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Impeachment news roundup: Jan. 27

Pence spokesman says Trump never tied Ukraine aid to Biden investigation with VP

Vice President Mike Pence leaves the Old Senate Chamber after conducting the ceremonial swear-in of senators in January 2019. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Vice President Mike Pence leaves the Old Senate Chamber after conducting the ceremonial swear-in of senators in January 2019. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

File updated 7:50 p.m.

At least two Republican senators indicated Monday that they and others are inclined to call for the testimony of former national security adviser John Bolton after reports that he says in his upcoming book that President Donald Trump told him to withhold aid to Ukraine absent an investigation into political rivals.

The GOP senators’ comments were encouraging for some Democrats, who have been pushing to hear from Bolton in the Senate trial. 

“I do think it feels like something’s afoot,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat and presidential candidate, told CQ Roll Call.

Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney said Monday of Bolton testifying, “It’s just relevant to the discussion and that’s why I think it’s important to hear it.”

He also suggested that some of his GOP colleagues feel the same way.

“I’ve always said that I was likely to vote to call witnesses, just as I did in the 1999 Clinton trial.” Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins said in a statement. “The reports about John Bolton’s book strengthen the case for witnesses and have prompted a number of conversations among my colleagues.”

Sen. Ted Cruz said Monday night he did not believe calling witnesses like Bolton would be necessary, arguing that he has not seen the House managers meet their burden of proof. 

“They have not demonstrated any law was violated,” the Texas Republican said.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, raised the possible impact on presidential politics, pointing to the Senate trial presentation by former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and her depiction of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son as corrupt.

“Iowa caucuses, folks. Iowa caucuses are this next Monday evening, and I’m really interested to see how this discussion today informs and influences the Iowa caucus voters, those Democratic caucusgoers,” Ernst said to reporters. “Will they be supporting Vice President Biden at this point? Not sure about that.”

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The New York Times reported Sunday that it had obtained an unpublished manuscript of Bolton’s White House memoir “The Room Where It Happened” in which Bolton claims that Trump told him to hold up military aid to Ukraine until the country took up investigations of his political rivals.

House Republicans played down the impact of The New York Times report in a series of tense exchanges with reporters Monday.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said the facts of the impeachment trial remained the same and accused the House of botching the impeachment process.

“The facts, as we’ve said so many times, will not change have not changed will never change. Regardless of what The New York Times may report about some anonymous source telling them what to draft manuscript and Mr. Bolton’s book supposedly says,” he said.

House Democrats had sought Bolton’s testimony in its impeachment inquiry but the White House blocked administration officials from cooperating in the investigation. After the House voted to impeach Trump in December, Bolton offered to testify if subpoenaed.

The Senate will debate later this week whether to call more witnesses. Trump’s legal team will continue its defense into Tuesday, and senators then have 16 hours to ask questions of both sides. A handful of Republican senators, enough to tip the balance in a majority vote, have indicated they would consider voting to hear more testimony before the Bolton report emerged.

Trump refuted the reports of Bolton’s claim, tweeting that his former national security adviser, who he fired in September, is just trying to sell his book.

“…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 tweeted early Monday.

Marc Short, chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, said in a statement Monday that in every conversation Pence and Trump had in preparation for the vice president’s trip to Poland, where he met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, “the president consistently expressed his frustration that the United States was bearing the lion’s share of responsibility for aide to Ukraine and that European nations weren’t doing their part” as well as “concerns about corruption in Ukraine.”

“At no time did I hear him tie aid to Ukraine to investigations into the Biden family or Burisma,” Short said. “As White House Counsel presented today, based upon testimony provided by Democrat witnesses in the House hearings, these were the only issues that the vice president discussed with Ukrainian officials — because that’s what the president asked him to raise.”

Here is the latest on impeachment:

5 p.m. | Minor player: Trump attorney Jane Raskin defended Rudy Giuliani on the Senate floor, calling him a “just a minor player,” and telling senators that he is “that shiny object designed to distract you.”

Raskin’s characterization of Giuliani’s role is in direct contrast to testimony from U.S. ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland, who told House investigators that Trump told him and others to “talk to Rudy” on Ukraine.

“Until Rudy was satisfied, the president wasn’t going to change his mind,” Sondland said. “We worked with Mr. Giuliani because the president directed us to do so,” Sondland said under oath.

