Bolton Praises Officials Who Testified: Impeachment Update

Laura Litvan and Billy House
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Bolton Praises Officials Who Testified: Impeachment Update

(Bloomberg) -- Senators questioned lawyers for both sides in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial for a second day Thursday, a day before a pivotal vote is planned on whether to call witnesses.

Here are the latest developments:

Bolton Praises Officials Who Testified (11:40 p.m.)

Former National Security Advisor John Bolton expressed support for various U.S. government officials who testified in the House impeachment investigation, a Texas television station reported on Thursday night.

Bolton, in remarks at a private function in Austin, Texas, defended former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, former National Security Council aide Fiona Hill and others who testified in House hearings, according to KXAN, which cited unnamed sources.

Bolton said all of them had acted in the best interests of the U.S., the report added. He spoke on the eve of a U.S. Senate vote on whether to call witnesses, including Bolton, at Trump’s impeachment trial.

Republican Alexander to Oppose Witnesses (11:02 p.m.)

Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said he will vote against calling new witnesses, all but assuring that Democrats won’t have enough votes to seek additional evidence, and making it increasingly likely the trial will wrap up on Friday.

Alexander said in a statement that there is no need for more evidence and that impeachment with the election approaching.

Republican Susan Collins of Maine said she will vote for witnesses, and Mitt Romney of Utah has said he will likely vote for witnesses. Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski hasn’t said how she plans to vote. Because at least four Republicans would be needed to join Democrats in allowing more evidence in the trial, Alexander’s announcement makes it very unlikely that 51 senators would support the motion.

GOP’s Collins to Vote for Calling Witnesses (10:55 p.m.)

Republican Senator Susan Collins said she’ll vote in support of calling for witnesses and documents.

In a statement, she said, “If this motion passes, I believe that the most sensible way to proceed would be for the House managers and the president’s attorneys to attempt to agree on a limited and equal number of witnesses for each side. If they can’t agree, then the Senate could choose the number of witnesses.”

Four Republican senators would need to vote with Democrats to force consideration of witnesses.

Senators Finish Questioning Lawyers in Trial (10:40 p.m.)

Senators completed questioning of lawyers in Trump’s impeachment trial, after 16 hours of queries over two days.

Later Thursday, key GOP Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee plans to announce whether he’ll join Democrats in supporting a move to subpoena witnesses to testify. The next step on Friday will be four hours of lawyers’ arguments and then a vote on whether the Senate should consider calling witnesses.

Murkowski Sends Mixed Signals on Witnesses (10:14 p.m.)

Senator Lisa Murkowski, a critical GOP vote on whether to call witnesses, is sending conflicting signals on which side she’s likely to take.

Not long after asking why the Senate shouldn’t call John Bolton to testify, Murkowski joined other Republicans in asking whether testimony from Bolton would make any difference. Also joining that question was Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander, another potential vote to join Democrats in backing witnesses.

They joined Republican Lindsey Graham and others in asking a question based on the idea that Bolton would confirm the allegation that Trump linked Ukraine aid to investigations. “Isn’t it true,” the GOP senators asked, that the allegations don’t rise to the level of an impeachable offense, and therefore Bolton’s testimony would add nothing to the case.

Trump lawyer Patrick Philbin agreed, saying, “Even if he gave that testimony, the articles of impeachment would still not rise to an impeachable offense.”

Earlier in the evening, Murkowski asked why the Senate doesn’t call Bolton to testify, because reports on his upcoming book conflict with other testimony that Trump denied linking aid with investigations.

Trump Says Senate to Treat Him ‘Very Fairly’ (8:56 p.m.)

Trump predicted he’ll fare well in the GOP-controlled Senate.

“They’re going to treat us very fairly,” Trump told a rally Thursday night in Des Moines, Iowa, ahead of the state’s caucuses next week.

The president also said his poll numbers are the highest he’s seen since he was elected. “It’s a happy period,” he said. “It’s a happy period because we call this impeachment light.”

Murkowski Asks Why Not Call John Bolton (8:52 p.m.)

Senator Lisa Murkowski, a crucial Republican who could vote with Democrats to seek new evidence, asked why the Senate shouldn’t call former National Security Advisor John Bolton to testify at Trump’s impeachment trial.

Murkowski, in a question to the president’s legal team, noted that Trump administration witnesses said Trump denied linking aid for Ukraine to investigations, while reports say Bolton wrote in his upcoming book that the president made a direct link.

“This dispute about material facts weighs in favor of calling additional witnesses with direct knowledge,” said Murkowski’s question, read aloud by Chief Justice John Roberts. “Why should this body not call Ambassador Bolton?”

