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GOP floats classified access to Bolton draft: Impeachment update

Daniel Flatley and Steven T. Dennis
Bloomberg

President Donald Trump’s lawyers will finish presenting his defense on Tuesday, their third day of arguments in the Senate impeachment trial. The next phase, 16 total hours of senators’ questions for both sides, may begin later Tuesday or on Wednesday.

Here are the latest developments:

GOP Senator Says He Pushed Bolton to Talk (12:49 p.m.)

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., speaks to reporters, Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington, about the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

Senator Ron Johnson, already a player in the impeachment drama for saying he confronted Trump about withholding security aid for Ukraine, told reporters he personally urged Bolton on Jan. 7 to come forward if he had something to say that would be relevant to the impeachment charges.

Bolton told him he would only respond to a Senate subpoena, however – something Johnson has yet to publicly support.

The Wisconsin Republican said the leak of Bolton’s book manuscript “is exquisite timing, perhaps suspicious timing.”

I Believe John Bolton,’ Kelly Says (12:17 p.m.)

John Kelly, President Donald Trump's former chief of staff, listens during the SALT finance conference in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

Former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said he would believe Bolton’s claims regarding Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate a political rival, according to a report from the Herald Tribune about a public event in Florida on Monday.

“If John Bolton says that in the book I believe John Bolton,” Kelly said. “John’s an honest guy. He’s a man of integrity and great character, so we’ll see what happens.”

Kelly said witnesses who could help establish the facts of the case should be heard, adding that “the majority of Americans would like to hear the whole story.”

Schumer Rejects Closed Bolton Draft Viewing (11:40 a.m.)

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, Jan. 27, 2020.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called Republican suggestions that senators could read Bolton’s book manuscript in a secure setting “an absurd proposal.”

Other Democratic senators said viewing Bolton’s book would be a good starting point but no substitute for being able to question the former Trump adviser under oath.

Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin said questioning Bolton as a witness is important because it “tests a person’s veracity and their memory,” rather than just reading a book.

“We ought to see the book – let’s start there,” Durbin said. “It’s not sufficient for what we need. We need testimony.”

Delaware Democrat Chris Coons said reading the book manuscript in a classified setting is “the absolute bare minimum demonstration of interest in learning facts,” though it is an “obvious, reasonable step.”

“I think if we can get that information and utilize it, better than what we got now,” Montana Democrat Jon Tester said. “I mean, it’s going to be in a book.”

GOP Floats Classified Access to Bolton Draft (10:36 a.m.)

South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham said he backs a proposal to allow senators to view the book manuscript from former National Security Advisor John Bolton in a classified setting.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., speaks to reporters as he arrives at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, during the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

Graham, a close Trump ally, tweeted his support for the idea floated by Oklahoma Senator James Lankford on Monday. The Oklahoman newspaper reported that Lankford stressed the importance of first-hand information about what Bolton knows, and he suggested that senators could view the book manuscript before it’s screened for classified material because lawmakers have the necessary clearance.

Senator Mike Braun said people are “soul searching” about reports that Bolton spoke with Trump about withholding security aid for Ukraine in exchange for politically motivated investigations. Braun said he’s not convinced that Trump’s conduct was impeachable, even if the Bolton allegations are true.

“There’ll be a lot of people soul searching about the whole conversation,” Braun said. “Everybody will take it into consideration.”

Romney Says He’d Like to Hear from Bolton (9:45 a.m.)

Senator Mitt Romney said he would like to call former National Security Advisor John Bolton to testify in the Senate trial.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, speaks to reporters as he arrives at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, Jan. 27, 2020.

“I’d like to hear from Mr. Bolton,” Romney said when asked whether he’d be satisfied with just getting a look at the manuscript from Bolton’s upcoming book. The New York Times reported that the book includes details relevant to the impeachment charges.

The Utah Republican said he “wouldn’t begin” to speculate how many other Republicans want to hear from additional witnesses. Maine Republican Susan Collins has also said she’d likely vote to hear additional testimony.

Trump Lawyers to Speak for About Two Hours (9:27 a.m.)

Trump’s legal team plans to speak for about two more hours when impeachment proceedings resume this afternoon, an administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The defense team’s plan to wrap up will usher in a period allowing questions from senators to both Trump’s team and the House impeachment managers. It’s unclear whether that will begin Tuesday or Wednesday.

Trump’s defense has largely skirted the reported revelations from a draft of a book written by former National Security Adviser John Bolton. A vote on whether to call Bolton or other witnesses will follow the time for senators’ questions, but appears unlikely to pass unless more Republicans come out in favor of it.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office would not say when after the Trump team rests its case will the trial would move into allowing senators to ask questions. Under that process, which could last as long as 16 hours, individual questions will be read and the senators asking the question will be identified.

Senator Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri, said he doesn’t expect the questioning period to begin Tuesday because senators need more time to streamline their queries. Blunt said Chief Justice John Roberts will help eliminate duplicate questions.

Trump Lawyers to Finish Defense Argument (6 a.m.)

In this image from video, Alan Dershowitz, an attorney for President Donald Trump, speaks during the impeachment trial against Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Monday, Jan. 27, 2020.

The president’s lawyers have one more day to argue in his defense, with his impeachment trial in its second week. Senate Republican leaders still hope to end the trial later this week, although several GOP senators are mulling whether to join Democrats in voting to call witnesses.

While Trump ripped into his Bolton on Twitter, the president’s defense team barely mentioned him during arguments Monday amid a firestorm over whether he should be subpoenaed to testify.

Constitutional law professor Alan Dershowitz was the only Trump lawyer to refer to Bolton by name, saying, “Nothing in the Bolton revelations, even if true, would rise to the level of an abuse of power or an impeachable offense.”

The New York Times reported that Bolton wrote in his forthcoming book that Trump told him last August that he didn’t want to release U.S. aid to Ukraine until that country turned over material related to former Vice President Joe Biden.

Dershowitz also argued that the charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress are so “vague and open-ended” that the nation’s founders would have rejected them as grounds for impeaching and removing a president.

After the argument, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell shook Dershowitz’s hand and said, “wonderful!”