Raskin said that Giuliani defended Trump “vigorously, relentlessly and publicly.” She went on to say House managers may not like his style, but “one might argue that he is everything … a defense lawyer must be: outrageous, irreverent, blasphemous, rogue, a renegade.” 

4 p.m. | Not “caught”: Deputy White House counsel Mike Purpura argued that the military aid released to Ukraine Sept. 11 and Trump’s meeting that same month with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in New York pointed to the president’s concerns being “addressed in the ordinary course.”

He pushed back on the House impeachment managers’ narrative that the aid was released because Trump was “caught” by the House.

The meeting between Trump and Zelenskiy in New York at the United Nations General Assembly took place Sept. 25, following the announcement from Speaker Nancy Pelosi that she was supporting an impeachment inquiry.

Trump’s defense team has argued that the president’s motivation for Ukraine to investigate the Bidens was born out of a concern about corruption, not a desire to undermine a potential 2020 rival.

“The managers are wrong” about the timeline, Purpura said, claiming Democrats have “moved the goal posts.”

3:30 p.m. | Starr Scoff: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand scoffed at Ken Starr’s comment that Democrats have perpetuated the “age of impeachment” with their case against Trump.

“It was an absurd argument and quite rich coming from him,” the New York Democrat said of Starr who also served as the independent counsel that conducted the investigation that led to former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment.

Gillibrand also said it would be “shocking” to her, at this point, if Republicans do not have an interest in hearing from Bolton.

“The defense’s argument has been there’s no witness with direct knowledge. He is a witness with direct knowledge of what President Trump thought at the time and whether or not there was a quid pro quo,” she said.

3:25 p.m. | A stronger case: Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said during a break that the arguments in defense of Trump are bolstering the Democrats’ case to call witnesses and subpoena documents.

“The President’s lawyers keep making the case for witnesses and documents,” Schumer told reporters.

He referenced Trump personal attorney Jay Sekulow’s complaints that the witnesses heard in the House investigation did not have direct contact with Trump.

“We want Bolton. We want Mulvaney. We can solve Mr. Sekulow’s problem of not having witnesses who heard from the President himself,” Schumer said.

He compared the current situation to that of the Watergate scandal, in which new facts came to light over a long period.

“Every week new evidence comes out that is further condemning of the president,” Schumer said.

3:15 p.m. | Ukraine’s “best friend”: Sekulow argued Monday that Trump is “the best friend and support of Ukraine, certainly in our recent history.”

“These are the facts. That is what is before you,” he told the Senate.

Sekulow has repeatedly referred to the Trump administration providing Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine, drawing a comparison to the Obama administration, which did not.

The comparison is a frequent talking point of Republicans against the impeachment.

2:53 p.m. | “The age of impeachment”: Starr, said in his turn to deliver floor arguments that at this particular juncture “the Senate is being called to sit as the high court of impeachment all too frequently.”

Although Trump’s impeachment trial is the first since President Bill Clinton’s in 1999, Starr went as far as to call today the “age of impeachment.”

Starr argued that the precedent Democrats are setting with Trump’s impeachment is that it won’t just be a one administration act but an every administration act.

“Democrats will regret it when Republicans are handing out the pens — the pens of the signing ceremony,” he said.  Pelosi used multiple pens to sign the articles of impeachment that the House sent to the Senate.

Starr said “an appropriate or weighty consideration” for the Senate in this case is whether the House has proven Trump committed crimes or violated established law.

“The Constitution is speaking to us in terms of crimes,” he said.

Later, Sekulow showed video footage of Pelosi handing out pens used for the signing ceremony of the articles of impeachment.

“A celebratory moment — think about that,” Sekulow said as the video of Pelosi’s engrossment ceremony played on the screens.

1:21 p.m. | No comment: Republican senators were uncharacteristically quiet on Monday as they left a conference lunch of roast beef provided by Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso.

Only three GOP senators stopped to talk to reporters for more than 30 seconds: Sens. Mike Braun of Indiana, Kevin Cramer of North Dakota and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.

Even the usually chatty Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy declined to remark on impeachment trial developments.

1:17 p.m. | Stay the course: Trump’s counsel does not seem to have altered its defense strategy after the reporting on Bolton’s manuscript.

“He had deep policy concerns, and I think that is what this is really about,” Sekulow said of Bolton in opening remarks on the floor.