Trump lawyer Patrick Philbin said the House could have pursued testimony from Bolton but chose not to subpoena him.

In fact, House committees asked Bolton to testify during the impeachment investigation. Bolton declined to participate unless a court ruled on whether he must comply with a House subpoena or White House instructions that he not testify. This month, Bolton said he would testify if subpoenaed by the Senate.

Philbin also said Thursday that subpoenaing Bolton would set a bad precedent for future presidential impeachments by allowing the House to submit an incomplete case to the Senate.

“It will do grave damage to this body as an institution to say that the process in the House doesn’t really have to be complete,” Philbin said. “That’s not the way this chamber should allow impeachments to be presented to it.” -- Laura Curtis, Steven T. Dennis

Schiff Offers One-Week Break for Depositions (7:32 p.m.)

Lead House manager Adam Schiff suggested a plan for calling witnesses that would allow House managers one week to take depositions while the Senate takes a break from the trial to do its regular work.

“If we agree to a one-week period to do depositions while you conduct the business of the Senate,” Schiff said, “neither side would have a limitless ability to call witnesses.”

Chief Justice John Roberts could rule on any disputes over witnesses and whether documents can be introduced, Schiff said. “This could be done very quickly; this could be done very effectively,” he said.

Trump’s defense lawyers rejected the idea.

“Constitutionally, that would not be the appropriate way to go,” said Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow. Any issues should be resolved according to Senate rules and through litigation if needed, he said, adding that he wasn’t willing to “short circuit the system.”

Several Republicans asked Trump’s team if the House managers would view the proceedings as fair if they were allowed to call witnesses and the trial ended in an acquittal of the president.

“No,” Sekulow said. “it would only be enough if they got a conviction.”

Warren Hints Trial Reflects Badly on Roberts (6:23 p.m.)

Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren drew gasps and scoffs from some of her fellow senators with a question suggesting the trial may reflect poorly on its presiding officer, Chief Justice John Roberts.

In a written question submitted to Roberts and read aloud by him to the chamber, the Massachusetts senator asked whether the fact that Roberts is presiding over a trial many view as unfair will contribute “to the loss of the legitimacy of the chief justice, the Supreme Court and the Constitution?”

Lead House manager Adam Schiff said, “I would not say it contributes to a loss of confidence in the chief justice,” adding that he has presided admirably.

“I don’t think a trial without witnesses reflects adversely on the chief justice, I think it reflects adversely on us,“ Schiff said. He said it would feed “cynicism about this institution.”

Roberts has played a largely ministerial role, although earlier Thursday he declined to read a question submitted by GOP Senator Rand Paul, who was making a second attempt to get into the record the alleged name of the intelligence community whistle-blower at the center of the impeachment case.

Top Republican Sees ‘Momentum’ for Acquittal (4:02 p.m.)

Senator John Barrasso, a member of GOP leadership, said he sees the Senate heading toward a vote to acquit Trump on Friday.

“That’s where all the momentum is right now,” said Barrasso of Wyoming.

Friday’s schedule will start with two hours of arguments from each side, which Barrasso said he thinks could serve as a closing argument. Then the Senate would vote on the question of calling witnesses.

If the move to call witnesses fails, the chamber would move toward a vote on final judgment on the two impeachment articles against Trump.

“We’d move in that direction and stay here until that work is decided Friday evening,” he said, adding that he doesn’t want the trial to extend into Saturday.

Democrats may disagree, and it’s unclear how the final process will play out.

If Minority Leader Chuck Schumer offers a number of proposals that require votes, “We will be prepared to stay here through the completion,” Barrasso said. -- Daniel Flatley, Laura Davison

Trump Has Contradictory Answers on Subpoenas (3:25 p.m.)

The question of how to challenge a president for defying subpoenas is being debated simultaneously in the Senate and in a federal court -- and lawyers for Trump and his Justice Department are giving contrasting answers.

House Democrats should ask a federal court to enforce their subpoenas before considering impeachment, Trump’s team is telling the Senate in his impeachment trial.

Just down the street in a federal court, Trump’s Justice Department argued Thursday that rather than going to court, the House’s remedy is to impeach the president, CNN reported.

The Justice Department has previously argued in another case that courts are incapable of ruling on subpoena disputes between the president and Congress.

“You can’t make this up,” said lead House manager Adam Schiff during senators’ questioning of lawyers in the impeachment trial.

“What more evidence do we need of the bad faith of this effort to cover up?” Schiff said. “I didn’t think they’d make it on the same day.” Laura Litvan, Steven T. Dennis

Roberts Declines to Read Paul’s Question (1:18 p.m.)

