Bolton Revelations Anger Republicans, Fueling Push for Impeachment Witnesses

Bolton Revelations Anger Republicans, Fueling Push for Impeachment Witnesses


WASHINGTON — The White House and Senate Republican leaders struggled on Monday to salvage their plans for a quick acquittal of President Trump after a new account by his former national security adviser John R. Bolton corroborated a central piece of the impeachment case against him.

The newly disclosed revelations by Mr. Bolton, whose forthcoming book details how Mr. Trump conditioned military aid for Ukraine on the country’s willingness to furnish information on his political rivals, angered key Republicans and reinvigorated a bid to call witnesses. Such a move would prolong the trial and pose new dangers for the president.

A handful of Republicans appeared to be moving closer to joining Democrats in a vote to subpoena Mr. Bolton, even as their leaders insisted that doing so would only delay his inevitable acquittal.

“I think it’s increasingly likely that other Republicans will join those of us who think we should hear from John Bolton,” Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, told reporters. He later told Republican colleagues at a closed-door lunch that calling witnesses would be a wise choice politically and substantively, according to people familiar with the discussions.

As they opened the second day of their defense, Mr. Trump’s lawyers largely ignored the revelations from Mr. Bolton, reported on Sunday by The New York Times, that bolstered the abuse of power case made by the House Democratic prosecutors.

Instead, the White House team is doubling down on a defense that is directly contradicted by the account in Mr. Bolton’s book, due out in March. Mr. Trump’s lawyers told senators that no evidence existed tying the president’s decision to withhold security aid from Ukraine to his insistence on the investigations. They say the investigations were requested out of a concern for corruption in Ukraine.

“Anyone who spoke with the president said that the president made clear that there was no linkage between security assistance and investigations,” said Michael Purpura, the deputy White House counsel.

Mr. Trump’s legal team also sought to turn the Democrats’ accusations on their head.

They defended and played down the role of Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer who was at the center of Mr. Trump’s Ukraine pressure campaign, calling him a “shiny object” Democrats were brandishing to distract from a weak case. They sought to raise doubts about former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son Hunter Biden, suggesting they were corrupt.

And they continued to argue that Mr. Trump’s actions were far from impeachable.

Alan M. Dershowitz, a celebrity Harvard law professor, argued that the Constitution holds that impeachment is for “criminal-like behavior,” telling senators that the country’s founders “would have explicitly rejected such vague terms as ‘abuse of power’ and ‘obstruction of Congress’ as among the enumerated and defined criteria for impeaching the president.”

The theory has been rejected by most constitutional scholars.

As evening set in, Mr. Dershowitz made the legal team’s only reference to Mr. Bolton, telling senators that the description of Mr. Trump’s actions in his manuscript “would not constitute an impeachable offense.”

He added, “Let me repeat: Nothing in the Bolton revelations, even if true, would rise to the level of an abuse of power, or an impeachable offense.”

Behind closed doors, Republicans were singularly focused on the former national security adviser’s account, which stoked turmoil in their ranks and opened cracks in their near monolithic support for the White House strategy of denying witnesses and rushing toward a final verdict, almost certain to be an acquittal.

Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, sought to calm his colleagues at the private lunch, telling them to “take a deep breath” and not to leap to conclusions about how to proceed.

But according to people familiar with Mr. McConnell’s thinking, he was angry at having been blindsided by the White House about Mr. Bolton’s manuscript, which aides there have had since late December. The leader put out a statement saying that he “did not have any advance notice” of Mr. Bolton’s account.

Just before the trial got underway on Monday, Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, told colleagues that he might be willing to support calling witnesses as long as the roster would include someone friendlier to Mr. Trump’s case, like Hunter Biden, according to people familiar with the gathering who were not authorized to discuss it. The idea appeared to be gaining broader currency among Republicans.

“My expectation is that were there to be testimony from Mr. Bolton, there would be testimony for someone on the defense side as well,” Mr. Romney said.

So far, only Mr. Romney had publicly committed to voting in favor of new witnesses.

But even Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and usually a reliable Trump ally, said that Mr. Bolton “may be a relevant witness” and that he would like to see a copy of Mr. Bolton’s manuscript.