12:57 p.m. | Don’t wait for the book: Lead House manager Rep. Adam B. Schiff argued that senators should not wait until March 17 when Bolton’s book comes out, “they should demand this information, while it would still be pertinent to their decision.”

“The uncontradicted evidence is as simple as two plus two equals four. Nevertheless, the president’s lawyers sought to contest this charge,” Schiff told reporters ahead of the start of the trial. “And now that they have, they cannot dispute the relevance and the importance of John Bolton’s testimony.”

“When the president’s counsel says, as they did on the Senate floor, that there’s no direct evidence the president ever told someone he was conditioning the aid on these investigations, that’s just not correct,” Schiff said.

Schiff said Ambassador Gordon Sondland, in a Sept. 7 call, said that Trump told him that the Ukrainian president needed to announce investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. And Schiff said the president’s own acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, has already admitted at a news conference that he discussed with Trump that the reason for withholding the military aid to Ukraine was for political investigations.

He also pointed to what he called other circumstantial evidence, such as there was no legitimate reason for holding the aid, “and the fact that all of the national security staff, all his advisers and the other secretaries were urging that it’d be released.”

12:56 p.m. | Timing: Republican Sen. John Thune estimated that the Senate would take a vote on whether to call witnesses on Friday or by Saturday “at the latest.”

He did not say predict whether Republicans had the votes to quash those efforts.

“I’m never confident until we cast them. We’ll see,” Thune said.

12:50 p.m. | Still curious: “I read it. I said before I was curious about what Ambassador Bolton might have to say,” said Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski when asked about the Bolton reports. “I’m still curious.”

Murkowski is among those Republican senators who said they were considering whether to hear from more witnesses in the Senate trial.

12:44 p.m. | No regrets: Schiff said he does not regret not subpoenaing Bolton, but said Bolton “should answer that question” of why he was unwilling to testify in the House.

Schiff said the new Bolton revelations make it “all the more clear why you can’t have a trial without witnesses and you certainly can’t have one without John Bolton.”

He also said it was “positive” to hear that Republican senators are considering calling for witnesses in the trial.

12:27 p.m. | Take your meds: Speaking to whether Bolton or Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani who also implicated Trump in the Ukraine scheme, are telling the truth, Republican Sen. John Kennedy cast doubt on that notion.

“If you’re asking me if I believe them. I guess my response would be I wouldn’t bet my house on it,” Kennedy said. “And if I were betting your house on it, it would only be a maybe.”

“We’re about halfway through the trial. I think everybody ought to pop a Zoloft, take their meds. And let’s wait and finish up,” Kennedy said.

12:25 p.m. | All I know…: Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, who was personally involved in Trump’s Ukraine policy in 2019, would not say Monday whether he now believes the president lied to him when he told him over the phone in August that the Ukrainian aid freeze was not tied to investigations into the Bidens.

The reports of Bolton’s book manuscript directly refutes that claim.

“All I’ve ever reported is what he told me,” Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, said. “My evaluations just on a human level, based on his reaction — I felt guilty even asking the question.”

12:10 p.m. | Not everyone agrees: Republican Sens. Ted Cruz and Roy Blunt indicated Monday that the reports on Bolton’s book do not move the needle for them to subpoena new witnesses and documents.

“At the end of the day nothing I’ve seen in the reporting changes the underlying fact that a president has the full constitutional authority and indeed the responsibility to investigate serious evidence of corruption,” Cruz said.

Blunt repeated the well-worn GOP line that it is not the Senate’s job to call new witnesses, despite having done so in the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton.

“It’s the House’s job to put a case together. It’s then our job to deal with that in a prompt manner,” Blunt said. “One thing I know for sure is John Bolton doesn’t know a single thing today he didn’t know before Christmas.”

Idaho GOP Sen. Mike Crapo said the Bolton news does not change his mind on witnesses: “Right now I’m going to listen to the case that’s presented.

Asked about the New York Times report, the Idaho Republican said he wasn’t familiar with it.

Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, who has said he would consider whether witnesses are needed after hearing from both sides said, “I have said that I will wait until after the arguments are made. Wait until after all the questions are asked and then I will decide whether I think we need more evidence or not.”

11:58 a.m. | Wait and see: Moderate Republican senators who are on the fence about whether to call witnesses are “keeping their powder dry,” Thune said

He added that it is “the right thing to do” for them to keep their internal deliberations close to their chests.

11:55 a.m. | Nothing said: Expanding on his tweets from the night before, Trump denied the allegations made in the draft of Bolton’s book.

