Reuters / Washington
President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans in the US Senate yesterday came under fresh pressure to allow witnesses and new documents in his impeachment trial after a news report that a former top aide, John Bolton, has written a book manuscript that undercuts Trump’s versions of events in the Ukraine affair.
Republican Senator Mitt Romney, a sometime critic of Trump, said there was a growing likelihood that at least four Republican senators would vote to call for Bolton to testify in the trial, which would give Democrats the votes necessary to summon the former national security adviser.
Moderate US Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski said yesterday she is curious about what Bolton has to say, following reports of his manuscript, and it is nearly time to consider whether senators weighing evidence in the impeachment trial need additional information.
“I stated before that I was curious as to what John Bolton might have to say...I’ve also said there is an appropriate time for us to evaluate whether we need additional information — that time is almost here,” Murkowski said in a statement.
Senate Republicans thus far have refused to allow any witnesses or new evidence in the trial that will determine whether Trump is removed from office. The president’s legal team was to resume its defence of Trump yesterday afternoon.
The New York Times cited the manuscript of an unpublished book by Bolton as saying that Trump told him he wanted to freeze security aid to Ukraine until Kiev helped with politically beneficial investigations into Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.
If confirmed, the report would add weight to Democrats’ accusations that Trump used the $391mn in aid — approved by the US Congress to help Ukraine combat Russia-backed separatists — as leverage to get a foreign country to help him dig up dirt on a domestic political rival. Biden is a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in the November 3 presidential election.
Trump yesterday denied telling Bolton that he sought to use the aid to pressure Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskiy to investigate the Bidens on unsubstantiated corruption allegations. Hunter Biden worked for a Ukrainian energy firm while his father was US vice president.
Bolton left his post in September.
Trump said he fired him.
Bolton said he quit.
“I think it’s increasingly likely that other Republicans will join those of us who think we should hear from John Bolton,” Romney told reporters.
Another moderate Republican senator, Susan Collins, said the reports regarding Bolton’s book “strengthen the case for witnesses.”
Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Lindsey Graham, a Republican ally of Trump, said he would support issuing a subpoena to obtain Bolton’s manuscript to see if it should be added to the record, a CNN reporter said on Twitter.
The Democratic-led House of Representatives impeached Trump last month on charges of abuse of power in his dealings with Ukraine and obstruction of Congress, setting up the trial in the Republican-led Senate.
Trump is expected to be acquitted in the 100-seat Senate, where Republicans hold 53 seats and a two-thirds vote is required to convict and remove a president from office.
No Republican senator has voiced support for his ouster.
Trump denied telling Bolton he was seeking something in return for unfreezing the Ukrainian aid, which eventually was provided in September after the controversy became public.
“I haven’t seen the manuscript, but I can tell you nothing was ever said to John Bolton,” Trump told reporters outside the White House ahead of a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Democrats demanded that the Senate call Bolton as a witness.
“It completely blasts another hole in the president’s defence,” said Representative Adam Schiff, the head of the House Democratic team of “managers” who are presenting the prosecution case against Trump.
“For every senator, Democrat and Republican, I don’t know how you can explain that you wanted a search for the truth in this trial and say you don’t want to hear from a witness who had a direction conversation about the central allegation in the articles of impeachment,” Schiff told CNN.
The issue of whether to call new witnesses — including Bolton — might be resolved in a Senate vote on Friday or Saturday.
Many Republicans want a speedy trial of Trump without witnesses or any evidence beyond the material amassed in the House impeachment inquiry.
But Republican senators and staff spent yesterday morning getting up to speed on how the witness process would work, according to a senior Republican aide, in case the trial goes in that direction.
The White House directed current and former administration officials not to provide testimony or documents in the House inquiry.
In only the third presidential impeachment trial in US history, Democrats argued last week that Trump should be removed for encouraging Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 US election.
Trump’s defence tried to turn that election interference line against the Democrats in its opening argument on Saturday by warning against removing a president in an election year.
According to the Times, Trump was pressed for weeks by senior aides including Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper to release the aid.
But in an August 2019 discussion with Bolton, Trump said he preferred sending no aid to Ukraine until officials there turned over all materials they had about the investigation that involved Biden, as well as Hillary Clinton backers in Ukraine.
If senators do not allow new witnesses and evidence, the Senate could vote as soon as the end of this week on whether to remove Trump.
In that case, the trial could be over before the first of the US presidential party nominating contests takes place in Iowa on February 3 and before Trump is scheduled to deliver the annual State of the Union address to Congress on February 4.
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