As President Donald Trump’s defense team continued to attack the Democrats’ case for impeachment Monday, the key question turned to whether revelations in a forthcoming book by former national security adviser John Bolton would convince enough Republicans to agree to call witnesses in the trial, a move that could prolong the proceedings into next week or beyond.
Republicans began the second of their allotted three days of arguments Monday in the hopes of ending the historic trial by Friday and avoid having it overlap with Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday. Ending the trial early would also allow four Democratic senators who are running for president to return to Iowa in time for Monday’s caucuses.
But details of Bolton’s book, first reported Sunday by The New York Times, threatened to derail those plans and put Republicans on the defensive. In the book, Bolton reportedly says Trump personally told him that he hoped to continue to withhold nearly $400 million in military aid for Ukraine until the country announced investigations into political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
The House impeachment managers and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer said Bolton’s reported claims directly contradict key elements of Trump’s defense and that a fair trial requires his testimony.
Trump denied Bolton’s account in a tweet Monday and later in front of reporters at the White House. He and his defense team have argued that he withheld aid to get Ukraine to address its longstanding corruption issues and that it was unrelated to his desire for Ukraine’s president to announce an investigation into Biden.
“There was no linkage between investigations and security assistance or meeting on the July 25 call, the Ukrainians said there was no quid-pro-quo,” Mike Purpura, a deputy counsel to the president who is defending him in the trial, argued before the Senate. He did not mention Bolton, nor did any of his counterparts during the first several hours of the defense team’s presentation.
“The House managers’ record reflects that anyone who spoke with the president said that the President made clear that there was no linkage” with aid and investigations, Purpura argued.
Bolton was not a part of the House impeachment inquiry. Democrats from both the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees considered subpoenaing him but decided against it for fear that it would spark a lengthy court fight that would keep the impeachment from moving forward. Bolton followed a presidential directive not to testify voluntarily.
While Purpura and his colleagues argued their case Monday, at least two GOP senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah, said they may be open to calling witnesses in the trial so that they can hear from Bolton. At least two more Republicans would need to agree in order to reach the 51 votes necessary to include testimony from witnesses 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,” Romney told MSNBC.
A potential swing vote, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, also said she was “curious about what Ambassador Bolton has to say.” (Bolton served as ambassador to the United Nations during the George W. Bush administration.)
Sen. Angus King of Maine, an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said he believed several more Republicans would join Collins and Romney.
But Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler, the chamber’s newest member who took the seat in January despite concerns among some Republicans that she’s not conservative enough, attacked Romney for suggesting additional witnesses should be called.
In a tweet, Loeffler accused Romney of working to “appease the left by calling witnesses who will slander the @realdonaldtrump.”
Democrats had failed to make their case, Loeffler argued, so “The circus is over. It’s time to move on.”
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said the Bolton revelations were reminiscent of the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
“It happened with Kavanaugh with so-called bombshells,” said Barrasso, noting it was important to first “hear the case, let’s hear the questions, then we’ll make a decision.”
When pressed on whether the Bolton revelations were new, Barrasso questioned whether the timing was “an effort to generate interest in a book,” a charge Bolton and his publisher dismissed as “unfounded speculation.”
Meanwhile, on Monday, Ken Starr, a private lawyer representing Trump in the Senate trial, urged senators to step back from an “age of impeachment” with three presidential inquiries in 50 years by rejecting the partisan investigation.
Starr, who investigated former President Bill Clinton, which led to his impeachment but not his removal from office, said impeachment is traditionally built upon the accusations of crimes. Starr said the two impeached presidents, Clinton 1998 and Andrew Johnson in 1868, along with the inquiry against Richard Nixon in 1974, all alleged crimes.
“Like war, impeachment is hell, or at least presidential impeachment is hell,” Starr said. “Those of us who lived through the Clinton impeachment, including members of this body, full well understand that a president impeachment is tantamount to domestic war.”
House Democrats have argued that bribery and extortion are implied in the articles of impeachment accusing Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in connection with the Ukraine aid, but Starr argued that articles against Trump don’t allege specific crimes.
Starr also voiced concern that impeachment had become too frequent a political weapon against the president of an opposing party.
“Instead of a once-in-a-century phenomenon, which it had been, presidential impeachment has become a weapon to be wielded against one’s political opponent,” Starr said.
Some conservative defenders of Trump criticized Starr’s presentation as too dry.
“This defense needs a little less Atticus Finch and a little more Miss Universe,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., referring to the lawyer in the classic novel “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
The day began with the Senate chaplain, retired Rear Adm. Barry Black, mentioning his gratefulness for Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts’ birthday.
“Thank you for giving our chief justice another birthday,” Black said, as Roberts smiled.
USA TODAY reporters Maureen Groppe, Ledyard King and Nicholas Wu contributed to this story.