impeachment rule stipulations
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.
White House counsel Pat Cipollone began his defense Saturday during two hours of arguments.
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 the Bidens and the Ukraine election meddling theory. No evidence has ever surfaced against either of the Bidens.
Trump is all but certain to be acquitted by the Senate with its 53-47 Republican majority. A two-thirds vote is necessary for conviction and no Republican has called for his ouster.
Watch the full proceedings of Day 2 of the President’s defense:
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Ken Bredemeier and Chris Hannas are reporters at VOANews.com