Chief Justice John Roberts declined to read a question submitted by GOP Senator Rand Paul, who had planned to make his second attempt Thursday to name the whistle-blower at the center of the impeachment case.

When Paul’s written question was handed to Roberts, the chief justice read it silently and then said, “The presiding officer declines to read the question as submitted.”

Roberts then moved on to a question by another senator. Nobody raised any audible objection.

According to a GOP aide, Roberts also had declined to read the name of the whistle-blower in a question Paul sent to the desk to be asked yesterday, though there was no public indication in that instance.

Minutes earlier, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said during the opening of the day’s proceedings, “We’ve been respectful of the chief justice’s unique position in reading our questions and I want to be able to continue to assure him that that level of consideration for him will continue.”

Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the president’s staunchest defenders, who has advocated for Hunter Biden to be called as a witness, said the Senate impeachment trial would not be the right “environment” for Paul to ask his question naming the whistle-blower. -- Daniel Flatley, Laura Davison

Senate Opens Second Day of Questioning (1:08 p.m.)

The Senate began a second day of questioning Trump’s defense team and the House prosecutors Thursday.

As they did on Wednesday, Senators will submit their questions in writing to U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts, who will read them out loud, alternating between Republican and Democratic questions. Roberts asked the defense and prosecution to limit their answers to five minutes each. -- Laura Davison, Daniel Flatley

Schumer Pressing GOP Moderates on Witnesses (12:25 p.m.)

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he’s still lobbying moderate Republicans to vote for admitting witnesses and evidence into the Senate impeachment trial, even as senior Republicans express confidence they can shut that effort down.“The fate of much of the future of how this republic conducts itself is on the shoulder of four Republicans,” the New York Democrat told reporters Thursday.Senators Mitt Romney and Susan Collins have indicated they will vote with Democrats for witnesses. Schumer would need at least two other Republicans to break ranks in order to have 51 votes.Senators are expected to vote Friday on whether to allow witnesses. If a witness vote fails, lawmakers will likely proceed to vote on a verdict, and Trump is all but certain to be acquitted in the Republican-controlled Senate.

GOP Senator Lindsey Graham said Thursday that he’s “getting more optimistic” that Republicans will have the votes to block calling witnesses.

Schumer said his last-ditch appeal to Republicans is to convince them that in order for the trial to be fair, it needs to include testimony from outside witnesses. “I think some of them are weighing it,” he said. -- Laura Davison, Daniel Flatley

More Questioning as Witness Decision Nears (6 a.m.)

Senators will have eight more hours Thursday to question Trump’s lawyers and the House managers.

The first day’s questioning covered a variety of issues including whether abuse of power is an impeachable offense, when Trump began seeking an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden, what witnesses could be called in addition to John Bolton, and Chief Justice John Roberts’ role in handling witnesses’ testimony.

Outside the Senate chamber, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer acknowledged that Democrats’ effort to call Bolton to testify is an “uphill fight” because of intense pressure on Republican senators not to agree.

The Senate plans on Friday to debate and vote on whether to call witnesses. If witnesses are rejected, the Senate could move quickly to final votes on whether to convict or acquit Trump. Trump wants the trial to be completed before he delivers his State of the Union address to Congress on Tuesday. -- Steven T. Dennis and Laura Litvan

Catch Up on Impeachment Coverage

Bombshell Bolton Report Pressures GOP on Impeachment Witnesses

Key Documents

Here is the House Democrats’ web page containing documents related to the impeachment trial. House Democrats’ impeachment brief is here. Trump’s initial reply is here, and his lawyers’ trial brief is here.The House impeachment resolution is H.Res. 755. The Intelligence Committee Democrats’ impeachment report is here.Gordon Sondland’s transcript is here and here; Kurt Volker’s transcript is here and here. Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch’s transcript is here and here; the transcript of Michael McKinley, former senior adviser to the secretary of State, is here. The transcript of David Holmes, a Foreign Service officer at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, is here.The transcript of William Taylor, the top U.S. envoy to Ukraine, is here and here. State Department official George Kent’s testimony is here and here. Testimony by Alexander Vindman can be found here, and the Fiona Hill transcript is here. Laura Cooper’s transcript is here; Christopher Anderson’s is here and Catherine Croft’s is here. Jennifer Williams’ transcript is here and Timothy Morrison’s is here. The Philip Reeker transcript is here. Mark Sandy’s is here.

--With assistance from Laura Davison, Daniel Flatley, Justin Sink, Laura Curtis, Steven T. Dennis and John Harney.

To contact the reporters on this story: Laura Litvan in Washington at llitvan@bloomberg.net;Billy House in Washington at bhouse5@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net, Laurie Asséo, Anna Edgerton

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