At the White House, Mr. Trump raged throughout the morning at Mr. Bolton, accusing him of lying. Hosting Israeli leaders, the president told reporters that he had not seen the manuscript of the former adviser’s book but disputed its claims as “false.”

In a series of early-morning tweets hours before the trial resumed, the president accused Mr. Bolton of telling stories “only to sell a book” and defended his actions toward Ukraine as perfectly appropriate.

“I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens,” President Trump wrote just after midnight.

But Mr. Trump later complained to associates that the presentations from his defense team were boring.

As the session progressed, Mr. Trump’s lawyers began their promised assault on Mr. Biden and his son, asserting that Mr. Trump demanded investigations of them because there was significant evidence that they were corrupt.

They methodically sought to undermine the case that House managers delivered over more than 22 hours of arguments last week. They argued that Mr. Trump said nothing wrong on a July 25 call with the president of Ukraine, never sought to leverage an Oval Office meeting, and did more to support Ukraine against Russian aggression than previous presidents.

“The managers have not met their burden, and these articles of impeachment must be rejected,” Eric Herschmann, one of the president’s lawyers, told senators.

In a somewhat improbable echo of the last presidential impeachment trial, Ken Starr, who relentlessly pursued President Bill Clinton for lying about an extramarital affair with a young aide, appeared before the Senate to defend Mr. Trump. He argued that the president committed no impeachable offense and urged senators to “restore our constitutional and historical traditions,” in which impeachment was rare.

“Like war, impeachment is hell,” Mr. Starr told senators, casting himself as a skeptic of the constitutional remedy that he enthusiastically pursued 21 years ago. “Or at least, presidential impeachment is hell.”

While it is not clear that Republicans will vote to call additional witnesses when they vote on the issue this week, the revelations from Mr. Bolton appeared to shift the dynamic that had taken hold at the end of last week’s arguments, when it appeared unlikely that Democrats would win the support of the four Republicans they need to force the issue.

On Monday, Democrats said they were newly optimistic that the momentum of the trial was pushing toward a vote for witnesses and documents, and they worked to increase the pressure on hesitant Republicans to embrace the moves.

“It boils down to one thing: we have a witness with firsthand evidence of the president’s actions for which he is on trial,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader. “He is ready and willing to testify. How can Senate Republicans not vote to call that witness and request his documents?”

Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, who had previously indicated she would most likely support additional witnesses, said the details in Mr. Bolton’s book “strengthen the case for witnesses and have prompted a number of conversations among my colleagues.” Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, said she was “curious” about what Mr. Bolton would say, but gave no hint of how she would vote on the matter.

But Republican leaders played down the significance of Mr. Bolton’s account.

“The best I can tell from what’s reported in The New York Times, it is nothing different from what we have already heard,” Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, said on Fox News.

Mr. Herschmann and Pam Bondi, another of Mr. Trump’s lawyers, delved deeply into Hunter Biden’s work on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company, at the time his father was vice president, suggesting it was improper for him to hold the post while his father served. Ms. Bondi also noted that the elder Mr. Biden had called for the removal of prosecutor who had looked into Burisma.

“What we are saying is that there was a basis to talk about this, to raise this issue,” Ms. Bondi said.

But it was United States policy at the time that the prosecutor, who was widely regarded as corrupt, should be removed, and there was no evidence at the time of his firing that the prosecutor was actively pursuing an investigation.

In a statement on Monday, Andrew Bates, the Biden campaign’s rapid-response director, said: “Here on Planet Earth, the conspiracy theory that Bondi repeated has been conclusively refuted.”

Later, Jane Raskin, one of the president’s lawyers, called Mr. Giuliani a “colorful distraction” in the case, arguing that the House impeachment investigators did not subpoena him to testify because they did not think he would back up their claims that he was executing a shadow foreign policy.

“In this trial, in this moment, Mr. Giuliani is just a minor player — that shiny object designed to distract you,” Ms. Raskin said.

Mr. Giuliani defied a House subpoena for documents. Legal experts suggest he would have refused to disclose any of his conversations with Mr. Trump on the basis of attorney-client privilege even if called to testify. And he would surely have been a difficult witness, given his often erratic performance in televised interviews.

Reporting was contributed by Catie Edmondson, Maggie Haberman, Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Patricia Mazzei.



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