“I haven’t seen the manuscript, but I can tell you nothing was ever said to John Bolton,” the president told reporters.

10:50 a.m. | Game changer: Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal said the Bolton report is a game-changer.

“It is a bombshell that really has seismic reverberations for any Republican who cares about their place in history,” Blumenthal said.

If the Bolton revelation is not enough to sway Republican senators to call Bolton to testify, Blumenthal said it would be an intentional effort by the GOP to avoid the truth.

“If my Republican colleagues put blinders on, they can’t complain about not seeing. They can deny the truth if they put blinders on, but it’s only because they lack the moral courage,” Blumenthal said.

Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin said the Bolton news reinforces the need to hear from witnesses.

“Just underscores the importance for additional witnesses. The president said that Mr. Bolton is not telling the truth. Put him under oath. That’s the only way we can tell.”

10:10 a.m. | Scuttled: The Senate press gallery was notified Monday morning that a scheduled news conference with Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham and several other GOP senators has been canceled.

8:50 a.m. | Changing minds?: Sunday night’s revelations about Bolton’s book might ultimately change the calculus on witnesses for Republican senators, but Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, showed no indication of that Monday morning.

“Whether the book is out there or not, they could have asked these same questions. So that would be my argument, is that they had the opportunity to bring him in, they chose not to do it,” Ernst said on High Hewitt’s radio show. “Now why did they choose not to do it? They will have to explain that.”

“But again, I will reserve my judgment until after I’ve heard from, of course, the White House counsel. I want to hear what they have to say on this issue. And then, as a body, we’re going to have to vote and make that decision,” she said.

7:45 a.m. | More witnesses: Pelosi led a cadre of Democratic leaders who said the Bolton news bolstered the push for Bolton and other White House officials like acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney to testify.

Pelosi said the Bolton report makes it “indefensible” to not consider more evidence.

“Amb. Bolton reportedly heard directly from Trump that aid for Ukraine was tied to political investigations,” Pelosi tweeted. “The refusal of the Senate to call for him, other relevant witnesses, and documents is now even more indefensible.”

Schumer tweeted “John Bolton has the evidence. It’s up to four Senate Republicans to ensure that John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney, and the others with direct knowledge of President Trump’s actions testify in the Senate trial.”

The seven House impeachment managers, led by Schiff, also pushed for Bolton to be called to testify.

“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,” they said in a statement. “President Trump’s cover-up must come to an end.”

Schumer said Monday morning the Bolton report “suggests multiple top Trump Admin officials knew the facts and deliberately misled Congress and the American people.”7:10 a.m. | Trump responds: In addition to retweeting critical coverage of the Bolton report early Monday, Trump responded to the increasing calls for more witnesses, repeating his position that Democrats had their chance to question Bolton during their inquiry and it wasn’t the Senate’s responsibility to complete the House’s investigation.

A Democratic aide working on the Senate impeachment trial told reporters that Trump’s tweet is false. The committees leading the impeachment inquiry requested for him to sit for a deposition but he didn’t show. The House didn’t subpoena Bolton, however, because his lawyers had said they would fight it in court and the House found that to be a delaying tactic they didn’t want to engage in.

“There is no executive privilege defense to not providing this information,” the aide added. “Executive privilege does not apply when there’s been wrongdoing, as is the case here.”

Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney who was his point man in negotiations with Ukraine that House witnesses said Bolton referred to as a “drug deal,” responded to the reports of the Bolton manuscript, besmirching the former national security adviser.

“He [Bolton] never once expressed concern to me. If he had confronted me, I could have explained it to him…..He [Bolton] wasn’t man enough to just ask and instead makes false and irresponsible barges to write a book about his failed career,” Giuliani told ABC News in a text.

7 a.m. | Trump’s defense: After a shortened Saturday session in which they attacked the Democrats’ “witch hunt” against the president, Trump’s lawyers will resume their defense this afternoon.

Trump’s team Saturday focused its attacks on what they called a lack of evidence, the actions of Schiff and a flawed House investigation.

The Senate continues its trial at 1 p.m. Trump’s attorneys have indicated they likely will not use the full 24 hours allotted for the president’s defense. Senators then have 16 hours to ask questions of the House managers and Trump’s layers then will argue for four hours over considering more witnesses and evidence. If the effort for more witnesses fails, the Senate could then vote on its verdict.

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